They’re Banned, But Mototaxis Get People in Mexico City Where They Need To Go

Mototaxis, or motorcycles with trailers attached, are a popular form of transportation in Mexico City, even though the government forbade their use two years ago.

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Cars, taxis, buses and mototaxis – motorcycles with homemade trailers welded to the back that can carry up to four people – plow through intersections.

In the fight to move on these crowded streets, the mototaxis appear ready to win. They are smaller than cars, cheaper than taxis and faster than buses.

And there’s a lot of them – despite the fact that they’re prohibited on the streets.

In fact, more than 20,000 mototaxis operate in Mexico City, says José Giberth García Campoy, who runs a collective for alternative transportation, Frente de Organizaciones de Transporte Colectivo y Alternativo (FOTCA).

Mexico City’s notorious traffic has made mototaxis a necessity. A recent survey by the National Institute of Statistics, Geography and Informatics estimates that people take more than 273,000 mototaxi trips every day in Mexico City and its metropolitan area. That’s 3.7% of all public transportation trips.

Mototaxis are popular with passengers and drivers alike. Passengers say mototaxis pick up passengers in hard-to-reach parts of the city and accommodate short trips that buses and subways do not. They cost about the same as a bus fare, 5 pesos (25 cents), but passengers say they are much faster and safer, as theft is common on buses here. A similar ride in a taxi would cost about four times as much. Meanwhile, drivers say they offer a reliable source of self-employment.

In September 2017, the city passed a new Mobility Law that prohibited mototaxis. Two years later, though, they continue to operate with relative ease.

Here’s how they do it:

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Jesús Barrera Romero, 49, begins his shift around 5:30 a.m. He drives some 19 kilometers (11 miles) from his home to a busy metro station in the southern part of the city. He stores the carriage, the addition to the bike that carries passengers, at his in-laws’ house nearby. He cleans the carriage, hooks it to his motorcycle, checks the lights and heads out to pick up his first customer of the day.

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Mototaxi drivers take passengers to the Nopalera metro station. They drive with the Atlixco Volcanes cooperative, which is one of 600 members that form the FOTCA collective.

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Barrera Romero has been a mototaxi driver for the last six years, after being laid off from his job as a welder. Despite the prohibition of mototaxis, he says business is steady. In a day, he makes about 500 pesos ($25) driving 12-13 hours.

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Vendors on Mexico City’s San Pablo Street are famous for selling bicycles and bike accessories, including the carriages that mototaxi drivers attach to their bikes. Juan Merino, the manager of the Bike Depot store, says they have sold carriages for more than 20 years. The models sell for anywhere from 2,990 pesos to 6,000 pesos ($152-$304). The most expensive ones have motorcycle-type rims. Merino says sales have increased in the last two years, despite the ban on mototaxis.

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Jorge Eligio (left) and Martín Eligio of the Atlixco Volcanes cooperative build and cover carriages with plastic sheeting for mototaxi drivers who drive for the organization. Some drivers prefer to buy and cover their own carriages. For those who don’t, they charge 4,500 pesos ($228) for a covered carriage or 250 pesos ($13) to apply the plastic sheeting.

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Carriage drivers are expected to pick up and drop off in parts of the city not served by other public transportation, including in areas with steep hills and unpaved roads.

Rishi Khalsa, GPJ, translated this story from Spanish.