Thursday, October 6, 2016

Combis, Microbuses, and Metro...Getting Around Mexico City

Hola a todxs,

      I hope y'all are well and enjoying the beginning of autumn, wherever you may be. I write this almost a full month (!) at my site placement, and seeing as how navigating public transportation is a big part of my daily life here in the city, I thought I would share with y'all what I have learned so far about getting around CDMX. The public transportation system in the city is extremely complex and multi-layered, so I am going to start at the micro-level, and work my way up.


       A combi is effectively a small bus about the size of a minivan that serves to pick up people from their neighborhoods, and take them to different spots around the neighborhood, often to the nearest metro station. These are most often bright green, and have a sign in the front window indicating the metro stops they go to, and the streets they go by. They come extremely frequently, and during rush hour, you never have to wait more than 5 minutes for another combi to come by. Combis can hold 8-10 people each, and the atmosphere is extremely congenial: whenever someone boards the combi, they greet everyone with a buenos dias/buenas tardes/buenas noches, and when they leave they wish everyone que les vaya bien or que tengan bonito dia. Each combi ride costs between 4-5.5 pesos (about 20 cents), depending on how far you are going, and depending on where you sit in the combi, you may be asked by other riders to pass up the pesos to the driver, who is miraculously able to watch the road, drive, and make change, often at the same time. One never knows who one will meet in a combi-just the other day, two older gentlemen were in my combi, and I overheard them talking about the United States. They gave me a questioning look, and I confirmed that I was indeed from the U.S. The older of the two told me he had assumed I was from the U.S. given my height, skin color, hair color, and eye color. He then began to loudly sing a song about how beautiful my eyes were, at which point the color of my eyes was further brought out by the bright red flush that spread across my face, much to the delight of the fellow passengers. However, I knew he meant no harm, and this congenial teasing between strangers has made my life (and combi rides) all the more interesting in CDMX. 

   A microbus is effectively a larger version of a combi, more similar to 15-passenger vans, that often take people from metro stops back to the neighborhoods, and also cost 4 pesos. I generally use these when I am coming home and it is dark, raining, or I just don't feel like walking. Although the atmosphere is less chatty on microbuses than on combis, people are still willing to help you out, especially if one day you happen to take a microbus in the exact opposite direction of where you need to go. Theoretically, of course. 

     There is an extremely large network of city buses within Mexico City, which cost 5 pesos (about 25 cents) and are clean and very comfortable. However, I am generally a solid 5-7 inches taller than the average person here, and thus, sometimes have difficulty finding seats where my knees don't knock up against the seat in front of me. There are no set stops for the buses, and drivers stop for people when they hail the bus from the side of the street. Often, musicians board buses to perform in exchange for a few pesos, and my fellow passengers I have been serenaded by guitarists, singers, and even free style rappers on the bus. 

     The metrobus is a relatively new addition to the city, opening in 2005 and has several lines that often connect with metro stops. As of 2013, it transported 900,000 passengers daily. It is effectively an above ground metro, in that it drives in lanes solely devoted to the metrobus and comes every few minutes. It costs 6 pesos (about 30 cents) per ride with unlimited transfers, and the first cars are reserved for women, children, the elderly, and people with disabilities. During rush hour, the buses and platforms can become impossibly crowded, with people surging forward to try and board the few spaces available as people get off the bus. Although it has it's own lane, the metrobus still has to stop at intersections for traffic, so I often find it quicker to simply walk to the nearest metro stop. However, this is a quick and easy way to get around the city. 

      The metro system in CDMX is one of the biggest in the world, and transports 4 million people every day. It is clean, efficient, and cheap, with each ride costing 5 pesos (20 cents) with unlimited transfers. The first two cars are reserved for women, children, the elderly, and people with disabilities, but don't let the abuelitas fool you-during rush hour, as the train emerges from the tunnel like a giant orange snake, the crowds surge forward and push and push and push to try and get into the car. As our country coordinator put it, if aggressive is not your personality, you have to make it your personality on the CDMX rush hour metro. The metro often reminds me of a clown car, with a seemingly impossible number of people inside. Needless to say, you get extremely up close and personal with the people around you. Fans whir to try and fight the body heat of so many people in such a small space, and as I am generally the tallest person in the women's car, I can catch a breeze of air from the open windows as the train shoots down the tracks. During less crowded times, vendors often board the metro, selling everything from gum, candy, flowers, chocolate, headphones, coat hangers, and packs of coffee. In the metro stations, as you move with the surge of people from one line to the other, you pass several shops and stands selling clothes, DVDs, food, toiletries, luggage, purses, cellphones and anything else you can imagine. If you find yourself in need of something in CDMX, keep your eyes open during your commute, and you will probably be able to find it. The metro is generally my favorite way to get around, as it is extremely fast, avoids the ever-present traffic, and come every few minutes. However, if you throw in some rain or a major event/concert, a system that is already best descried as organized chaos can grind to a halt. 

     My commute is about an hour, which is relatively short by CDMX standards-many people who live outside the city have commutes upwards of three hours. Although it is the time of day when I am literally surrounded by dozens of people, it is also good "alone time"-a chance to relax and process the day, I am also struck by the kindness of strangers-besides the metrobus and metro, there are no set maps for public transportation, so it requires a lot of asking people for directions. Although people are generally first confused by my heavily accented Spanish, they are helpful and kind in getting me where I need to go.

     Thank you for all your messages, love, and support. Thanks to the generosity of my family, friends, home congregation, and many other donors, I am fully funded (!), but if you are interested in contributing to the growth and availability of the YAGM program for future volunteers, please feel free to donate on my personal page at As always, please feel free to contact me via Facebook or email.

Abrazos fuertes,



  1. Great article, love you heaps, look forward to seeing it in person

  2. Love the local "flavor" I get from your writinga, Sunshine. Praying for you daily & LYMTA always! Grandma Barbara

  3. Love the local "flavor" I get from your writinga, Sunshine. Praying for you daily & LYMTA always! Grandma Barbara