Mas o Menos: I'd Get Mugged (EP 1)

Mustafa Shaikh
5 min read

I hope everyone's July 4th went well and no one Jason Pierre-Paul'd their hand (Google search "jason pierre paul hand" for a good time).

Also, shout out to the smattering of Canadians who are subscribed. I just learned that July 1st is Canada Day (which for the non-Canadians, it's not quite their independence day, but celebrated in a similar fashion).

That brings us to our final NAFTA partner, Mexico. I just spent 43 days out in those parts.

This next set of writing, "Mas o Menos," will run 3-4 weeks highlighting my time there. "Mas o Menos"—meaning more or less—is an often-used phrase out in Mexico. This is particularly so when you're speaking broken Spanish and ask a Mexican if they understand what you're saying.

Snce it has been a while since I pushed a sustainability angle, what better place to start this limited series off on?

But first, remember to take the Brown Boy Problems survey! It'll only take 2, maybe 3 minutes MAX!

Now that you have taken the survey, without further ado ...

On my first night in Mexico City, I ended up with a group of digital nomads that unfortunately only hung out with other digital nomads. I'm not sure how we got to the topic, but I had let them know that I had taken the subway and bus to get to the apartment we were at.

None of them had taken the subway or bus and they had all been here for over a month.

One of the digital nomads went further, "Oh you took the subway! You might get mugged!"

He wasn't even joking. His comment and broader perspective were layered in widely-accepted American racist attitudes toward Mexico, which he expanded on further.

"I saw someone get mugged on BART (San Francisco train system). If someone is getting mugged on BART, then I'm going to get mugged here."

Ahh yes, but of course! America is better than Mexico dummy!

(On a side note: One of the long-term effects of Covid that goes underreported by mainstream media outlets is the outbreak of white digital nomads all over Latin America who refuse to engage with local communities outside of buying cheap tacos. If you're going to try the digital nomad thing out, do us all a favor and actually engage with the local culture beyond where the wash and fold spot is.)

I explained to him how from my brief experience, the Mexico City transit system is actually better than what we have in San Francisco and New York. So while I didn't manage to convince him to get on the subway (because you know, he'd get mugged by the Mexicans who are out there waiting to jump gringos), maybe I can use this as a segue to showcase how Mexico City has a very thoughtful public transit system.

Starting with the Mexico City metro ...

You mean there are no rats?: First off the Mexico City subways are clean. I'm not going to say that you can eat off the floor, but if you've been on an NYC subway, you can attest to how disgusting it is. From food everywhere to rats running around to water just coming through onto the platforms on a rainy day, it's an absolute mess.

You don't have that issue in Mexico City. People are more mindful of their litter + there are workers regularly cleaning the station + Mexico City doesn't allow the train system to be used as a homeless shelter + there's some sort of system to deal with rain.

This picture was from 2021 in NYC. Bring your goggles next time.

Safety First: There's a significant police presence at most subway stops. It's hard to feel unsafe when just about every platform and at every station entrance there's a uniformed officer ready to assist.

I should also add that this helps with cleanliness—I saw an officer drag out a drunk passenger who was in the process of vomiting in the station.  

For the ladiiiiieeeessss: The first two or three cars of each train is for women and children only. These were implemented because issues women were having getting accosted by—you'll never guess who—men. At many stations there will also be a police officer who specifically monitors who gets on those cars.

I talked to another digital nomad who wasn't anti-Mexican and she said that she loved the women only cars. It allowed her to relax as opposed to being on guard and attentive for some sort of advance from a male.

Ladies leave your man at home.

Now for those of you who didn't move on with their day out of boredom (so basically that leaves Mohit as the only remaining reader), let's quickly jump to the bus system.

Mexico City has seven BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) lines. BRT lines basically have dedicated lanes and can move faster through a city. If you live in San Francisco, think of the much-delayed Van Ness bus line.

From what I can read up online, Mexico City invested heavily in BRT lines as a way to combat air pollution. Let me tell you, the BRT lines here were a pleasure to take.

The major difference in the Mexico City BRTs vs what I've seen in the US, is in Mexico, the experience at a bus stop is similar to that of a train station.

To get onto the raised platform, you first need to scan your Metro card. This significantly reduces the boarding time on buses, and also ensures everyone is paying into the system. (By the way, I was in SF a couple months back. When did 95% of people stop swiping their Clipper cards upon entering the bus and the drivers not caring at all?)

Then you have openings on the platform that align with where the bus doors will be. People can enter from any bus door as the bus driver doesn't need to monitor who is paying. The boarding process is extraordinarly quick and sometimes before you can grab a rail, the bus is off again.

Overall, some very simple little public transit tweaks that as a whole, make the system a more enjoyable experience. It makes me think we can do much more in American cities (and probably Canadian too—I know that Ottawa train line is a mess) to raise the bar on our public transit systems, which will only make it more attractive to additional riders.

If this episode found its way to your inbox, make sure to subscribe for next week's!

Do you have a friend who is a transportation nerd like Mohit (inside joke for a very small audience)? Can you do me a favor and forward this episode to them? Sharing is caring.

Next week on Mas o Menos ... alright something a little bit more entertaining. I'll be breaking down the different dates I went on with a couple women in Oaxaca. Things get weird.

This essay was edited by Mustafa Shaikh. Blame all grammatical errors on him.

You can catch up on past writings here.