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MEXICO CITY – Clearer skies.
That’s the goal of Zero Emissions Taxis, a project by the Mexico City government that aims to reduce environmental pollution in this metropolis of 21 million.
The Zero Emissions Taxis project has had an initial fleet of 20 electric taxis circulating throughout the Historic Center since May 15. The project hopes to have 100 taxis by the end of the year.
“Nowhere else in the world have electric vehicles been brought in to be used as taxis,” said Marcelo Ebrard, head of government for the Federal District.
The initiative is part of an agreement established at the World Mayors Summit on Climate, held in Mexico in November 2011.
Seventy percent of air pollution in the Mexican capital comes from automobiles, according to a recent report by the Environmental Secretariat of Mexico City.
The taxis, which can carry five passengers, were purchased by the city government through the Historic Center Rescue Trust, which was established in the early 2000s by citizens, businessmen and government officials. Each vehicle cost US$39,855, can reach nearly 100 mph and needs recharging every 87 miles.
“By using these taxis, we help to reduce notably the emission of pollutants and to show the population that we are working to improve their quality of life in the city,” said Rafael Facio, the trust’s general counsel.
Currently, the only charging station is on República de Guatemala street, next to the Metropolitan Cathedral. However, other stations in the neighborhoods of La Condesa, Coyoacán and Alameda Central are expected to be opened as the fleet expands.
The complexity of the valley of Mexico City’s topography has made reducing air pollution particularly difficult, largely because the basin of the valley of Mexico City is 7,349 feet above sea level, said Martha Delgado, the secretary of the environment for Mexico City.
“It means that, for example, the population receives 20% less oxygen than those who live on the coast, at sea level,” she said. “In addition, we have winds that blow from the northeast to the southeast, which stop when they reach the mountain chain in the southern basin, bringing along all the pollutants as well. Therefore, ventilation rates are low, which keeps the winds from circulating efficiently, creating high concentrations of polluting gases in the air.”
The city has suffered greatly from air pollution, especially during the past two decades.
In 1982, the Atmospheric Monitoring System of Mexico City crated the Air Quality Index for the Metropolitan Area (IMECA) program to measure air quality. Days with cleaner air receive up to 50 points, while days with extremely dirty air get as high as 201 points.
Last year, there were 230 days of good air, marking the highest number of good days since the program’s inception. In 2010 there were 186 good days, a far cry above the record-low nine days of good air in 1991.
But the Zero Emissions Taxis project is just one of the government-backed projects officials hope will make the city’s air cleaner.
The government is pushing the Ecobicis (Eco-bikes) program, which promotes bicycle riding as an alternative to driving routes fewer than eight kilometers (4.9 miles).
The increase in bike riding has reduced traffic jams, overcrowding of public transportation and use of fuel citywide, according to the government.
The city is also offering more metro lines, more efficient bus routes and a program in which the government provides financial assistance for taxi drivers to turn in their vehicles that are at least 10 years old for a new model.
“I have lived in this city my whole life, and I can tell you that we have seen a decrease in pollution,” said Violeta García, 65, who lives in the city center. “We don’t get sick as much as we used to a few years ago.”