STORY AND PHOTOS BY ALANA ELLIS
Mexico City (Distrito Federal or el D.F. to the locals) is the largest Spanish-speaking city in the world and the third largest city by urban agglomeration. It’s a vibrant and fascinating city to visit. And yes, it’s huge, so the thought of finding your way around can be daunting. This article is intended to help you use the public transport system like a local, saving you money and time.
If you are arriving in Mexico City via Benito Juarez airport, there is a metro rail station that serves the airport, however luggage is not permitted on the metro. If you have any more than carry on bags you will need to catch a taxi or take a Metrobus to your first destination. If you decide to catch a Metrobus, look for the machines that sell prepaid rechargeable Metro cards at the airport. These cards cost an initial fee of 10 pesos (approximately 0.83c AUD), can be recharged at Metrobus stations throughout your stay and also work on the Metro rail system. Metrobus rides from or to the airport cost 30 pesos. If you will be in town for a while and expect to use public transport on a regular basis it is worth buying a Metro card. This will help you avoid the often long lines found at ticket booths. Each stop on the Metrobus is clearly marked and the bus stops at every station on its route, there is no need to alert the driver when you wish to make a stop.
Once you’ve dropped your bags off, the easiest and without a doubt fastest way to get around the city is by the underground metro rail system. This is officially called Sistema de Transporte Colectivo and is one of the cheapest underground systems in the world at 5 pesos (approximately 0.42c AUD) to go anywhere on the network. Many tourists have safety reservations about using the metro, but as a result of the war on drugs which started in 2006 under Felipe Calderon’s administration, one of the first things you will notice about Mexico City is the huge police and security presence. There are officers on almost every street corner and at every metro stop on almost every platform. You may even see security officers at more expensive shopping malls guarding the entrances with Uzis. To put the number of police in perspective, the Small Arms Survey website counts 471 officers per 100,000 people in Mexico, while Australia has only 257. So you should not feel unsafe using the Metro.
Trains do get very busy during peak hour – which can often last from 4 – 7pm on weekdays. If you can travel outside these hours it is worth doing so. During peak hours certain subway cars are designated for women and children only. These cars are marked by conspicuous pink placards and the metro security officers will direct men away from these areas. Get yourself a Metro map to carry around with you as there are few maps inside the system and you don’t want to get lost. Each line is colour coded and every station has a unique picture associated with it. The planners of the Metro had to use pictures as well as words due to high illiteracy rates in Mexico City in the 1960’s so its an easy system for tourists to navigate.
Of course, be sensible when using public transport in a foreign country. Don’t carry large amounts of cash on you. Men shouldn’t keep their wallets in their pockets and women should hold their handbags in front of them. If you play it smart, the biggest annoyance you should have on Metro carriages will come from the hawkers who will try to sell you everything from chewing gum to recipe books. Don’t draw attention to yourself by speaking at the top of your voice and checking your tourist map every five minutes. Take your cues from the locals, play it cool, and you will be zipping across el D.F. in no time at all.