Sarah DeVries
The highly modern designs for the new Mexico City Airport, which was canceled in 2018 after construction had already begun. The highly modern designs for the new Mexico City airport, which was canceled in 2018 after construction had already begun. FR-EE AND FOSTER + PARTNERS

How did AMLO go from Metro Bus success to CDMX airport debacle?

As the capital's mayor, AMLO championed an innovative transportation solution

In the “before-times” I frequently flew home to Texas for visits with my family and friends there. Though the Veracruz airport is closer to me, it’s much smaller, and I usually found better deals out of the Mexico City airport.

So, I would simply take a bus to the capital and fly out. It’s about a 4 1/2-hour ride, but the buses are nice (with bathrooms!), and my distracted brain was pretty much made for staring out the window and listening to music for hours on end.

I’ve probably flown in and out of the Mexico City airport at least 100 times and you’d think I’d have a handle on the layout by now.

But no! I pretty much get lost or at least turned around every time.

Part of the issue is a lack of signs. Some signs are clear and logical, as they should be, while others are simply absent. Also, if there’s an arrow pointing up, does that mean I go straight or that I go up the escalators right by me?

I usually walk up and down the ground floor of Terminal 1 several times before I figure out where I’m supposed to go for ticketing. Every time I’ve picked someone up, I’m invariably at the wrong gate.

Knowing whether I’m leaving from Terminal 1 or the relatively new Terminal 2 is also usually a mystery that I have to go to great length to figure out. Many airlines have check-in desks at both terminals, and while most international flights leave Terminal 2, they don’t always.

It’s an adventure before the real adventure gets started, and I make a point of getting there early so that I can be ready for whatever new obstacle is thrown at me. Usually, it’s simply a matter of having to take the fun speedy train thing to the other terminal (which you can only do if you have your ticket in hand; what happens if you’ve gone to pick someone up and you’re at the wrong terminal, I wonder).

Other times, it’s the challenge of finding the tiny Autobuses de Oriente (ADO) ticketing agent tucked away in some far-off corner that is kilometers from where you actually board the bus and then finding the actual terminal from which the buses leave. The long skywalk to the terminal is mysteriously without any signage at all, and there are two skywalks not too far away from each other whose entrances are identical.

When I arrive, I usually ask myself how the other people there managed to find it. I suppose they just asked someone like I always have to do.

Buses don’t leave from there to Xalapa very often, however, so about 50% of the time, I walk the approximately half mile back to Gate 5 (or was it 6? … 7, maybe?) to buy a card for the Metro Bus, which is very nice and very cheap but also very hard to figure out. Without knowing exactly how much it will cost — why put a list of prices to common destinations? — I put about 100 pesos on the card, which up to now has always been enough.

Then I go outside and stand in line, waiting for said Metro Bus (it’s like a fancy trolley — it gets its own lane!). Several come; it’s not always clear which one I need to be on, though, so I ask each driver.

It’s all a very complicated process, especially with heavy luggage and sometimes a child in tow. Rather than feeling frustrated, however, I feel proud of my ability to have once again navigated that labyrinth.

I wonder, though: what do people who need to move around like this do, especially if they don’t speak Spanish? And even if you do speak Spanish, there are just so many little things you need to know … like what the Metro Bus even is, for example.

But all that being said, the Metro Bus is great — a big, clean, trolley that goes around certain key parts of Mexico City speedily. It was instituted by President López Obrador when he was the mayor of Mexico City.

During the last presidential race, I’d often bring up the Metro Bus as a fantastic example of what good, logical government can do. In addition to it being fast, clean and inexpensive, it has cameras on each unit as well as a security officer who will usually help you with your bags if you have many. The stops themselves are also beautiful and orderly.

I never would have guessed that that same person responsible for that wonder of posh infrastructure would later be responsible for canceling the beautiful new airport I’d been so looking forward to using.

As you might have read, the never-to-be airport just won an international architectural prize (the organizers apparently hadn’t realized that the project had been canceled). Our president, however, made a show of how unimpressed he was by the award and called the cancellation “the best public business we’ve done.”

This puzzles me because I don’t quite understand what his definition of “to do business” is. Is the cancellation of something not literally the opposite of “doing business”?

Much of his argument was that the new airport was over budget. Fair enough. But was there truly not a way to simply audit the expenses and look for ways to safely reduce additional costs? Was tossing the whole project really necessary?

Still on the table, of course, and pushing forward despite several distinct objections from various environmental and local groups, is the Maya Train project. I’ll say one thing for the president: he really sticks to his decisions once they’re made.

In the meantime, I guess we’ll all just keep wandering laps around the Mexico City airport, hoping to get to our flights on time.

It’s no sparkling, award-winning architectural marvel, but at least it’s got coffee shops everywhere.

Sarah DeVries is a writer and translator based in Xalapa, Veracruz. She can be reached through her website, sdevrieswritingandtranslating.com.

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