Traffic Problems: Authority, Mobility, and Technology in Mexico's Federal District, 1867–1912

Abstract: This article examines how people in Mexico's Federal District (Distrito Federal) contested transit policies and responded to the introduction of new technical infrastructures, like the electrified tram network. District officials published transit guidelines that reflected elite preoccupation with order, but their heavy-handed policies faced resistance from poor, working-class, and middle-class residents. This defiance took different forms: noncompliance, rule-breaking, public protests, and written complaints to officials and the press. Municipal governments wielded considerable power to shape policy and clashed over jurisdiction and authority over taxation and police mobility. National leaders serving the strongman president, Porfirio Díaz, undermined this influence and consolidated decision-making authority in the office of the district governor and the city council of Mexico City. They justified limiting municipal authority and democratic participation in the district as necessary to improve urban transportation infrastructure, improve tax collection, and streamline transit policy. Nevertheless, this attempt at centralization failed amid public complaints about continuing service problems and allegations of official incompetence in the Dirección de Obras Públicas (directorate of public works). After 1910, when the Mexican Revolution brought a new generation of political leadership to power, the policy was reversed, serving as an important symbolic and administrative break with the past.