Hertz, Alamo, Europcar, City and Only car rental companies in Oaxaca, Mexico, are options; but the downsides of renting a car, van or motorcycle in Oaxaca often outweigh the benefits. One must consider traffic and parking, Oaxacan drivers on the road, the implications of an accident, police enforcement of traffic violations, and the cost and convenience of alternate transportation.
Traffic and Parking
Parking in downtown Oaxaca is an issue. Some hotels and bed & breakfasts do not offer free parking, though most have arrangements with nearby lots. Many of the lots close at 10 or 11 pm, which can cut into a planned late night out. Legal street parking is often difficult to find.
Traffic congestion is an ongoing issue, with double parking, lack of police enforcement relating to parking, and frequent road closures due to construction, parades, and marching teachers, cab drivers, and other interest groups. It is not uncommon to be stuck in traffic, without being able to move, for ten minutes or more. Knowing one’s way around the streets helps sometimes, depending on the severity of the problem.
Street configurations were altered in Oaxaca in 2006, with a view to alleviating congestion at several major intersections. But without experience as to how to use the vueltas inglesas (English turns), the unsuspecting can find himself facing oncoming traffic.
Training of Oaxacan Drivers
Most drivers in Oaxaca have had no professional training respecting the proper use of a motor vehicle. State law provides that one can obtain a driver’s license, at age 18, without an eye test, without a road test and without a written test.
Conceivably, and in accordance with the law, there are drivers on the streets of Oaxaca who a week earlier had never even been in a car, let alone driven one — legally licensed to drive. One must therefore consider that no matter how defensive and well trained an American or Canadian driver in Oaxaca might be, that is often little consolation when considering the dirver in the other lane.
Accidents in Oaxaca
Having insurance helps only so much. One must consider that in Oaxaca insurance is optional, and even with insurance the implications of getting in an accident are serious.
If both sides to an accident cannot agree on a speedy disposition relating to allocation of blame and financial compensation, the vehicles may be impounded for a month or more until a judge has made a determination. Resolutions are often reached on the spot, between two insurance adjusters, but if the other vehicle is not insured, the adjuster must deal with the (apparent) culprit.
If there is a personal injury to a driver, a passenger or a pedestrian, there is a reasonable likelihood that one or both drivers will end up in jail, if only for a few hours until insurance coverage is proven. It is not uncommon for an apparent tortfeasor to flee the scene on foot, or drive off. It has been known to happen in the case of even taxi and bus drivers!
Most downtown intersections without traffic lights do not have stop or yield signs. One must either stop or slow down to a crawl at every such corner, or know which streets have the right of way.
Police Enforcement of Traffic Violations
It’s hard enough knowing the rules of the road. Knowing if they will be enforced is a more difficult a task, or a guessing game. It’s been stated that red lights in Oaxaca are merely suggestive. With most traffic police on foot, there is little that can be done when someone runs a red light.
If stopped for an apparent violation, one does not know what the fine will be. Municipal traffic police earn an extremely modest living. They receive perhaps half of their salaries “on the street.”
Radar is now being used on the streets of Oaxaca and highways in parts of the central valleys. A problem is that one never knows the maximum speed limit unless it’s posted, and it’s indeed posted, it makes no sense. One can be traveling along a highway and see a sign reading 40 kilometers per hour, and then 500 meters down the road another sign reading 30, then 350 meters later another sign reading 60, or 80. There does not appear to be rhyme or reason.
Cost and Convenience of Taxis, Drivers, Buses, Colectivos and Tour Guides
One can walk to virtually every sight in downtown Oaxaca. Taxis within downtown cost about 30 – 35 pesos, and to the suburbs perhaps 50 pesos. Taxis for a day touring the villages cost up to 150 pesos an hour, and guides up to 350. Buses and colectivos are very inexpensive.
One must carefully weigh the pros and cons of each option. Is it really worth it to have to contend with the pitfalls of renting a car when in Oaxaca for a brief vacation, when the alternatives are so varied and attractive?