Sunday June 9 2013

Riding ‘kamunye’in Mexico’s cities


The pesero or microbus could easily symbolise transportation in Mexico City. This privately-owned conveyance, designed to carry 22 seated passengers, will usually carry up to 50, with the rest standing. It is painted white and green, and will stop anywhere and everywhere to pick up passengers. It has no conductor; the passenger thus has to pay his fare as he boards, directly to the driver.

Just like his Ugandan counterpart, the kamunye driver, his employer expects him to pay him an agreed quota at the end of each day and keep the rest of the money. He is therefore not paid a salary. The pesero accounts for about 60 per cent of public transportation in Mexico City, and charges between 3 and 5 pesos (Shs650 and Shs1,200) per trip, depending on distance. It’s also notorious for not adhering to traffic rules and for causing, and being involved in, accidents.

Riding counter to the traffic flow
A smaller percentage of the passengers are served by electric trolleybuses and metro buses, with the former, like the pesero, coming in green-and-white hues and the latter in red. Both the trolleybuses and metro buses – which come as single or articulated units – follow dedicated lanes, and run counter to the normal traffic flow.

This can complicate matters for the visitor to the city, who has to look in a different direction when crossing a trolleybus or metro bus lane (after having adapted to crossing roads where vehicles keep right instead of left). To board a trolleybus, you pay the fare at the door, but for the metro bus one has to purchase a pre-paid fare card, which activates the turnstile that enables access to the metro bus station. The card costs about 5 pesos per trip. Those 70 and older, the disabled and under-five children who are accompanied by adults, however, travel free-of-charge.

A tourist’s best buddy
For the sightseer, the best option is the Turibus coach, a red, open-roofed double-decker. One has to part with a lot more money to travel on these coaches – between 140 and 165 pesos (Shs30,000 and Shs35,000) – but will be taken on a circuit of the most important tourist attractions in the city.

Then there are the taxi cabs, maroon-and-white or green-and-white, which charge rates based on metre readings. You can either book one or hail one off the street.
For leisurely wandering around the city, rickshaws, pedal or motorised (the latter called mototaxis), are available. This means of transport, like the Turibus coaches, are very popular with tourists.

Going far away?
The most popular means of long-distance transport is the bus. One can choose between an ordinary bus and one of the luxury coaches that ply all the important highways. Most of the luxury coaches seat only 24 passengers, serve a snack and bottled water and have a washroom at the back, but the passenger has to shell out anything up to 920 pesos (about Shs200,000) for a 500-kilometre journey.

My colleagues and I used one such coach to travel to Oaxaca on the South Pacific coast, for which we had to cough up 814 pesos (about Shs170,000) each, about fourfold what one would pay on an ordinary bus. The coaches are very comfortable and move at a controlled speed, and are thus very safe.

For the time-pressed worker who wishes to avoid the ubiquitous traffic jams, the underground – or metro – offers a convenient, though sometimes crowded, alternative. The 12 metro lines reach all parts of Mexico City, and some of the carriages are set apart for use by women, children and the elderly.