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Cuenca’s tram draws big crowds and rave reviews in first two days of passenger service

People crowd the tram platform at the Feria Libre market on Av. Las Americas. (El Tiempo)

In two days of transporting passengers, Cuenca’s tram has put at least one skeptic’s prediction to rest — that no one will ride it.

“We have more than twice as many passengers than we expected and have to ask some people to wait on the plaform for the next train,” says Gustavo Ramirez, a conductor for the city’s long-delayed tram system. “We heard for years that this was a waste of money and that Cuencanos would never use it and today you see what they really think about. They love it.”

The tram began offering free rides to the public on Monday and officials say they will continue the service until the system begins full operation in late July or early August, when the fare will be 35 cents.

The tram’s popularity has created a new problem: how to maintain the social distancing required by the Covid-19 health emergency. “We didn’t expect this many passengers so it’s a challenge to enforce the safety protocols,” says tram director Carolina Ormaza. “Our personnel are advising those who are standing on the trains to keep their distance from other passengers and, in some cases, restricting entry. The units come every 10 minutes so it’s not a long wait for the next train.”

Under health rules, the tram is allowing only 30 percent seating and most seats are taped off. Because of the standing passengers, Ormaza says that many trains are running at close to 50 percent occupancy.

A survey by radio station Voz del Tomebamba confirmed Ramirez’s assessment of the tram’s popularity. Of 20 tram riders asked, there were only two complaints, both about the large number of passengers.

The tram in the historic district.

“I have to say that I have changed my mind about the tram,” Carlos Iglesias told the radio reporter. “I always hated it and am only riding today becasue my friend convinced me, but now I love it. It’s fast, it’s smooth, it’s safe and it’s very relaxing. Everybody I know who has ridden is impressed and we will be riding it again, many times.”

Graciela Lara, who lives near Parque Industrial, also said she is a new tram fan. “I didn’t know what to expect but this is very nice, very clean and very fast,” she said. “The station is only two blocks from my house so I can take it to work, near Control Sur. It only costs five cents more than the bus and I will get to work half an hour sooner. I’m excited.”

Also impressed was expat Nico Becker, who moved to Cuenca in 2015 from Germany. “I had some doubts about the train and whether the locals would use it but, like the others, I’m changing my mind,” he told the reporter. “I thought it was a waste of money and that it would only appeal to tourists but, as you can see, Cuencanos love it. In Europe and Asia, I rode trams all the time so I know how efficent they are.”

Becker added that, for him, the tram has very practical applications. “I live in the historic district so I’ll be able to hop on to go to the Supermaxis at Miraflores and Las Americas, as well as to the airport and bus terminal. I have to say that I’m now a believer.”

Because of the tram’s unexpected popularity, Ormaza says she’s considering adding more units to the route. Currently, eight five-car trains are in operation but there are six more available. “If these numbers continue or increase, we’ll put more cars on the track.”

She adds that the early response could lead to a reevaluation of riderships estimates. “We were planning for 30,000 to 50,000 riders a day but this tells us it may be a lot more. At full capacity, the system can accommodate about 120,000.”

22 thoughts on “Cuenca’s tram draws big crowds and rave reviews in first two days of passenger service

    1. Are you not mad at the expats who accepted the incremental coronavirus risk and took the free ride for motivation of idle leisure?

    2. Has anyone pointed out to you that the tram is the only mass transport in the entire city? I wonder why it is full?

      1. This is the best part. Since the buses aren’t running more folks are getting acquainted with the tram and like the guy in the story says, once you try it, you’ll be back. I wasn’t sure about it either but now that I’ve been on board, I’ll be a regular. Nice ride.

    1. No and yes. It is not free and busses not running is a great idea. We can definitely live without the busses. Just a a few more taxis and problem solved.

      1. So in your world, everyone can afford taxis to get to and from work, school, and all the other places the HAVE to get to on a daily basis.

  1. The tram is finally getting used due to the limitations of driving times and bus capacity limitations. This is good in that people are now sort of forced to use it and are finally seeing its benefit. The hardest thing to do is to change people’s habits, whether they are used to driving, taking the bus or walking. This pandemic created a situation for the tram’s usefulness to be discovered and experienced.

  2. Did Lady Lee have to ride backwards, in other words was she looking towards the back of the train while seated?

    1. good one, where has she been, the biggest critic of all,,, I rode it a year ago and yesterday, wonderful, next up Remigio Crespo and Ordonez Lasso feeder lines

      1. But it in all seriousness, do all the seats face forward? I never have been inside one and this has been a lingering issue with Lady Lee. Also, is there a place to hang your new bike?

        1. Many seats face toward the opposite window (sideways), not sure about backwards because there is no backwards, the tram can go either way,,,, and I doubt but am not sure they accommodate bikes, certainly not on the front like some buses , I need to pay closer attention to the seating

          They have a special seat for Lady Lee, she sits in the conductor chair that faces the back of the tranvia, but she has to move when the tram changes direction

          1. Sideways would seem to be the ideal arrangement. She then can turn her head slightly in whatever direction the train is headed.

            As for bicycles, I guess it is not quite as important to have hangers if public bicycles are available to rent at important points throughout the city:

    2. I swear I saw her riding with Still yesterday and I was so curious that I stayed on the train until they left. Funny thing was that the were riding backward as Still had promised many times he would make LL do, but on the return trip, guess what? They were both facing forward. Imagine that.

  3. Hmmm. New ride at Disneyland, and first few times free. Let’s revisit this in six months. I love politicians who declare fantastic success before things even start.

  4. Habana Cuba, had the first tranvia ever built in America 1930s, I was riding tranvias since I was a child, after that I rode them in Europe, in the USA (San Francisco, Denver and Phoenix, plus subways. I’ve no doubts at all they would be a success in Cuenca as they have been around the world. Besides the tranvia goes by my balcony in Lamar, lucky me. ☺

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