Serious mass transit comes to Tijuana

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Many visitors have commented favorably about Tijuana’s public-transportation system because our busses are plentiful and cheap. Our current system’s greatest drawback, on the other hand, is that the routes serve individual colonias rather than the city as a whole. Traveling some distance within Tijuana can now be expensive and time-consuming and, as the city continues to expand, this one drawback will soon outweigh the existing system’s advantages.

The city of Tijuana has just opened bidding worldwide for the construction on the first trunk route of our new Sistema Metropolitano de Transporte Masivo. The plans are indeed metropolitan and massive, covering most of Tijuana’s twelve hundred square kilometers and comprising seven transit stations, eight trunk routes, ninety feeder routes, three local routes, nine suburban routes, and two auxiliary routes. According to the City Administrator’s office, this is a holistic approach to Tijuana’s public-transportation needs designed to increase efficiency, to lower costs, to reduce pollution, and to dovetail with the binational changes in store for the primary border crossing.

 The future Route 01
SMTM will be inaugurated with Route 01, a high-speed tramway running alongside the Tijuana River nineteen kilometers from Puerta México (the San Ysidro border) to El Refugio near Rodríguez Dam. The articulated trams for this route will ride on pneumatic tires in order to suppress noise and vibration and will be powered by natural gas, electricity, or a hybrid along ecological lines, depending on the needs of the vehicle that wins the bidding. Trams of two, three, and four sections will be deployed throughout the day depending on passenger volume. Although a human operator will be on board each one for emergencies, the trams are meant to operate automatically, guided in combination by a rail, magnetic sensors, and digital optics.

Route 01 will become operational in 2010 or 2011. “This isn’t something that just occurred to us,” said a source in the City Administrator’s office, “we’ve been planning it for eighteen years now. Some of the details and our final timetable will be determined by the specifications of the winning bids, but the project is now ready to get started.”

conceptualized three-part tram

One of those details is the tariff structure – how much to charge, what sort of ticket to issue, how to handle the money. The expectation at the moment is that the fare will be similar to what a single bus ride costs now and that it will good for the entire system. Some input from citizens in Tijuana has suggested that the fares be even less, more along the lines of those charged in Mexico City. FONADIN, the National Infrastructure Fund of Banobras, will be subsidizing SMTM’s fares to ensure their affordability. The existing bus lines, which are operated by private companies, will continue to serve the local areas they were created for and they will most likely be brought into the metropolitian tariff structure.

The great majority of passengers on Route 01 will be those who now take diesel-powered busses for work, school, or shopping, heading either to downtown Tijuana or across the border. For them, the tramway represents a saving of time and money. For the city, it means less vehicular congestion, lowered emissions, and the opportunity to plant more green areas. For cultural tourists, the entire SMTM will be a windfall – these people will now have the ability to visit all of Tijuana quickly and easily without fear of getting lost.

Updated August 2018

Tijuana’s dream of an efficient and public mass transit is now more than thirty years old. It has gone by a variety of names and just as many designs: it was called SMTM when this article was first published. Today it’s a cross-town bus line operating as SITT, el Sistema Integral de Transporte Tijuana. A detailed report on what has happened can be found here.

For the out-of-town visitor, it’s worth emphasizing that SITT, quite unlike the San Diego Trolley, is not meant to facilitate tourism. SITT is for working-class commuters pretty much exclusively – sometimes a driver won’t even stop for someone who looks too gringo. The stations and the buses were designed to rely on rechargeable “smartcards”, along the lines of what the San Diego Trolley uses, but the privately owned public-transportation industry in Tijuana has opposed the distribution of these cards. As of this writing, SITT charges a fixed fare of Mx$14 one way, pesos only, no change given. (Until the cards come on line, riders work their way up to where the driver is sitting, show him or her fourteen pesos, drop them into a locked box, receive a bus ticket, then work their way back into the bus to find a seat or a strap.) Occasional fare increases are to be expected.

Currently, SITT runs in a single counterclockwise loop connecting downtown to the main bus terminal along the southern side of the river, then returning along the northern side of the river. Transit takes about an hour for each half of the loop. Consequently, it takes about two hours via SITT to go from downtown to the border … which is only a minute away as the zopilote flies.

Northbound service within the Zona Río and downtown is currently unavailable due to official acquiescence to pressure by the transportation mafia, which has been vandalizing SITT stations, so everyone heading for Revolución or the border has to travel by taxi. Private taxis of all colors are now charging two to three times as much to go from the Zona Río to downtown as they do to go from downtown to the Zona Río. Consequently, Uber and other smartphone apps such as “Taxis Confiables” and “Eiby Taxi”, which promise more equitable fares, have become very popular among Spanish-speaking passengers.

SITT’s stations at the border are not visible to pedestrians exiting either processing facility, nor is there any signage to point them out. For those using Puerta Este, the station is at the foot of the pedestrian access to the bridge connecting Rampa Xicoténcatl to the Zona Federal, about fifty meters west (to the right) of the long walkway. For those using PedWest (El Chaparral), the station will be to the left of the parking area, just east of the northeastern corner of Plaza Viva Tijuana and south of the mixed-use real-estate development called Estación Federal. The buses come by about every fifteen minutes and make a couple of stops along Avenida Revolución before heading into the Zona Río.


Anonymous said...

Okay, sounds good. Now it's 2012 and this still hasn't happened. But that's Tijuana normal.

The Real Tijuana said...

We were wondering when someone might notice the delay in the project now known as “Ruta Uno”.

The funding for this project is the federal government’s responsibility. Tijuana was on track to receive that money up until three years ago, when the political party in control of the federal government was turned out of office after office at the midterm elections. Calderón punished our treason by withholding funding to a lot of projects.

Local media were reporting a month or two ago that Ruta Uno had come back to life, that all the city still needed to do before issuing the request for bids was to determine a few technical specifications of the vehicles. Since that was the point the city was at when we first ran our story, it’s likely that the recent news was just some last-minute grandstanding to buy votes for the PAN and, as such, would violate federal law.

Earlier this year, the northern terminal of Ruta Una broke ground as part of the new “El Chaparral” border crossing currently under construction. How quickly Ruta Uno gets finished will be largely determined by the next federal president: each of the four candidates has a different priority for such things.