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Turning the Corner in Mexico City

Dear Friends,

It was crowded from the day it opened a month ago, and the operators of Mexico City's new Bus Rapid Transit system are still working out the bugs but it is already reducing pollution and travel times. The new system of big articulated buses running between stations in dedicated bus lanes along the magnificent Avenida Insurgentes has defied the skepticism that I and many others felt about the chances of success in a sprawling megacity as politically complex as Mexico City, but there it is, a symbol of what can be done with enough collaboration and determination. WRI is proud to have played a role.

Here are the basics:

* Net length of the new corridor: 19.4 km
* Number of stations: 36
* Number of articulated buses: 80
* Estimated daily passengers: 250,000
* Estimated carbon reduction: 35,000 tons
* Commute time along full length of corridor: 1 hour
* Average speed: 23 km/hr

METROBUS Financials (USD):

* Construction: $30 million
* Buses: $22 million
* New traffic lights: $98,000
* New Lighting: $77,000
* Cost per ride: $0.35
* 2 hours extra per day, to spend with your family and not commuting: Priceless

METROBUS Stakeholders:

* EMBARQ (a partnership of WRI and Shell Foundation): $1.4 million
* Hewlett Foundation: $1.6 million
* Center for Sustainable Transport for Mexico City: day to day project management, founded by EMBARQ and funded by EMBARQ and Hewlett Foundation
* World Bank/GEF: $6 million
* Mexico City government (planning): $2.4 million
* Public and private investment for buses and civil works: $40 million

The new system replaces 350 dirty and dangerous colectivo buses operated chaotically by 262 independent concessionaires with 80 large low pollution buses operated on a timetable. It is based on a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system pioneered by Bogota, Colombia, and EMBARQ is now working with cities from Porto Alegre to Istanbul to implement their own solutions.

If you're a policy wonk, read on for a story on clean fuels and reduced emissions:

Three weeks before the launch of the BRT system, EMBARQ, the CTS and the Mario Molina Center presented a policy briefing to the Mexican press and national government summarizing the results and recommendations from the first phase of the diesel retrofit studies executed throughout 2004. The retrofit project is part of a concerted effort to help move the Mexican government to commit the financial resources to upgrade PEMEX refineries to produce ultra low sulfur fuel. Without clean fuel, advanced pollution control equipment for new and retrofitted vehicles won't work.

The pilot study proved that even at Mexico City's high altitude, buses in commercial service can have dramatically reduced emissions of the most dangerous pollutants - more than a reduction of 90% of fine particles. Emissions from diesel-powered buses and trucks are a major source of air pollution in Mexico City, which causes an estimated 4,000 premature deaths per year according to public health experts, as well as 2.5 million days lost from work.

Two weeks after the presentation of the policy briefing, SERMANAT, the Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources, announced a fuel quality strategy, which will bring Mexico in line with the best international standards. The strategy has been agreed across the government, and hopes are high that the Mexican Senate will approve the investment PEMEX will need for upgrading refineries to produce clean gasoline and diesel.

When EMBARQ first convened the major stakeholders around this issue, in April 2003, PEMEX was planning to produce ultra low sulfur fuel (15-30 ppm S) no sooner than 2011 (compared to today's 350 ppm S fuel). Today, the plan is 10 to 15 ppm sulfur fuel by 1007/8!

These back-to-back results in Mexico City are proving that our model to catalyze change through long-term investment in talent and skills, and public and private partnerships with empowered decision makers can have an unprecedented impact. We are very excited about these results, and wanted to share that excitement with you, as another world appears to be more and more possible.

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