Cuenca’s tram marks two years of service with rising ridership and a lower deficit but obstacles remain to integrate service with municipal buses
City officials are claiming Cuenca’s tram system is a rousing success two years after service began. They also admit that reaching one of its major goals, integration of service with municipal buses, remains elusive.
In a series of radio and television interviews this week, tram director Jorge Moscoso and other city officials have provided updates and statistics they say prove the tram’s success despite ongoing disagreements with bus owners.
According to Moscoso, the tram has provided 8,221,345 trips since it began service in September 2020. “We are also experiencing a consistent increase of ridership,” he said. “At the beginning of the year, average daily ridership was about 14,000. This week, the average is above 20,000.”
He added that the growth in ridership is especially noticeable during morning and afternoon rush hours, when passengers are going to and coming from work. “Most of our units operate at full capacity during peak hours, with standing room only in most of the cars,” he said. “We plan to increase frequency of service and additional units during these periods to accommodate the demand.”
Increased ridership means the tram’s operational deficit has dropped dramatically, Moscoso says, from an annual rate of more than $6 million a year ago to about $3.5 million today. He adds that the system will need to double ridership, to 40,000 or 42,000 a day, to reach a break-even point financially. “This will come with integration and we admit we are behind schedule with this,” he says.
According to Moscoso, the city is arranging funding to purchase a fleet of electric buses to connect the bus transfer hub on Av. Las Americas, near the Feria Libre market, to the tram. “Our goal is to have this in operation within a year but there are many details to work out.”
Among other issues to be resolved for bus and tram integration, is an agreement on a common electronic fare card system. Currently, the tram and buses have their own systems. Both the city and bus owners insist they should manage the unified system.
“Bus owners invested $11 million in a card system with the understanding that it would serve both bus and tram riders,” says Diego Idrovo, president of the Chamber of Transport, which represents bus owners. “This was agreed to by the previous administration and the new administration wants to change it. The owners cannot afford to walk away from this investment unless we are reimbursed.”
Moscoso won’t comment on the controversy, only saying he expects to reach an agreement with bus owners in the near future. “Our intention is to have a common card, not just for buses and the tram, but for other municipal services, such as bicycle rental and public park services,” he says.
In a radio interview, Mayor Pedro Palacios emphasized the tram’s success. “Many people said it would never operate and that if it did, no one would ride it, and this has been proven wrong,” he said. “In passenger surveys this years, riders give the system 93% and 95% approval ratings. Compare this to 65% for the buses.”
Palacios added that the tram is the “world leader” in two operational categories. “Of all the similar systems in the world, we have the lowest rate of non-paying passengers, at 1.5%. We also have the lowest number of traffic accidents, per kilometer, of all tram systems,” he said. “We are proud of these facts.”
The mayor concedes that much work remains to reach integration with the buses. “We will miss this year’s deadline to combine the systems but we continue to work toward a resolution. I am hoping we can announce a solution by the end of the year.”