This article is from the April 1996 The Mexico File newsletter.
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Driving in Mexico City

On Friday. January 19. an environmental emergency was declared in Mexico City and surrounding areas in the state of Mexico when ozone levels reached 269 points, far above levels considered safe. It is well known that Mexico City is one of the most polluted cities in the world, due to its combination of a large number of polluting industries, millions of cars (many using leaded gas), and its geographical location is in a valley that traps the polluted air. Phase one of a contingency plan was put into place, which meant that 1.5 million cars could not be driven on that Saturday through Monday. Environmental groups in Mexico claim that the government statistics are underreported and that the pollution levels are actually much greater. The government steadfastly denies these charges (La Jornada, January 22).

A government effort to improve the air quality is to have alternating days when a car can be driven in the city. All vehicles are prohibited from driving in the city on certain days based on the final digit on their license plate. Miscreants can be fined or even have their car confiscated. If you are renting a car this is a major consideration. Even if you are leaving for another town in the car, you want to make sure you are legal the day you drive off and the day you return. The schedule is as follows:

Monday: no driving if final digit is 5 or 6
Tuesday: if final digit is 7 or 8
Wednesday: if final digit is 3 or 4
Thursday: if final digit is 1 or 2
Friday: if final digit is 9 or 0
Saturday and Sunday: no restrictions

A final word.. taxis are cheap in Mexico.  City and driving is somewhat challenging. Plus, the Metro is far-reaching and efficient. So save that car rental for the day you are driving to another destination. Then, get good directions on how to get on the proper road for where you are headed. And don't try it at night.