May 12, 2023
TECÁMAC, MEXICO — Anabel Aguilar and her husband, Ángel Solis, have used a motorcycle for the last 14 years, driven by the need for fast and affordable transport for their growing family.
Aguilar says their motorcycle is cheaper than a car or paying for taxis, and safer than public transport; it offers an efficient transportation option for herself, her husband and three children.
“Now, we don’t all fit, but there was a time when all five of us would be on that scooter at once,” adds Solis, a repairman.
Over the last decade, motorcycle ownership has surged in Mexico City. Alongside this growth is a rapid increase in the number of accidents involving motorcycles, making them a road safety priority, according to the Mexico City Ministry of Mobility’s Comprehensive Road Safety Program 2020-2024. The program includes plans to properly maintain roads with high rates of traffic incidents involving motorcycles, and strengthen road safety education for all, with an emphasis on stricter testing for those obtaining motorcycle licenses for the first time and establishing additional motorcycle schools. But until these measures are in place, those who rely on motorcycles must ride with caution.
Aguilar, a saleswoman who lives in the municipality of Tecámac in the State of Mexico, says her family can’t afford a car. Although neither she nor her husband has been in a serious traffic accident, they have witnessed one involving a motorcycle and get nervous riding on busy roads, opting for quieter routes.
“Ten percent of accidents that are attended to by the Mexican Red Cross in Toluca involve a motorcycle rider, and they tend to be high-impact accidents for all those involved,” explains Mario Vázquez de la Torre, a representative of the Mexican Red Cross in Toluca, the capital of the State of Mexico, referring to accidents that result in hospitalization.
De la Torre says he is seeing more and more young motorcyclists involved in accidents. According to data from the National Institute of Statistics and Geography, most motorcycle and moped accidents in Mexico City and the State of Mexico involve drivers between 18 and 35 years old.
Despite laws to stop children under 12 from driving or riding on a motorcycle, it’s commonplace to see families traveling with young children on this mode of transport.
“It’s a cheaper way to transport the family,” explains Kevin Guadarrama, who often uses his motorcycle to collect his children, aged 10 and 7, from school — within a 10-block radius of his home. “Taxis are expensive, and we only go to places that are nearby; we don’t go long distances on the scooter.”
Motorbikes are cheaper than cars to buy and run, and while public transport is another cheap option, it’s often slower and many residents don’t consider it safe. Between 67% and 70% of the population felt unsafe on public transport last year, according to a survey carried out by the national statistics agency. Nancy Mar has commuted by motorcycle for seven years. She also runs Alerta Biker CDMX, a social media group for bikers where almost 200,000 members share information — from asking for help after an accident to warning each other about potholes or broken stoplights. She says that since she’s been riding her motorcycle, she has never had an accident but knows many people, particularly younger riders, who have.
“The main cause is speeding and being unable to control the motorcycle,” Mar says. She promotes the use of helmets, a legal requirement for bike riders, and protective gear, as well as driving responsibly and not allowing kids younger than 12 to ride, in her social media groups on Facebook and WhatsApp.
Constanza Delón, director of road safety and information monitoring at the Ministry of Mobility of Mexico City, couldn’t give a specific date as to when all the safety measures in the city government’s road safety plan would be in place.
Aline Suárez del Real, GPJ Mexico
She says police checkpoints, which include stopping motorcyclists not complying with safety rules, such as not wearing a helmet or riding with more than two people, as well as breathalyzer tests, are ongoing. The agency has also planned an awareness campaign to remind motorists that there are other vehicles on the road to watch out for.
Free motorcycle schools are opening across the city, in areas such as Iztapalapa, Xochimilco and Tláhuac, and some hold programs specifically for women to ensure they can learn how to ride a motorcycle in a safe space, she adds. Delón says the department is still evaluating whether these measures are cutting the number of accidents and they would have a better idea once all the plans were implemented, acknowledging that motorcycle ownership has risen rapidly since the pandemic.
Motorcycle owners such as Aguilar and Solis don’t see their transport situation changing any time soon.
They have two motorcycles now that their children are too big to all ride together. For long distances, they use public transport, something they believe is more dangerous than their motorcycles.
“We’d like a car, but right now we just can’t buy one. The prices have gone up a lot,” Solis says. “The motorcycle is easy to take care of and repair. … I wouldn’t get rid of it.”
Aline Suárez del Real is a Global Press Journal reporter based in Tecámac, in the state of Mexico.
Sarah DeVries, GPJ, translated this article from Spanish.