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Metrobús, Mexico City: Leading by example [free access]

November 1, 2010

Mexico’s first bus rapid transit (BRT) system, Metrobús, which was launched five years ago, has been a trendsetter for public transport projects in the country. It has led to the development of several other BRT projects in the country; introduced operational efficiencies in public transport; and reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the world’s third largest city by population,  Mexico City. About 50 km of the BRT system is already operational, and additional lines are currently under development.


Selecting the BRT option

BRT was introduced in Mexico City to tackle the two major problems of increasing pollution levels and traffic congestion. Given that bus transport accounted for 60 per cent of the total daily trips, a BRT system had greater financially viability compared to the metro in providing an integrated and comprehensive transport system for the city. The success of BRT in other Latin American cities such as Bogota, Colombia and Curitiba also provided a strong case in favour of this option.

Project proponents

The key public agencies involved in the project are the World Bank, the World Resources Institute Center for Sustainable Transport (EMBARQ), a Mexico-based non-governmental organisation CEIBA and the Government of Mexico City. From the private sector, Shell Foundation, Caterpillar Foundation and Hewlett Foundation are supporting the project. In addition, the non-profit organisation, the Center for Sustainable Transport in Mexico (CTS-Mexico), is providing ongoing technical assistance to the Metrobús system.

Project details and progress

Metrobús began operations in June 2005. The system currently has two operational lines spanning about 50 km and covering 81 stops. Details of these lines are provided in Table 1.


Table 1: Details of Metrobús BRT system


Commencement of operations

Length (km)


Passengers per day (million)

Line 1

Indios Verdes–Ei Caminero

June 2005




Metrobús Insurgentes Extension sur

March 2008




Line 2


December 2008




Line 3

Río de los Remedios in the north to Glorieta de Vaqueritos in the south

First quarter of 2011*




* expected

Source: EMBARQ 2009 and Global Mass Transit Research



Key players

The system operates under innovative institutional arrangements that decentralise responsibilities for its operation and regulation. Table 2 lists the key players involved in the project implementation.

Table 2: Key players involved in the
Metrobús BRT project



SETRAVI, DF’s government transport and highway department

Planning, regulation and control

Corredor Insurgentes SA de CV (CISA) [private] and Red de Transporte de Pasajeros del Distrito Federal (RTP) [public]

Management of Metrobús vehicle fleet

Trust Fund

Management, investment and distribution of collected money, fare collection

ASK based in Sophia Antipolis

Supply of contactless smart cards, readers and couplers

Source: Global Mass Transit Research

Rolling stock and fare system technology

Over 200 articulated buses have been introduced on the first two lines. The DF government has ordered 54 new articulated buses for Line 3, of which 42 will be delivered in November 2010 and 12 in December 2010. The government made an initial payment of USD3.48 million for these buses in October 2010.

Smart card technology has been provided by France-based contactless smart card manufacturer ASK. Over 6.5 million contactless smart cards have been provided since the launch of the BRT in 2005. Currently, over 500,000 passengers use smart cards. A card costs USD1.15 (the service is free for people aged 70 and above, for children under five and for the disabled) and a single trip costs USD0.38.


With the commencement of the BRT, a modal shift has been observed, away from private transport and towards public transport. This is reflected in the findings of the various surveys conducted over the years by the Instituto de Investigaciones Sociales. A survey conducted in September 2009 shows that people find the Metrobús a safer and better option than other modes of public transport such as the subway and electric transport. A summary of the survey results is provided in Table 3. In addition, the use of the BRT system has reduced travel time by almost 30–40 per cent.

Table 3: BRT user survey results


September 2009

June 2009

June 2008

Service provided (on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being worst and 10 being best)




Service better than, equal to, or worse than subway (%)

57 (best)

33 (same)

9 (worse)

49 (best)

41 (same)

9 (worse)

53 (best)

34 (same)

12 (worse)

Service better than, equal to, or worse than electric transport (%)

50 (best)

23 (same)

6 (worse)

59 (best)

16 (same)

4 (worse)

50 (best)

21 (same)

7 (worse)

Protection of physical and moral integrity (%)

86 (yes)

86 (yes)

74 (yes)

Source: Instituto de Investigaciones Sociales

The project’s contribution to environmental protection is seen in the fact that it is the first project in Latin America to receive the 2009 Roy Family Award for Environmental Partnership from Harvard University, which recognises public–private partnerships for enhancing environmental quality. In 2007, the system also became the first public transportation system in the world to sell carbon credits on the international market. The system has made significant improvements to the air quality. Over 800 polluting minibuses have been replaced by Euro-III- and Euro-IV-compliant, clean-burning, ultra-low-sulphur diesel buses, which are now the only buses to be used on the system. Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in Mexico City have been reduced by an estimated 80,000 tonnes per year. Levels of carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxide (NOx), and particulate matter (PM) emissions have also been curtailed.

Table 4 highlights the net positive impact of the Metrobús on Mexico City’s environment and commuter time savings.

Table 4: Impact of Metrobús on Mexico City’s environment and commuter time savings


Reduction in emissions

Commuter time savings

Metrobús  Insurgentes I, Mexico City

PM: 4–10 tonnes/year

NOx: 784–387 tonnes/year

CO: 160 tonnes/year

CO2: 26,000–36,000 tonnes/ year

26 minutes/trip (30 per cent)

Metrobús  Insurgentes South Extension, Mexico City

PM: 2 tonnes/year

NOx: 82 tonnes/year

CO: 34 tonnes/year

CO2: 8,000–10,000 tonnes/ year

12 minutes/trip (30 per cent)

Metrobús Linea 2 (Eje 4 Xola), Mexico City

PM: 4 tonnes/year

NOx: 153 tonnes/year

CO: 59 tonnes/year

CO2: 30,000 tonnes/year

26 minutes/trip (30 per cent)

Source: Embarq 2009 and Global Mass Transit Research

Going forward, Mexico City’s Climate Action Plan 2008–12 proposes to reduce CO2 equivalent emissions by 4.4 million tonnes per year, which represents 12 per cent of the annual GHG emissions in the city. Of this, the Metrobús BRT corridor is expected to contribute a reduction of 214,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year.

Nevertheless, there is scope for improvement and the Metrobús can look into some other areas to achieve greater efficiency. These steps include the introduction of a stop/express bus service (as is currently in use in Transmilenio, Bogota and Mexibús) and the use of compressed natural gas (CNG) buses or hybrid diesel–electric buses.     

Project significance

As a frontrunner of BRT projects in Mexico, the Metrobús offers meaningful lessons for other projects to follow. It has highlighted the importance of garnering multi-stakeholder support for successful project implementation. A partnership of public agencies and private financiers has ensured the support of different stakeholders and has resulted in technical and financial support for various stages of project impelmentation. Correct corridor selection for maximum commuter benefit has not only improved the image of public transport but has also proved to be a success factor that could be replicated in the case of other projects. Finally, the formation of CISA (an association of private bus operators that were in service before the BRT was launched) as a single entity to carry out operations has been a smooth process.

The lessons derived from implementing Metrobús are already being replicated in other BRT projects in Mexico, such as the Mexibús in the state of Mexico. Details of this project are provided in Box 1.

BOX 1: Mexibús

Mexibús is an articulated transport system in Mexico state. It was recently operationalised with the opening of 18 stations in October 2010. The system comprises two lines:

  • Line 1: This 16-km line covering 24 stations connects Ciudad Azteca in Ecatepec de Morelos city to Tecámac town. The system was opened for commercial operations on October 9, 2010. Once fully operationalised, 63 Volvo 7300 BRT buses will transport more than 0.13 million users per day.
  • Line 2: This 34.28-km line connects Las Americas Ecatepec to Dairy in Tultitlan. In July 2010, UrbanBus, a consortium comprising Gami Group, Eugedon, Latin ID SA de CV and Tuosa, won the contract to build the project infrastructure.

Mexibús is operated by Transmasivo SA, while Transbusmex is in charge of the pre-payment system. Transmasivo runs services from 4:30 a.m. until midnight, all seven days of the week. The bus service is both regular and express/limited, on two routes each. The journey costs USD7 irrespective of the distance.

(1 MXN [Mexican Peso] = 0.08 USD)