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Apps Try to Crack Code of Mexico City Transportation

Predict traffic, plan multi-modal transit routes, map your bus route with smart phone technology
By The News · 09 of May 2016 05:21:49
Moovit transportation app's rendering of residents talking transit., No available, No available


In one of the world’s biggest cities, traversing from neighborhood to neighborhood can sometimes seem a bit daunting. Could it be that your transportation woes would be alleviated by an app?

According to figures released by capital mapping project Mapatón, Mexico City is the largest transportation system in Latin America. It is home to 1,500 different routes. 14 million trips are taken by residents each day (a figure that seems low in a metropolitan area that is home to 21.2 million.) And in addition to bustling subway and Metrobús systems, some 30,000 buses, microbuses and trolleys — many of them operated by private owners — make all this possible.

But since many routes have no centralized system of control, it can be difficult to find the bus, truck or trolley that will take you to your destination.

That’s where Mapatón comes in. Early this year, the government-initiated project asked citizens to help out by mapping their favorite routes using their smart phones. Top contributors would earn cash, Mapatón coordinators promised.

The project administrators early on suggested that data would be available to the general populace as early as the end of February, though that hasn’t yet happened. Mapatón representatives didn’t immediately respond to The News’ request for an update on the project.

But not everyone wants to ride public transportation. Mexico City is also home to 5.5 million cars, making it the most congested city in the world according to some counts. According to The Economist, if current car purchasing trends persist, that number will double in just four years.

The auto glut has contributed to the city’s dire air pollution problem, which caused the city to proclaim its first environmental alert in 14 years this spring.

In response, the city has expanded its “Hoy No Circula” driving restrictions program, which mandates that on bad air days certain autos must stay off the roads.

Car owners, predictably, have reacted negatively to these restrictions, and many refuse to give up car transportation even when their vehicle has been ordered to stay in the garage.

Uber hit a PR nightmare on one recent “Hoy No Circula” day when surge rate pricing rose to astronomic levels. Afterwards, the company apologized to its users and offered to refund those who had been affected most dramatically.

Traffic clogged Mexico City streets have left motorists open to solutions that a wave of transportation apps promise. Photo: Notimex/Nicolás Tavira

Traffic-clogged Mexico City streets have left motorists open to solutions that a wave of transportation apps promise. Photo: Notimex/Nicolás Tavira

One urban navigation app, Moovit, chose Mexico City to be the premiere of its new integration with Uber. Now, when users are browsing subway and Metrobús routes, they can also opt to call an Uber for the entire trip or for one leg.

Uber’s global mobile policy lead Andrew Salzberg, said that the company hopes that multi-modal transportation can become an attractive option for everyone, whether that means daily trips or larger journeys outside the city.

“Our integration with Moovit helps us to advance in that objective around the world, allowing for complete trips with Uber and public transportation,” said Salzberg.

Indeed, companies are creating apps that can assist with many issues faced by Mexico City commuters. Motorists can also use apps like Waze to see where traffic is snarling, and which roads are best to avoid on any given day. Waze’s Twitter feed also includes updates on where vehicular clogging is taking place.

(Additional reporting from Notimex)