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In Mexico prices jump at the pump again

By Oswaldo Mejía

This March saw the 28th consecutive increase in the price of gasoline: regular gasoline rose from 9.91 to 10 pesos a liter, premium was raised from 10.60 to 10.74, and the cost of diesel went from 10.27 to 10.36 pesos. The Ministry of Finance defends these increases, explaining that they have a regularizing function, preventing an increase in fuel subsidies, which in 2011 amounted to 170 billion pesos.

These decisions are made with little consideration of their social effects, which triggers generalized dissatisfaction, but despite discontent and indignation, these measures are accepted.  While the country has raw materials for the production of fuel, it lacks infrastructure and planned production, which adds another link to a chain of conflicts over economic policy.

According to statistics from PEMEX, half of the gasoline that Mexico consumes is imported; that is, the nation sells it as crude and buys it again once it is refined. The country’s fuel imports have doubled in the past six years; in 2006, it brought in 204,700 barrels a day from abroad, a number that rose to 405,600 barrels in 2011, according to PEMEX figures.

These increases are a problem that Mexican society confronts on a daily basis, since their consequences are felt not only by those who use gasoline directly—drivers of personal vehicles and public transportation, among others—but by all consumers of goods and services.

Perhaps the clearest consequence is the increase in fares on public transportation; a person who needs to travel from elsewhere in the state of Mexico to the Federal District for work invests 300 to 500 pesos a month in fares.  Two years ago, the cost was 50 percent less.

“When the government decides to increase public transportation fares, they don’t think about citizens’ wallets. There is an imbalance between the increase in costs and in the salaries of workers, who are obligated to reorganize their budgets, since they can’t stop paying for their means of getting to work,” explained Miguel Santamaría, a sociologist.

He explained that the increase in fares does not guarantee better service, and for this reason users feel even more indignant, since they are constantly paying more without seeing an improvement in terms of safety, new vehicles or better-prepared drivers. On the other hand, drivers are obligated to push through these increases because gasoline prices are going up and this implies additional expenses for them.

Basic food staples that are transported from the interior of the country on a daily basis also increase in price because producers and distributors have higher transportation costs, which are reflected in the high prices that people are obliged to pay in supermarkets and open-air or street markets.

The construction industry, farmworkers, bus companies and other business that make use of gasoline are part of these circular processes that affect the budgets of citizens, who must look for new ways to make ends meet while continuing their daily activities. Given this situation, experts have found ways to minimize the economic impact on the finances of affected citizens who have no control over the government’s decisions.

For Santamaría, certain social practices can help counteract the effects of gasoline price increases. “It will be difficult to organize mass protests, and almost impossible to even discuss a general strike of transportation workers or the formulation of economic policies that protect the country, but it is feasible to raise people’s awareness regarding practices they can adopt for their own benefit.”

If people need to travel short distances outside the home, the use of bicycles is an excellent option, since in addition to saving fuel it is also an ideal exercise for staying healthy and reducing stress.  In other countries traveling by bicycle is a habitual practice, but in Mexico it is rare to see adults doing so; it would almost seem that a sedentary lifestyle is inherent to Mexicans.

If one avoids accelerating and braking rapidly, the savings in gasoline can be considerable.  However, following this recommendation is not always possible for drivers, since in Mexico City the streets are replete with speed bumps which oblige one to constantly stop and start.  It must be noted that a more conscious transit culture would avoid the construction of speed bumps, but Mexicans do not always seem willing to follow such simple guidelines.

On the weekend, when people engage in leisure activities, it is preferable to use the smallest possible number of vehicles. If only one car is used, the cost of fuel can be shared and expenses reduced for the group. One can apply the same idea to a group of people who work in the same area, for picking up children from school or shopping; all that is required is organization and flexibility.

Comparing prices of goods and services can help considerably with savings. Searching for the best prices before buying food, bus tickets or construction materials allows one to invest less money; one only needs to spend a bit more time. Adopting a savings-oriented culture is an excellent decision at a time in which the country’s leaders do not concern themselves with citizens.

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