- Mexico City is one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world, and its metro carries 1.6 billion people every year.
- New York City is the only subway that carries more passengers, but Mexico City’s system puts it to shame.
- My experience in the Mexican capital showed that trains can be fast, clean, and quiet, without the need for expensive station upgrades or even express trains.
New York City could learn a lot from Mexico City’s metro system.
The Mexican capital is the largest city in North America, and even the US’ largest city pales in comparison to its sweeping neighbourhoods and suburbs that stretch for miles across the valley.
Despite carrying 1.6 billion passengers per year – second only to New York in North America – in and around Mexico’s capital, which is the largest Spanish speaking city in the world, the system is relatively simple to navigate and eerily quiet compared with New York’s screeching trains (and, often time, loud musicians).
And while the streets above are clogged with traffic and pollution, below ground, trains were quiet, quick, and efficient. Here’s what my experience was like:
Like most cities, the entrances are clearly marked above ground. In most of the stations I visited there were multiple entrances for a stop.
Many stations in the historic city center, like here at Bellas Artes, look almost exactly like Paris’ famous Guimard-designed Art Nouveau entrances.
Every station has its own icon, usually related to its history or location in the city. That makes the city a lot easier to navigate for people who may not be able to read.
There’s a total of 12 lines crisscrossing the city and connecting to regional rail services.
The system is open from 5 a.m. to midnight and has only two tracks in each direction – which means no express trains like in New York.
Most stations had expansive mezzanines with food vendors, shoe-shine stands, internet cafe’s, and more.
And yes, even Domino’s Pizza.
First things first, I needed a ticket. Fares run 5 pesos per person per trip, or roughly $US0.26, and can be bought only in person at a booth.
There’s also a reloadable card you can buy, but most people seemed to favour the paper tickets.
The ticket lines can get long, but they move quickly.
Once on the platform, things were sparkling clean and very orderly.
On that TV, a piano cover of A-ha’s 1985 hit “Take On Me” was playing.
Two cars are always reserved for women and children. At busy stations, a police officer was present to make sure no one accidentally boarded in the wrong section.
Yellow lines mark where the doors will open when a train pulls in. “Let people off before boarding,” a sign reads above each door.
Trains can get crowded — very crowded — during rush hour. This photo is from midmorning, when things had calmed down a bit after the morning rush.
Unlike New York, though, people seemed more willing to help someone find their stop or get off the train when needed.
Here, you can see the rubber wheels that not only keep noise down, but also help in the event of an earthquake, which are common in the city.
The two newest lines run on metal wheels and look more like European subway systems.
There’s also an emergency ladder in each car in case of a seismic event.
On board, the trains are like most other subway cars in the world. There appeared to be air conditioning, but the windows were open.
There aren’t any loudspeaker announcements for stops — so paying attention to the strip map was super important, especially when it was too crowded to see out the window.
Only 24 of the system’s 195 stations connect multiple lines — but the transfers are often beautiful walks.
At La Raza, a light tunnel is filled with educational posters about the history of the world.
Where else can you walk the entire world timeline scaled to a five minute walk?
Unlike New York, outside stations are protected from the elements and are just as clean as their subterranean counterparts. The skylights are also a nice touch.
So, while I was eager to return home after my brief trip, I’ll miss the simplistic beauty of Mexico City’s metro — as well as the delicious snacks.
I’ll admit that I rode the trains only a handful of times over five days, but in that time I experienced no delays or service changes (the likes of which are now all too common in New York City.)
What’s more, the language barrier caused no issues whatsoever – something that any foreign visitor to New York would likely say is a big headache for figuring out the complicated system.
All things considered, Mexico City’s metro gets a full 10 out of 10 rating in my book.
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