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.
“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.”