Bright orange train cars; rapid service every two and a half minutes; maps in which pictographs accompany the names of every station. Mexico City's Line 12 cost nearly $2 billion to build and appeared to be functioning smoothly one week into service. But during morning rush hour something was clearly missing.
Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of Mexico City's metro system is not its relative efficiency in moving around 5 million people daily, the crushing crowds or the dirt-cheap fare of 3 pesos ($0.23). It's the noise of an uninterrupted chain of salespeople hawking chicle gum, travel pouches of Kleenex, pirated movies and music, lozenges, nail clippers, school supplies, hot chili-dipped lollipops.
Interestingly, everyone selling uses the same loud, lilting-yet-nasal style particular only to the underground. Señoras y señores, they announce: ¡Diez pesos le cuesta! ¡Diez pesos le vale! It only costs you 10 pesos! It’s worth 10 pesos to you!
The new metro rides steel wheels on rails and yet is as quiet rolling into a station as the system's other anchor lines, which run on thick rubber tires – nothing like the screech and rumble of a New York train barreling toward a platform.
The line adds 26 kilometers to the system, bringing the total distance covered to 227 kilometers across the metropolis, and adds important east-west connections. It's an ultramodern addition to a 43-year-old system that moved roughly 1.5 billion people last year.
The city expects Line 12 to attract between 367,000 and 460,000 riders daily but in these first days of service ridership is light, and the police presence is heavy.
Many new riders are being drawn by the price – 3 pesos versus boarding a string of microbuses which, independently owned and managed, charge 4 pesos per ride and don't accept transfers.
Mariana Castillo waited on the Line 12 platform at the Mixcoac terminal, her fourth time riding the new train. Castillo said her former commute required two microbuses and the city’s Metrobus "bus rapid transit" for a total of 12 pesos ($0.92) one way – although it got her closer to her destination.
"This route is cheaper," she said, "but there is another route that is shorter."
A train rolled into the station. Inside, only the soothing sound of a woman's recorded voice announcing the next stop – a perk only available on the new line – interrupted the quiet.
Still not a vendor in sight.
The law prohibits vending on Mexico City trains but that stops almost no one. Security officers seem to have enough work maintaining order on packed platforms and rarely bother the salespeople popping in and out of train cars at each stop.
One metro worker shrugged her shoulders at the observation of lawfulness on the new trains. Will sellers be barred from Line 12?
"It's illegal already," she said. "But we live in Mexico."
In other words, the benefits of the new line may last but the calm likely will not.
Photo by Lauren Villagran