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By: Nancy Seeley
Celebrating 50 years – Mazatlán’s beloved pulmonias just keep on going
December 20 marked the golden anniversary of the first triumphant pulmonia ride through the city of Mazatlán streets in what was basically a steel-bodied golf cart with three wheels.
Today’s four-wheeled models feature a rustproof fiberglass chassis powered by a VW Bug engine. Though the basic design hasn’t changed much since the 1980s, slight alterations through the years mean you’ll see several different varieties among the fleet busily cruising around Mazatlán – the only place in the world these trademarked conveyances are allowed to operate!
Listen up: If the white chariot you board has doors, it’s NOT a pulmonia. Those impostors are gussied-up Safaris. Luis Mariano Ortega, president of the sole pulmonia union in town, says when people call him about articles they left behind on a ride, the first thing he asks is whether their vehicle had doors. If the answer is yes, he refers them to the taxi syndicate.
So what’s a pulmonia? Kind of like a glorified golf cart, and a taxi substitute in Mazatlán. It is unique to Mazatlán… I’ve not seen this type of a car anywhere else in Mexico. Each is decorated differently and some have music (Mexican, rap, pop take your pick!) Seat belts… no way, Jose. Those are rare indeed in Mexico.
Though pulmonias are exceedingly popular, the government has not upped the number of available licenses since 1988. Production of new vehicles is limited to about 10 per year, all manufactured at three local factories that also handle repairs.
There have been only four female drivers during the last half century – not because they’re being discriminated against, Ortega said, but simply because women don’t seem to want the job. You must be Mexican to get a pulmonia chauffeur’s license, but you do see foreigners (including females) behind the wheel – anyone can order a brand new model or buy an older one that’s going out of service for private use.
By law, these beloved four-passenger open-air vehicles cannot venture much beyond city limits, for safety reasons. El Venadillo (past Emerald Bay) is their northern boundary and El Castillo (on the way to the airport) marks the southern end of the line.
Ortega confirmed the malecon is by far the most heavily driven route but said these sturdy white Mazatlán hallmarks are in demand throughout the city. Locals like them just as much as tourists. Young folks take them to parties, old folks find them easier to get in and out of than conventional vehicles and Mexican families like them for special events.
Unlike taxis and aurigas (the red trucks), there’s no central reservation number to call for pulmonias. Ortega says they hope to introduce a cell phone app soon to connect callers to a driver, mimicking the Uber cab model used internationally.
Safety is not taken lightly, Ortega stressed, noting that the minimum age for drivers is now 21. They must pass both a written exam and a practical road test, and are required to take a five-day refresher course every two years that covers topics like customer service and mechanical repairs. Records are checked before hiring, and drivers are subject to random drug tests.
By the Numbers
353 – Pulmonias carrying paying customers around Mazatlán
150 – Safaris (with doors) carrying paying customers around Mazatlán
500+ – Unionized pulmonia drivers
$130,000 pesos – Cost of a new pulmonia
150 km/hr – Maximum speed (hijole!)
30 km/hr – Average sightseeing speed
2 years – Usual life span of a pulmonia engine
5 – People legally allowed in a pulmonia (inc. driver)
Each pulmonia displays a posted rate chart (See box.) to show customers the maximum cost for their ride, but it is fair to try bargaining a lower amount. Do that when you get in, though…not when you’re exiting.
The “interactive” (translation: climb into it) pulmonia monument on the malecon was installed in 2001 and has become both the most visited and most photographed of all the city’s commemorative structures, Ortega proudly said.
Pulmonia designer Miguel Ramirez Urquijo would be amazed to see how his original fleet of three has grown to become one of Mazatlán’s most distinctive features.
“You make a lot of friends driving one,” said Ortega. “It’s a great job.”
Hasta luego! Have a good and healthy season.
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