dusk near Cuernavaca

dusk near Cuernavaca

Saturday, April 9, 2016

You Can't Drive Today!

Since 1989 Mexico City has had a program commonly known as "Hoy No Circula"... "Today (your car) does not circulate".  It was initiated to reduce the air pollution in what was then considered to be the most contaminated city in the world.  Today that dubious honor is held by a number of cities in India and Pakistan.  (Yes, they are even worse than Beijing, China.)  Mexico City's air quality has improved to the point where it is about the same as Los Angeles... not great, but better than it used to be.

The "Hoy No Circula" program said that motorists in the city were prohibited from driving their cars one day each week.  The day was determined by the final digits of one's license plate.  Exempt from the rule were new autos (up to six years old) that passed an emissions test twice a year.  However, that changed this month.  From April 5th until June 30th even the owners of newer cars have one day of the week when they are not allowed to drive.  The only exceptions are hybrid and electric cars.  By June, the rainy season begins, and pollution levels drop.  Everyone is speculating as to whether the new regulations will be temporary or will be made permanent.

My friend Alejandro is suddenly not allowed to drive on Wednesdays from 5 AM until 10 PM.  On that day he has to make an even more time-consuming commute via public transport to his office.  I arrived here in Mexico on Wednesday, April 6th, at the beginning of the new "Hoy No Circula" rules.  Alejandro had to take public transport to come to the airport to meet me, and we took a taxi to get to the apartment that I have rented.

The new rules have generated a lot of anger and controversy.  Motorcycle riders staged a huge protest rally, and the government backed down and gave them an exemption.  Motorists have been complaining bitterly but have not had any organized protests.   The ironic thing is that experts from the National University say that these new rules are not going to have any impact on the air quality in the city.  One might expect that streets and highways in the city would be less congested, but Alejandro has not found that to be true.  However, the subway and the buses... which were already packed like sardines at certain hours of the day... are now even worse and are not able to handle the increased number of riders. 

The Mexico City Metrobus - Come ride in the sardine can!


  1. Meanwhile, the combis and the garbage trucks, the worst polluters of all, continue to circulate without problem.

    Yes, the city needs to do something more about air pollution, but "hoy no circula" seems stupid at best. The rich simply buy extra cars while the rest confront an already-overcrowded public transit system.

    They really need to do something about the old cars, and especially trucks and buses on the streets. Not to mention all those food vendors using charcoal-fired grills, which also emit a HUGE amount of air pollution.

    Saludos y buen viaje,

    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where the air is nearly pristine right now.

    1. According to Alejandro, even some of the new Metrobuses belch exhaust!
      Outside of the city, another problem which should be addressed, is the way in which farmers burn their fields in the spring. This weekend we went to Morelos, and the sky seemed just as smoggy as in CDMX. And there was a major forest fire near Tepoztlan... probably started from a farmer's burning field.

    2. Don't even get me started on the medieval practice of burning fields. I saw so many of them while I did my road trip 2 years ago, that it was disgusting. It creates an enormous amount of pollution, not to mention that it rains down cinders on the area miles around.

      Some of F's friends have a house near Teques, and their patio fills with ashes in the spring time.