Mayor-elect Zamora to push bus-tram integration and says 3-month airport closure is ‘not rational’

Mar 27, 2023 | 9 comments

Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series about plans Mayor-elect Cristian Zamora has for Cuenca. To read part one, click here.

By Stephen Vargha

Public transportation systems bring many benefits to individuals, cities, and the local economy. But all too often, they don’t get the amount of attention that they should.

It has incoming-mayor Cristian Zamora’s full attention. Zamora knows public transportation reduces air pollution; reduces traffic congestion; increases mobility; and encourages healthier habits. And he knows improvements must be made.

Incoming mayor Cristian Zamora mapping out his strategies and plans for Cuenca.

“The public transportation system has to be reexamined,” said Zamora. “The bus routes have been the same for 10 years. The city has grown, but not the system. Some bus lines need to be longer while others need to be shortened.”

In his opinion, Cuenca’s transportation network is haphazard and needs to be addressed. “We need to integrate the buses, the tranvía, and bikes,” said Zamora. “One cannot use the same passes and cards for all three. The problem is not the knowledge, but to get the privately owned buses integrated into the public transportation system.”

According to Zamora, the distribution of money to the various parties is the holdup to having just one card for all modes of public transportation. He feels that everyone needs to work as one.

“Buses need to feed the Tranvía, and the Tranvía needs to be providing buses passengers,” said Zamora. “It’s not happening now.”

Currently, the 10.7 km. / 6.6 miles tranvía line only serves a portion of Cuenca. The light rail tramway began service on May 25, 2020, linking the southwestern parts of the city with El Centro and points northeast. The crescent shaped route starts at Río Tarqui in the southwest and ends at Parque Industrial, with a total of 27 stops. The entire journey from one side to the other takes 35 minutes.

“The bus routes have been the same for 10 years. The city has grown, but not the system,” said Cristian Zamora.

When asked if the tranvía would ever become a full circle to serve more residents and to become a tourist destination, Zamora laughed and asked, “Did you see how long it took to build the Tranvía and get it running?”

“If I have anything to say about the Tranvía line, I will be out of office before it’s ever completed,” Zamora added.

Zamora based his statement about the Tranvía on his experience on the city council. In 2014, he won his first councillorship and has represented his part of the canton since then.

In the last decade, Zamora has been a member of the Board of Directors of the Telecommunications and Potable Water Company (ETAPA), of the Airport Corporation, of the Tourism Foundation for Cuenca, and of the El Barranco Foundation.

Zamora was elected as Cuenca’s next mayor on February 5. And he will be sworn in on May 14.

“Buses need to feed the Tranvía, and the Tranvía needs to be providing buses passengers,” said Zamora.

The hot topic concerning transportation is the closure of the Cuenca airport for repaving and other upgrades.

That has been the big question of many residents. The Mayor and Executive Director of the airport recently said runway rehabilitation work would close down Mariscal Lamar International Airport for about 90 days.

The last time the airport was closed was in 2016, when it was shut down for a month. That project was a result of an order by civil aviation authorities that the airport could only operate in dry weather conditions. The order resulted in the cancellation of 140 flights for the four months prior to the runway upgrades.

The proposed $8.32 million contract gives whoever is awarded the work 210 days to complete runway repairs.

Cuenca’s tourism industry asked airport officials to start the project after August as June and July are the busiest times for tourism.

“I think it is outrageous,” said Zamora. “Three months is not rational. We have to close it at some point but multiply the number of machines to get more done at a faster rate.”

Cristian Zamora thinks closing the airport is outrageous. “Three months is not rational,” said Zamora.

In a March 12 tweet, Zamora said, “The airport would be closed for 210 days, a nameless madness, yes, seven months incommunicado by air plus what we already have by land.”

Other airports in the world are taking a different approach with their runway repairs. Melbourne Airport is replacing approximately 2,500 meters of its north-south runway.

The Australian airport’s runway is closed five nights a week for 6.5 to eight hours. for approximately 11 months. Work begins around 10:30 p.m. and is completed by 6:30 the next morning.

That scenario would work for Cuenca as the first flight in the morning is a LATAM flight from Quito that gets in just before 7 a.m. The last flight of the day is a LATAM flight to Quito that departs around 9:30 p.m.

Zamora emphasized that his hands are tied with the airport project as the contract is to be awarded the day before he goes into office. “All I am doing is signing the contract,” said Zamora. “Ecuadorian law dictates that I do this formality.”

Cuenca is looking at building a new airport someday near Tarqui. Land has been zoned to make it a reality when the time comes.

Another big issue with Cuenca’s airport is its short runway. At 1,898 meters / 6,227 feet in length, it falls way short of the 10,000 feet international standard. This means Cuenca cannot have international flights.

There is no room to lengthen the runway, so Cuenca is looking for land outside of the city. “There is no way to expand the airport due to the cemetery, industrial park, and the mountain tops,” said Zamora.

According to Zamora, officials are looking at a huge piece of land at Tarqui. “We have zoned the land to be an airport in the future,” said Zamora. “Zoning will be for one house for every 10,000 square meters (2.5 acres) of land.”

If built, the airport would be about 20 minutes for residents on the south side of Cuenca. And it is about 35 minutes from El Centro, which is about 10 minutes faster than departing from Quito’s historic district to its airport.

In mid-March, Zamora met with 221 mayors and prefects. He asked for $30 million to solve the problems going from Cuenca to Guayaquil and to Loja.

In mid-March, Zamora met with 221 mayors and prefects from across Ecuador. “At that meeting, I represented Cuenca. I wanted an emergency declared concerning the roads in and out Cuenca,” said Zamora. “I asked for $30 million to solve the problems going from Cuenca to Guayaquil and to Loja.”

Zamora added that Ecuadorian law dictates that natural disasters be declared an emergency. “It’s not normally easy to get a declaration,” said Zamora. “I expect President Lasso to sign the declaration and then the minister.”

Speed cameras in Cuenca recently went online. The cameras clock one’s speed, and if a driver is going one kilometer over the speed limit, a citation is issued. “There is no tolerance range,” said Zamora.

“Every institution has questioned the speed cameras,” said Zamora. “If you want to put fines, that is fine. But why are you sharing the money? Why is a private company getting 40 percent of the fines?”

Zamora wants to immediately cancel the speed cameras contract. He asks, “Why is a private company getting 40 percent of the fines?”

He is referring to the contract between EMOV and Móvil Technology Ecuador. Exceeding the speed limit will get you a fine of 30 percent of the basic salary or $135. According to Zamora, the private company would get $54. If a driver exceeds the moderate range of speeding, the fine is the basic salary or $450 and 3 days in jail. Móvil Technology Ecuador would get $180 of that fine.

“If you think that is necessary, why didn’t you do it without the private sector? We had the money to do it ourselves,” said Zamora.

The incoming mayor stated the first thing he will do will be to cancel the contract for the photo radars. Recently, Zamora told the media, “I have already met with the legal team and the process is ready to start once I take office.”

Zamora continues to learn more about on how to best address the multitude of issues facing Cuenca. This week, he is in Las Vegas. In seven weeks, he will be the next mayor.

“In the last 25 years, Cuenca has never had a mayor for more than four years,” said Zamora. “I will be the first to have more than four.”
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Photos by Stephen Vargha

Stephen Vargha’s new book about Cuenca, “Una Nueva Vida – A New Life” is available at Amazon in digital and paperback formats. His blog, “Becoming Cuenca,” supplements his book with the latest information and at least a dozen photos of his in each of his posts.

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