Preparing Mexico’s Urban Transport Sector for a Low-Carbon Transition

April 6, 2017

Metrobus in Mexico City. Photo: Isabelle Schaefer / World Bank

The metropolitan areas of Ciudad Juárez, Monterrey, León, and Puebla now have better instruments for integrating environmental and climate-change components into their urban transport and land-use plans. These cities have completed nonmotorized transport plans encompassing more than 100 kilometers of new pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. Monterrey and León, by adopting more efficient transit operations, reduced the greenhouse gas emissions of their bus rapid transit systems by more than 62,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year.


Over the past 25 years, Mexico faced an intense urbanization process with unsustainable land-use and urban-form patterns leading to a twofold increase in its urban population and a sevenfold increase in its urban footprint. This trend affects the form and functioning of the nation’s cities as well as the population’s mobility patterns. Low residential density and high downtown employment density, still prevalent in most Mexican cities, create long commutes. In addition, Mexico has experienced a significant increase in private car ownership. Urban sprawl and higher motorization rates resulted in more and longer trips, particularly motorized trips, and led to an increase in transport-related emissions.

Mexico is among Latin America’s most carbon-intensive economies, and its transport sector is one of the main causes. The vehicular fleet is expected to increase from 35 to 70 million units as of 2030. To address this trend, the government of Mexico is promoting a more sustainable urban mobility model for the country.


In 2008, the Mexican federal government created a program to support urban mass-transit projects—Programa Federal de Apoyo al Transporte Urbano Masivo (PROTRAM)—aimed at addressing greenhouse gas emissions through better integration of a full array of mobility solutions in urban development and transport plans, beginning with four Mexican metropolitan areas, Ciudad Juárez, Monterrey, León, and Puebla. Using financing from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and an active Urban Transport Transformation Program (UTTP) loan from the World Bank, the GEF Sustainable Transport and Air Quality Program (GEF-STAQ) has contributed to Mexico’s effort to improve transit infrastructure and service provision options to capture current and future potential private motor-vehicle users. This contribution was made through a combination of instruments: the GEF-STAQ financed studies and infrastructure works and UTTP financed the acquisition of rolling stock for new mass-transit corridors.

The Bank’s support was instrumental in bringing innovation to the GEF–STAQ grant design and in combining approaches that could broaden project impacts. Using a holistic intervention approach for the sector, the GEF-STAQ focused on financing pre-investment studies for bus rapid-transit (BRT) corridors and for complementary interventions in nonmotorized transit (NMT), integrated transport plans, and urban freight logistics.

Mexico City. Photo: World Bank


The GEF-STAQ grant financed the pre-investment studies for the BRT corridors of Ecovía in Monterrey and Optibús 2 in León. Both corridors were implemented and are now operating, with the following results:

  • An estimated reduction of 62,864 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) per year.
  • The numbers of trips on these corridors increased by 1.55 percent.
  • The greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction target of 10 percent was attained.

Support for BRT design studies was complemented by a holistic strategy to promote the construction of new pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, sustainable urban mobility campaigns, and plans and a regulatory framework for urban freight transport. The studies conducted in all four urban areas have achieved or are expected to achieve the following results:

  • All participating cities have developed and adopted Integrated Sustainable Mobility Plans (Planes Integrales de Movilidad Urbana Sustentable), incorporating climate-change, land-use, and sustainable NMT considerations.
  • NMT trips will increase by 11.5 percent on average if the proposed plans are implemented in the near future.
  • Participating cities are considering and promoting detailed designs for NMT interventions: Ciudad Juárez, 6.5 kilometers of pedestrian and bike paths; León, 40 kilometers of bike paths; Monterrey, 17 kilometers of bike paths; and Puebla, 30 kilometers of bike paths and 7 kilometers of pedestrian paths.

The GEF-STAQ project, in the period from February 2011 to November 2015, fostered the implementation of the PROTRAM and UTTP projects and paved the way for a broader approach to reducing GHG emissions through more holistic, sustainable urban transport interventions.

" Without a doubt, the five GEF-STAQ studies carried out in León will contribute to reducing congestion and pollutant emissions, which will positively impact the city’s quality of life and competitiveness in the near future. "

Abraham Vargas

project coordinator in León’s Municipal Transport Unit

San Juan Bosco Transit Station. Photo: World Bank

Bank Group Contribution

The GEF-STAQ grant (US$ 5.4 million) was conceptualized and approved, together with the UTTP, with the objective of contributing to the transition to a lower carbon path in Mexico’s cities. To that end, the Bank’s International Bank for Reconstruction and Development provided and the Clean Technology Fund provided US$ 150 million and US$ 200 million, respectively, to the National Bank for Public Works and Services (Banco Nacional de Obras y Servicios Públicos, BANOBRAS), which, acting as an intermediary, loans the funds to states, municipalities, and the private sector, mainly in complement to PROTRAM, a federal nonreimbursable program supervising multiple government projects. PROTRAM’s portfolio comprises more than 40 projects, seven of which are already in operation, with total investments of around US$ 3.5 billion.

The GEF-STAQ grant financed various activities in freight management (US$ 120,000), land-use/transport coordination (US$ 320,000), public transport enhancement (US$ 3.8 million), and NMT (US$ 754,000).


The institutional framework for implementing the GEF-STAQ project included numerous actors, including the Secretariat of Agricultural, Territorial, and Urban Development (Secretaría de Desarrollo Agrario, Territorial y Urbano, SEDATU) as the project implementation unit charged with building on existing capacity and organizational structures and with ensuring Paris/Accra harmonization efforts. Other institutional actors included BANOBRAS, Mexico’s financial agent, and eligible beneficiaries, including multiple subnational government entities. A nongovernmental organization, the Clean Air Institute, supported project preparation and implementation. Project preparation funds were leveraged through the PROTRAM grant facility in GEF-supported cities, particularly for BRT feasibility and engineering projects.    

Moving Forward

Supported by the grant, most of the participating cities are moving forward with detailed designs for NMT interventions, including bike lanes, complete-street corridors, and pedestrian priority zones. BRT systems are reaching new phases with the support of newly elected local governments. Federal government agencies, in particular, BANOBRAS and SEDATU, have initiated a dialogue to conceptualize a facility to assist municipal governments with sustainable urban mobility interventions. This facility would assist development of plans and provide grants and cofinancing, complementary to PROTRAM investments, for transformational low-carbon urban mobility interventions, including NMT, complete streets, transit-oriented development (TOD), and travel demand management (TDM). In this context, the Mexican government has requested Bank support to prepare a new GEF project on demand-side transport strategies, supporting TOD and TDM interventions.

The municipality of León completed the pre-investment studies necessary to continue implementing the second phase of Optibús, a BRT system migrating to a city-wide integrated transit system. The city also supported the conceptual design of a public bike-share system now in the design phase.

Conducting the project under Bank procurement rules allowed the municipality to work with high-quality international consultants who transmitted global best practices to local professionals and technical personnel. Abraham Vargas, who at that time served as project coordinator in León’s Municipal Transport Unit, says, “Without a doubt, the five GEF-STAQ studies carried out in León will contribute to reducing congestion and pollutant emissions, which will positively impact the city’s quality of life and competitiveness in the near future.”

Low-Carbon Transport
An estimated reduction of 62,864 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) per year.