More parking meters in Mexico City = Less cars

If I could describe Mexico´s public and private transport in one word I would say: chaotic.  According to Forbes magazine Mexico City is the #1 city with more traffic in the world, spending more than 59% extra time in the car. But what are we doing wrong?

The Institute of National Statistics and Geography (INEGI) indicates that 25% of the population is concentrated in Mexico City; this means that around 30,000,000 people are trying to move from one place to another practically every day. Of all these trips, between 70% and 80% are made in public transport.

The origin of this problem is that the majority of the public investment is focused in vehicular infrastructure for new roads, parking lots, overpasses, road distributors, among others. This way the government is promoting the use of cars, creating more traffic. This type of development focus in automobiles is inequitable and excludes a lot of people because only 30% of the population owns a car.

More car trips = more vehicular congestion = higher energy consumption = more pollution

The excessive use of cars has a negative cost for the whole population, we have economic losses due to the congestion, health problems, accidents and environmental damage to name a few. Regarding pollution, 34 million people are been exposed to poor air quality (INEGI) . This is having an impact in people, sometimes even death. In 2016 we reached the highest level of pollution in the air according to IMECA (Metropolitan Air Quality Index in Spanish), so the government decided that during 3 months every car could not circulate once a week and once a month on weekends to reduce the air pollution.

But it is not all bad news. Fortunately The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) has been working in Mexico since 2006 promoting sustainable and equitable transport, with the aim of improving the life of the citizens, where people are put before cars.

They work to have cities with less congestion, less pollution, fewer accidents and healthier, safer, more productive communities. To be able to achieve this they follow 8 principles:

  1. WALK | Develop neighborhoods that promote walking
  2. CYCLE | Prioritize non-motorized transport networks
  3. CONNECT | Create dense networks of streets and paths
  4. TRANSIT | Locate development near high-quality public transport
  5. MIX | Plan for mixed use
  6. DENSIFY | Optimize density and transit capacity
  7. COMPACT | Create regions with short commutes
  8. SHIFT | Increase mobility by regulating parking and road use


ITDP has made several projects in Mexico City. They started in February 2010 with the first public bicycle program “Ecobici” with 1,114 bicycles and 85 stations, they also support the rapid bus “Metrobus” and collaborated with the parking meters.

ITDP is working in solutions focused in mobility. They strongly believe that the solution for traffic is not the construction of new roads and parking lots, since with time this creates more traffic because it promotes the use of the car. This organization proposes that the correct use of parking lots in and out of the streets can help solve this problem. This means that the space in the street should be administrated. If we think about it, cars spend most of the time stopped and we are not addressing this properly. Due to the lack of public parking people park in secondary and tertiary roads, in sidewalks, gardens, alleys, boulevards and cycle paths.

Parking is free, so the streets are full of cars and the drivers do not have any other alternative than leaving their cars in any space that is available. It has become very problematic to find a space to park the cars and as a result a new “job” was created:  franeleros o viene vienes. These are people that appropriate the free parking spaces and charge you to park in the street. The franeleros are supposed to keep an eye on the car and they get a tip for this. In 2007 it became illegal due to their relation to organized crime and illegal use of public space.

As a result of what I mention before, in 2012 the first parking meters were installed in Polanco, an affluent city neighborhood. This devices have the objective to regulate, by charging money for a limited time the use of spaces for parking vehicles, this includes administration, monitoring, supervising and fines.  Using them has several benefits: reduces the use of cars, reduces traffic, decrease in emissions, improvement of road safety and public space, easy and fast develop, increasing availability of parking, among others.

This promotes the constant rotation in the occupation of the parking space and facilitates the mobility of people and goods in areas with high activity.

The benefits of the parking meters can be seen immediately. First the parking space will be used more efficiently and therefore more free spaces will be available, second the circulation improves and people saves gasoline because they don’t need to spend too much time searching for a parking space, and third the economy is more efficient because the drivers will find a parking space quickly buy something and leave, this allows other consumers to use the parking space.

trabajo-urbanAccording to ITDP the parking meters helps to reduce 30% the use of automobiles

As I just mentioned, Polanco was the first district in Mexico City where the parking meters were installed. This area is well known for its cultural diversity and home of some of the wealthiest families. It is also popular for having museums, restaurants, offices and street Avenida Presidente Masaryk with the most upscale boutiques (the Mexican version of New York’s Fifth Avenue).

This neighborhood was chosen because it used to have a parking problem and as a result the greenhouse gas emissions were increasing. The government of the city and the Secretary of Urban Develop designated this area. The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy with the support of the British Embassy made a previous study and created an implementation plan with policies and periodical revision to monitor if the parking meters are fulfilling their objectives.

In this detailed study the ITDP found out some interesting facts that helped the implementation. For example: almost half of the transport used in Polanco are private cars, 68% of the people that goes to this area is because they work there, 85% of the people that live in Polanco own a car, the total amount of kilometers traveled daily inside this neighborhood are 159,613, the volume of cars parked at different hours, the speed in different areas, how many parking spaces were available, and that it took people 14 minutes to find a parking space, among others.

The parking meters in Polanco are considered a successful project but at the beginning it was a social challenge. There were several myths, for example: that the government keeps the money of the parking meters, that paying to park in public space harms the shopping areas, that there are not enough parking spaces in Polanco and that we should create more, among others.

And as expected, the franeleros were against this project because it would leave them without a job. Several marches occurred in Polanco and even the first day they “closed” all the parking meters as a sign of discomfort. Even though the parking meters are working, every time they expand people get really mad, this pattern has been repeated several times in other districts such as Coyoacán, Anzures, Tlalpan, la Condesa and more.

Personally, I do feel a huge change in Polanco. Before, it was impossible to find a parking space and eventually I would leave my car with a viene viene that charged me an unfair price. The neighbors are pleased because they can find parking space in 1 minute and the area has become safer. Regarding the money that is collected by the parking meters, 30% of the funds are used to recover public spaces and the neighborhood committee can decide where else to invest. The first year 2,590,909 euros were collected and 30% was used to recover sidewalks, in the past 5 years there has been a remarkable change in this area.


I had the chance to talk with Xavier Treviño from ITDP who participated in the implementation of the parking meters. After the first year he made the initial assessment of the impacts of this program in Polanco. I took this opportunity to learn about the project from the inside and ask about the acceptance and rejection of the parking meters in Mexico.

Xavier explained to me how the idea was born. In 1994 two neighborhoods were chosen (Juarez and Cuauhtémoc) to have parking meters. The problem was that the operator was 100% private and that the parking meters were badly managed, so it was impossible to replicate this same system in other parts of Mexico.

ITDP, with the support of other NGOs and experts started to collaborate with the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development of Mexico City. At the beginning Polanco and La Condesa were considered to launch the project, but the final decision was to only start with Polanco.

Polanco was chosen because most of the buildings have parking lots for the residents so most of the parking spaces in the street were occupied during the day by people that were working or shopping in the area. For this first project the Government didn’t make a poll with the community, they just implement the parking meters.

Another interesting topic that I discuss with Xavier was the price. He explained that one of the main reasons people are against the parking meters is because they don’t trust the way the government uses the funds. As I mention before 30% is designated to the neighborhood and the other 70% is for a private company that operates the parking meters. Xavier pointed out that these private companies are contracted to give a service (the same layout that they use for the telephone booths). Also there is not an exact reason why this percentage was assigned, but is supposed to cover all the expenses the private company has plus their earnings.

After the project in Polanco was launched, 12 more projects were implemented in different neighborhoods of Mexico City, but since 2014 the government decided to stop. Xavier explained me that Polanco was an outstanding project that worked very well in that specific zone. This same scheme was implemented in all the neighborhoods, but the problem was that it worked in some places but in others failed. This happened because Polanco`s buildings and houses were constructed to store a lot of cars but in other neighborhoods like Colonia Nápoles the houses were constructed without parking spaces. The problem is that the government implemented the exact same rules in all the parking meters with no flexibility, and this is not working. This is why since 2014 the project stopped.

Talking to Xavier was very useful because his experience helped me see things form another perspective and provide insight that internet cannot provide.


After this research, I see a positive panorama for Mexico, we have a lot of work to do, but it can be done. I think the parking meters still have area for improvement. For example they devises should be able to accept bills and credit cards, the schedules should be adapted to each area, government should have more awareness campaigns explaining the neighbors the benefits they will have, annual reports with the positive impacts of each area and how the money was invested, among others.

The parking meters was just an example of a project that started in 2012, but a lot of things have been done since. For starters now we have bicycles and a bus with its own lanes.

I believe that if the government turns around and instead of investing 70% of the budget in private transport, uses it in public transport, we would see a significant change. We need to change the way we see the cities and the way we move.



  1. Políticas públicas destinadas a reducir el uso del automóvil, Implementación de sistemas de parquímetros para ciudades mexicanas, ITDP, (2012) Available at:
  2. Menos cajones, más ciudad. Estacionamiento en la ciudad de México, (2014), Available at:
  3. “Implementación de parquímetros en Planco, Estudio de línea base”, Instituto de Política para el Transporte y el Desarrollo (2013) Available at:
  4. “Guía práctica Estacionamiento y Políticas de Reducción de congestión en América Latina” Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo (2013)
  5. CDMX Ciudad de México, Ecoparq. (2017) Available at:
  6. Jim Gorzelany, Forbes magazine, (03/27/2016) Available at:
  7. Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía, INEGI, Available at:

  1. El Financiero, Salvador García, “El transporte público un insulto al pasajero”, 04/19/2016, Available at:
  2. La Jornada, Laura Gómez, “Rechazo y descontrol en el primer día de la operación de parquímetros en Polanco” (2012) Available at:




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