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City looks at ways to limit traffic and optimize public transit in downtown area

According to Mexican urban planner Roberto Ponce, Cuenca should look at the experiences of other cities as it formulates a master transportation plan. “To reduce traffic in its central city London made the cost of public parking prohibitively high,” he says, noting that the move increased the use of public transit services.

The tram is an important step in “electrifying” Cuenca’s public transit system.

According to Ponce, parking costs in central London average more than 46 pounds, or about $58, a day.

Speaking at the Smart Mobility conference at the University of Azuay on Monday, Ponce said there are many ways to reduce vehicular traffic and increase use of public transportation but that they all require careful planning and public subsidies. “Another method, of course, is to simply pedestrianize certain areas of the city and eliminate cars and trucks altogether.”

The seminar, attended by representatives of Cuenca city government, covered such topics as integrating the tram and bus systems and changing the driving habits of city car owners. Ponce and other presenters made the point that Cuenca’s transportation problems are no different than those faced by cities around the world.

Municipal councilman Xavier Barrera agreed that cheap parking in Cuenca encourages car trips to the center of town, including the historic district. Public and private parking in Cuenca averages $8 dollars a day, according to a recent study.

Some public bus routes will have to change to accommodate the tram.

“As we add the tram to the transportation system and upgrade our buses we have to look at ways to get people out of their cars,” Barrera says. “The new city government is looking at this issue carefully and it is one of the reasons we have delayed the start of tram service.”

Barrera and other council members are reviewing the plan of the former city administration to charge 35 cents for the tram while bus fare remains 30 cents. “For true integration of the systems, the fare should be the same,” he says. “It may not be possible in the near term but this has to be our ultimate objective in addition to reducing vehicular traffic in the center.”

Barrera agreed with seminar experts that Cuenca should move away from diesel- and gasoline-powered transportation systems. José Huertas Cardozo, a professor of public transportation at the University of Los Andes, Colombia, said the city should transition aggressively to electric power. “I understand that plans are already in place to eliminate diesel buses in the center by 2022 and I recommend that this schedule be maintained and that the rest of bus fleet be converted as soon as possible,” he said. “The addition of the electric tram is an excellent start to an electrification program. This not only saves money but it improves air quality.”

The University of Azuay conference also addressed the city’s coming negotiations with public bus companies for the purpose of optimizing tram ridership. “This will require changes to bus service and the elimination of some lines,” says Ponce. “There is no alternative to this and the city may be required to pay bus owners, depending on previous agreements, for the change. An efficient public transportation system requires serious public investment.”