Although a number of public transportation issues were resolved before Cuenca city buses resumed service two weeks ago, officials say the integration plan for tram and bus services remains unresolved. “Although we reached several agreements, including the rerouting of a bus line that duplicated tram service, we are still in disagreement about fully integrating the two systems,” says city tram director Catalina Ormaza.
“We are becoming increasingly frustrated by the reluctance of the owners to resolve the remaining issues before the tram goes into full service in August,” Ormaza says. “We want to come to an agreement that is satisfactory to both sides but, if we can’t, the city will dictate the terms since the buses operate at the pleasure of the city.”
According to Ormaza, bus owners are “dragging their feet” in negotiations. “They have canceled meetings and, when they show up they say they are not prepared to discuss issues on the agenda. We are running out of time and we will soon be forced to dictate terms of the transportation integration system to the bus owners.”
Among the unresolved issues is the use of a single pre-paid passenger card for both the tram and buses. Neither system will accept cash for fares.
Currently in the final phase of testing before going fully operational, the tram is offering free rides and has been operating at full capacity. “We are very happy with the response from passengers,” Ormaza says. “We are running at 30 to 40 percent above the ridership we had projected for the tests, more than 50,000 a week, which has prompted us to adjust upward our projection of passenger rides once commercial service begins.”
She adds: “We are carrying these numbers even though 50 percent of the seats are blocked off because of the Covid health emergency.”
Given the tram’s popularity, the biggest problem has been maintaining social distancing onboard. “We have added personnel to manage passenger load, particularly those people who are standing,” she says. “In addition, we disinfect all cars at the end of each route.”
Will the free passengers become paying customers once the 35 cent tram fare goes into effect? “This has been a big question and the surveys we’ve conducted tell us yes, they will,” Ormaza says. “We had heard suggestions that the additional five cent cost over the 30 cent fare charged by buses would drive riders away but they say they will gladly pay the extra. Everyone is thrilled with the convenience, comfort and speed of the tram.”
Ormaza and her staff have finally overcome one major obstacle: clearing the tracks of cows. “There was a sweet old lady who has been grazing her three cows on the Rio Yanuncay banks for 30 years and when she walked them across Av. Las Americas she was letting them eat the grass beside the tracks. We needed several discussions with her to explain why this was a bad idea.”