Plans to improve the Mexico City-Toluca transport corridor

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on Plans to improve the Mexico City-Toluca transport corridor
Jan 202014

The Mexico City Metropolitan Area (dark grey on the map), which occupies the Valley of Mexico, extends well beyond the northern boundary of the Federal District and includes many municipalities in the State of Mexico. The two administrations (the Federal District and the State of Mexico) have to work closely together in order to coordinate actions in the Metropolitan Area, which had a population in 2010 of 20.1 million.

Map of Mexico City urban system

Map of Mexico City urban system. Click to enlarge. (Geo-Mexico Fig. 23.1; all rights reserved)

Toluca, the capital of the State of México, is Mexico’s 4th largest urban area, and a fast-growing industrial city in its own right, with a 2010 population of 1.8 million.

Toluca’s airport (the “Licenciado Adolfo López Mateos International Airport”) is mainly used by low-cost carriers like Interjet, Volaris and Aeroméxico Connect as an alternative to using the Mexico City International Airport, which is more expensive and operating at close to capacity. Passenger traffic through Toluca airport has grown rapidly, from 145,000 passengers in 2002 to a peak of almost 4 million in 2008, before falling back to about 1 million passengers in 2012.

Not surprisingly, the Mexico City-Toluca highway is one of Mexico’s busiest major routes, linking the Federal District via Toluca (see map) to western Mexico.

In recent months, several related plans have been announced that are designed to improve the two major transportation issues in this area:

  1. The near saturation of Mexico City International Airport
  2. The very busy (and often slow) highway between Mexico City and Toluca

To ease the situation of Mexico City International Airport, the federal Communications and Transportation Secretariat (SCT) plans to expand the airport eastwards, onto 5,500 hectares of federal land. The expansion is likely to take several years to complete, and will increase flight capacity even though it will not include an additional terminal.

Meanwhile, State of Mexico authorities have authorized a second runway for the Toluca International Airport, which will significantly expand that airport’s capacity. The SCT has proposed that Toluca Airport become an alternate airport for Mexico City, with the two airports linked by high-speed trains.

The SCT has already announced that a new rail link between Toluca and Mexico City will be jointly financed by the federal government and the State of Mexico. The existing plan is for the first phase of the “Toluca-Valley of Mexico Interurban Passenger Train” to end at the Metro Observatorio station in Mexico City, but a later phase would extend this line to Mexico City Airport. This new 2.7-billion-dollar rail line, capable of carrying 300,000 passengers a day, will run from Toluca via the upscale Mexico City neighborhood of Santa Fe to Metro Observatorio, reducing the travel time between Toluca and Metro Observatorio by more than an hour to around 40 minutes, with corresponding positive environmental impacts. Construction of the new line, which will include 4 intermediate stations, is due to begin later this year, and scheduled to be completed by 2018.

A separate 115-million-dollar project is underway to reduce highway congestion between Toluca and Mexico City. To boost the road transport capacity between the two cities, a multi-lane second tier is being added to 15 kilometers of the existing Mexico City-Toluca highway, from La Marquesa to Paseo Tollocan, at the entrance to Toluca.

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New public transportation system should help rejuvenate Acapulco

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Aug 222013

Several developments connected to public transportation are an integral part of Acapulco’s ongoing efforts to modernize and rejuvenate itself as a tourist destination.


Acapulco city authorities have been working hard to complete a new public rapid transit system called ACAbús in time for the next influx of sun-seeking winter tourists. The system represents an investment of around $140 million, roughly two-thirds for highway and transit stop refurbishment and one-third for operating equipment (vehicles and travel card machines).


ACAbús will connect the resort’s many tourism attractions and facilities. The main central axis is a 16-km (10 mile) long route from Las Cruces along Avenida Cuauhtémoc to Caleta, with 18 stops along the way. This portion will be confined solely to rapid transit articulated buses. Five trunk routes will supplement this central axis, each with a limited number of stops. The one of interest to most tourists will be that along the main Costera Miguel Alemán highway. When the system is complete, the number of bus routes in Acapulco will be reduced from about 220 to 120, but travel times will actually be greatly improved. Authorities estimate that the system should cut regular traffic by about 25%, and claim that everyone will benefit as it will lead to older vehicles being removed from the roads and a decrease in total emissions.

Caleta Beach, Acapulco. Photo: Vanguardia/El Universal

Caleta Beach, Acapulco. Photo: Vanguardia/El Universal


At a later stage, the ACAbús system will be complemented by a maritime equivalent Maribús. This water taxi system will operate over about 3 kilometers of coast and have six access wharves: Acapulco Diamante, Puerto Marqués, Icacos, The Maritime Terminal (Terminal Marítima), Playa Manzanillo and Caleta. It would cut some transfer times in half. For example, it is estimated that the Golden Zone-Zona Diamante trip would take about 16 minutes.


A bike-sharing system, Acabici, is also planned. This would initially have 450 bikes distributed between 30 “stations”.

The Scenic Alternative

Drivers of private vehicles in Acapulco will benefit from construction of an alternative route to the slow and congested Scenic Highway (Carretera Escénica) that links the resort’s airport to its Zona Dorada (Golden Zone) hotels and main beach, Playa Icacos, via the rapidly growing upscale Acapulco Diamante district. Acapulco Diamante is the newest of Acapulco’s three major tourist zones, known for its exclusive homes, stores, hotels and resorts. ,

The 270-million-dollar project, just begun by Mexican firm ICA, and dubbed Avenida Escénica (Scenic Alternative), is a 5 mile (8 km) toll highway that includes a tunnel 2 miles (3.3 km) long. It will slash travel time to a few minutes, instead of the hour or more sometimes required at present when traffic is heavy. This is the state of Guerrero’s largest infrastructure project for several decades. It will cost around $270 million, involve 1,000 workers and will take two years to complete. When the new link is opened, the tunnel will be the longest highway tunnel anywhere in Mexico.

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Will Mexico City add cable cars to its mass transit system?

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Apr 292013

Mexico City is one of the world’s largest cities, and the metropolitan area of Greater Mexico City (population about 22 million) extends well beyond the borders of the Federal District (Mexico City proper) into neighboring states. The city is ringed by hills. Homes have sprawled up the hillsides, often in a haphazard or unplanned way, gradually becoming established, densely-packed settlements of low cost housing, but often lacking adequate access by road for the number of people now living there. This is a particularly serious problem where settlements have been built on marginal land, in hazardous locations where the slopes are too steep or where the land is dissected by canyons. Given the terrain, it would be very expensive to improve road access sufficiently to ensure a smooth daily flow of commuters.

Unfortunately, many of these areas of the city are not reached by the city’s metro system, so the only public transport is by using microbuses, colectivos or peseros (so-called because the fare was originally one peso).

Similar cable car system in a South American city. Credit: unknown

Similar cable car system in a South American city. Credit: unknown

Earlier this year, officials from both the Federal District and the State of Mexico suggested that the answer to the transport problems of some of these marginal zones could be resolved by adding cable cars to the city’s transit system. Similar systems are already used in some cities in South America, including Medellín (Colombia).

The State of Mexico is considering installing five cable cars (teleféricos) in different parts of Greater Mexico City. The proposed system, christened “Mexicable”, would have several lines between 5 and 7 km in length. Feasibility studies for the first two lines are already underway. The first line, in the Ecatepc municipality (see map), would link San Andrés de la Cañada and la Sierra de Guadalupe, while the second line in Naucalpan would run between El Molinito and Chamapa. If approved, the state would help the municipalities concerned finance the construction of the cable car system, which would probably then be operated on a concession basis by a private operator.

The initial proposal claims that between 50 and 60 cabins, each holding 8-12 people, would leave every 12 seconds or so, allowing for the movement of up to 2800 people an hour at peak times, and up to 20,000 people each day. The system is likely to cost around $5 million (dollars) a kilometer and could be operation before the end of 2014. The government of the State of Mexico has already committed $80 million towards the preparatory studies needed for the Ecatepec cable car system.

Mexico City Metropolitan Area (Geo-Mexico Fig 22.2; all rights reserved)

Spatial growth of Mexico City Metropolitan Area (Geo-Mexico Fig 22.2; all rights reserved)

In the Federal District, a similar system, known as “Cablebús”, is being touted an an integral part of a city-wide mobility program for the next five years. The first Cablebús would run from the Sierra de Santa Catarina to Iztapalapa metro station, in the south-eastern borough (delegación) of Iztapalapa, one of the lowest-income parts of the city.

Unlike Mexico’s existing cable cars, in cities like Durango and Zacatecas, these systems are definitely aimed to serve the local people in their daily lives, and are not designed as tourist attractions. Commuting by cable car could soon become the accepted way to get to work for some residents of Mexico City, a more rapid and less-polluting alternative to existing transport options.

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Jul 192012

A short Global Post video offers a valuable, up-to-date teaching resource about Mexico City’s latest attempts to tackle air pollution, and lower carbon dioxide emissions:

The video provides an introduction to Mexico City’s “green transportation revolution”, in which electric vehicles are gradually being phased in to replace conventional taxi fleets, bicycle routes are created, modern, fuel-efficient buses extend their coverage, and biodiesel buses have been introduced along a major arterial route. The initial priority has been on the downtown area of Mexico City, the Historic Center (Centro histórico) . This 3.5-square-kilometer area receives 70,000 vehicles a day, responsible for emitting 10,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide a year. Pollution in this area has been reduced significantly in recent years. City authorities use the Historic Center as a testing ground for pollution-reduction strategies, prior to rolling them out elsewhere across the giant metropolis.

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Mexico’s Puente Baluarte, the world’s tallest cable-stayed bridge, now officially open

 Mexico's geography in the Press, Updates to Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on Mexico’s Puente Baluarte, the world’s tallest cable-stayed bridge, now officially open
Jan 052012

Earlier today, President Felipe Calderón inaugurated the Puente Balarde, the world’s tallest cable-stayed bridge.

The bridge is 1.124 km long and wide enough for 4 lanes of traffic. Its central span extends 520 meters. At its highest point, it is a gravity-defying 403 metres (1322 feet) above the River Baluarte from which it takes its name. The bridge’s largest supporting pillar is 153 meters high, with a base measuring 18 meters by 30 meters.

Puente Baluarte Bicentenario. Photo: TRADECO

Construction, by Mexican firm TRADECO, has required 103,000 tons of cement and almost 17,000 tons of steel. The bridge joins the states of Durango and Sinaloa and removes the need for drivers to negotiate a very dangerous stretch of highway known as the Devil’s Backbone.

It is the centerpiece of a new highway between Durango and the Pacific coast resort of Mazatlán. The 312 km drive between the two cities, which took about five hours prior to the completion of the bridge, will now be dramatically shortened.

“This project will unite the people of northern Mexico as never before,” President Calderón said at the inauguration ceremony. Accordoing to the BBC, officials from the Guinness World of Records were on hand to present him with an award recognising the engineering feat. The previous record holder was the elegant Millau Viaduct in France.

Travel Note:

Even though the bridge has been inaugurated, the new Durango-Mazatlán highway is still many months from completion.

Update: New Durango-Mazatlán highway officially open(Oct 2013)

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Do paved roads lead to development?

 Excerpts from Geo-Mexico, Updates to Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on Do paved roads lead to development?
Jan 042012

In chapter 24 of Geo-Mexico, we described a typology of rural settlement locations and wrote that “rural localities near roads” (defined as those settlements within 3 km (2 mi) of a paved road) are an important category since they house 54% of all Mexico’s rural population. In fact, such settlements account for almost 90% of rural population in Quintana Roo and over 70% of the rural population in the states of Zacatecas, Yucatán, Campeche, San Luis Potosí, Nuevo León and Coahuila.

We explained that while “One of us believes that the location of paved roads is having an impact on rural settlement patterns, the other believes that rural settlement patterns are having an impact on the location of paved roads! Both viewpoints may be correct with their relative importance depending on the region in question.”

Shortly after the publication of Geo-Mexico, a loyal reader (“Jerezano“) wrote to us, agreeing with us, and sharing his personal insights into “rural localities near roads” based on his 23+ years living in the beautiful, small town of Jerez, in the state of Zacatecas. He writes,

“You are both correct, of course.”

“The rural settlement was in most cases located where it was long before the roads were paved. A municipality (municipio), when it decides to pave a road, considers many things:

  • a) Where does the money come from? Local residents, associations of residents in foreign countries who send money back for improvements? and municipal and federal matching funds?
  • b) Existing population figures which of course influence the traffic on the roads.
  • c) Economic contribution of that rural community to the welfare of the state and municipality.”

“So, a rural community with a fairly large population, a robust economy, and an active out-of-town group of supporters, will get a paved access road long before a different community which lacks those attributes. That is easily observable in almost any location.”

“But, once that access road has been paved, the influence is also usually observable by the improved economy of that community. Easy access of products to markets, easy access of potential new residents to the city, etc. will stimulate increases in costs of real estate, living, etc.”

“Here in Zacatecas, for example, the paving of the road to Susticacán from the Jerez-Guadalajara highway stimulated a building boom which is still in progress. The construction of the new 4- lane divided highway from Zacatecas City to Concepción de Oro, and now underway from Concepción de Oro to the Coahuila border, has created an extremely active trailer stop at the Villa de Cos intersection. Before the new highway was started, that intersection was a place with potential and people who had constructed facilities such as restaurants, hotels and a gasoline station were waiting with baited breath.”

Mexican trucks“They are now reaping the benefits of the movement of many, many tractor-trailers from the Ramos Arizpe to San Luis Potosí highway and on to Mexico over to the new Ramos Arizpe to Zacatecas to Mexico highway. At the Villa de Cos intersection where, in the past, you would see pickups, quarter ton, 3/4 ton and a maximum of 4 to 10 ton trucks, you can now see as many as 10 to 20 semi-trailers and doble-remolques (double drop trailers) parked in front of the main restaurant and hotel. All this because the road has been steadily improved over the years from a narrow, two lane Federal highway, with a bad surface most of the distance, to the modern 4 lane divided highway easily transited by rigs which (God forbid) are really too big to be on the highways.”

We sincerely thank Jerezano for taking the time to share these valuable personal insights into rural roads in his “neck of the woods” in Zacatecas, and hope that the New Year brings him and all our readers Health, Happiness and Prosperity.

Dec 072011

The federal government has announced a six-year overhaul of Mexico’s domestic natural gas market, coupled with building some major extensions to the existing natural gas pipeline network.

Recent discoveries of massive reserves of shale gas have prompted the government to abandon plans to build more nuclear power stations and focus more attention on natural gas. New combined-cycle power stations are planned, alongside 4,400 km of new pipelines, which will be funded by 8 billion dollars of public-private financing and bring natural gas to more than 5 million potential consumers for the first time.

The expansion of Mexico’s pipeline network will extend the system into four states–Zacatecas, Colima, Sinaloa and Morelos–where natural gas was previously unavailable. The improvements in infrastructure should persuade many businesses to switch from oil and liquid petroleum gas to cleaner and less expensive natural gas.

Projected gas pipeline network, 2020.

Mexico's projected natural gas pipeline network, 2020.

The major projects are shown on the map (green pipelines already exist). The Manzanillo-Guadalajara section (shown in red) is already built and being subjected to final testing before being brought on-stream early in 2012. It will immediately increase the competitiveness of companies in several key parts of central Mexico.

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The geography of road transport in Mexico

 Excerpts from Geo-Mexico, Updates to Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on The geography of road transport in Mexico
Oct 202011

Mexico’s road network is heavily used, accounting for over 95% of all domestic travel.  On a per person basis, Mexicans travel an average of 4500 km (2800 mi) by road each year.

In this post, we try to answer several general questions relating to the geography of road transport in Mexico.

How many cars are there?

On average there are about seven people per car in Mexico, compared to about six in Argentina, ten in Chile and less than two in the USA and Canada. There are far more cars in urban areas with their many businesses, taxis and wealthy residents. In poor rural parts of southern Mexico, private car ownership is quite rare.

Is there an efficient bus system?

Mexico also has an inter-city bus system that is one of the finest in the world. The nation’s fleet of more than 70,000 inter-city buses enables passengers to amass almost half a trillion passenger-km per year.

Where are Mexico’s vehicles made?

Almost all the vehicles on Mexico’s roads were built in Mexico. Mexico’s automobile-manufacturing sector produces about 2.2 million vehicles a year but the majority of production (about 1.8 million vehicles each year) is for export markets. Mexico is the world’s 9th largest vehicle maker and 6th largest vehicle exporter. In recent years, the relaxation of strict import regulations has resulted in more vehicles being imported into Mexico; many of them are luxury models not currently made in Mexico.

The major international vehicle manufacturers with plants in Mexico include Volkswagen, Ford, Nissan, GM, Renault, Toyota and Mercedes-Benz. Mexican companies include Mastretta, which specializes in sports cars, and DINA, a manufacturer of trucks, buses and coaches.

For more information about vehicle manufacturing in Mexico:

Where are Mexico’s vehicles?

Mexico has about 20 million registered vehicles, about one for every five persons (2005). Which areas have the most and least vehicles? It turns out that the northernmost state, Baja California, has the most with 37 registered vehicles per 100 people. The southernmost states, Chiapas and Oaxaca, have about one sixth as many with 6.6 and 6.9 respectively. In fact there is a very strong statistical relationship between latitude and vehicles (see graph). How can this be?

Scattergraph of latitude and vehicle registrationsWe are not suggesting a direct causal relationship. Many factors are interrelated. First, the states in the north tend to be wealthier; the Spearman rank correlation for GDP/person and latitude is 0.58. Vehicle ownership is closely related to GDP/person (rs = 0.59). Both these correlations are significant at the 99% level.

In addition, northern states are close to the USA, a vehicle-oriented society. However, there are some anomalies to the general pattern. The very wealthy Federal District has 50% more vehicles than would be expected from its latitude alone. States with many migrants, such as Jalisco and Michoacán, also have more vehicles than expected given their latitude. An added complication is that more than a million foreign-plated cars in Mexico (imported temporarily by returning migrants or foreigners) are not included in these figures.

How many road accidents are there in Mexico?

Mexico’s National Council for Accident Prevention estimates that there are 4 million highway accidents each year in Mexico. The latest figures (for 2010) show that there were 24,000 fatalities as a result of these accidents, with 40,000 survivors suffering some lasting incapacity. These figures include some of the 5,000 pedestrians struck by vehicles each year. Traffic accidents are currently the leading cause of death for those aged 5-35 in Mexico, and the second cause of permanent injury for all ages.

Why are there so many accidents?

Driver education plays a major role in road safety. Part of Mexico’s problem is the low budget it allocates each year for road safety—just US$0.40 compared to more than $3.00/person in the USA, more than $7.00/person in Canada and up to $40.00/person in some European countries.

It is no surprise that a high percentage of drivers involved in traffic accidents in Mexico have alcohol in their system. This is one of the reasons why accidents are statistically more frequent in the evenings from Thursday to Saturday. One study reported that as many as 1 in 3 of drivers in Guadalajara was under the influence of alcohol while driving, and 1 in 5 of Mexico City drivers.

Driving without insurance is common in Mexico; according to insurance companies, only 26.5% of Mexico’s 30.9 million vehicles have any insurance.

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Aviation history as Mexico’s Aeroméxico uses biofuel for transatlantic passenger flight

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Aug 132011

Aeroméxico, Mexico’s major international airline, made aviation history in July. Aeroméxico flight AM1, from Mexico City to Madrid, was the first ever commercial transatlantic passenger flight using bio-fuel. The Boeing 777 flew on a mixture of biofuel and regular jet fuel. Earlier this year, another Mexican airline, Interjet, began using renewable jatropha-based biofuel for flights between Mexico City and Tuxtla Gutierrez in the southern state of Chiapas. Jatropha is a genus of plants, mainly shrubs, that grow wild in several parts of Mexico, including Chiapas. Plantations of jatropha require four or five years of cultivation before the plant is sufficiently mature for commercial harvesting.

Jatropha-based biofuel is marketed as “green jet fuel” and is currently significantly more expensive than regular jet fuel. However, the price of biofuel is expected to fall rapidly as more of it is produced. The “life-time” emissions from using jatropha (including its growing period, processing and combustion) are estimated to be at least 60% less than using conventional jet fuel.

Sources of biodiesel.

Sources of biodiesel. Credit: Bayer CropScience

Mexico’s aviation sector will need 40 million liters of biofuel a year by 2015 in order to meet the national target of 1% of all airline fuel coming from renewable sources. The aviation industry’s long-term target is to halve its 2005 carbon footprint by 2050.

Despite Mexico’s recent adoption of jatropha-based biofuel, there is considerable controversy about the plant’s real value as a sustainable source of renewable energy. See, for example, the critique “Hailed as a miracle biofuel, jatropha falls short of hype” on Yale Environment 360, a publication of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.

Driving in Mexico: is it safe relative to other countries?

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Jul 282011

About 24,000 people were killed last year in traffic accidents in Mexico according to Ángel Martínez, Director of the Mexican Traffic Safety Research Center (Spanish acronym CESVI) . In the USA, the number was about 33,000 in 2010. Does this mean that is safer to drive in Mexico than the USA?

The simple answer is “no” because the USA has three times as many people, about ten times as many registered vehicles, and probably drives over ten times as many vehicle-miles as Mexico. Comparing traffic deaths among countries is relatively complicated because the data are often lacking or not comparable.

A large 2009 World Health Organization (WHO) study indicates that traffic deaths are related to numerous factors. Obviously, the number, age, condition and mix of motor vehicles are very important. Two-wheeled motor vehicles can be more dangerous than automobiles, buses or trucks. Furthermore, road quality, traffic infrastructure, laws, and enforcement are major factors. Many countries do not require use of seat belts, helmets or child seats. The training, skill level and behavior of drivers, as well as pedestrians, are also important. Other factors are alcohol use by drivers and pedestrians, as well as the quality and efficiency of emergency medical teams and health care systems.

50-vehicle pile-up in fog, Saltillo, January 2011

50-vehicle pile-up in fog, Saltillo, January 2011

According to the WHO study, Mexico ranked 12th in the world in total traffic fatalities. China ranked first with 221,000 deaths per year, followed by India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Indonesia, Russia, Brazil, USA, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran and then Mexico. Total deaths are related to population, number of vehicles and pedestrians, poor traffic control and emergency medical systems, as well as crowded roads shared by everything from trucks, buses, cars and motor bikes to livestock and pedestrians.

Mexico has about 21 traffic deaths per year per 100,000 population. This is a fairer way to compare countries. On this statistic, Mexico does slightly worse than Brazil (18), China (17), India (17), Indonesia (16), and Thailand (20). Though Mexico is slightly better than Peru (22), Venezuela (22), Russia (25), and Pakistan (25), considerable improvement is needed. President Calderón has set as a goal of reducing traffic deaths by 50% by 2020. Mexico is significantly behind some of the other Western Hemisphere countries such as Canada (9), USA (11), Argentina (14), Colombia (17) and even Guatemala (15).

The major countries with the safest traffic are Japan (5), UK (5), Germany (6), and France (8). The least safe countries are mostly in Africa and include Egypt (42), Ethiopia (35), Kenya (34), Nigeria (32), the Congo (32) and South Africa (33).

Wear your seat belt and drive safely!