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Mayor takes leave of absence to campaign: Major tram issues, including establishing a fare, must be resolved before he returns

Mayor Marcelo Cabrera has temporarily turned over his duties to Cuenca Vice-Mayor Ruth Caldas to campaign for reelection. The leave of absence is required by law for incumbents running for a second term. Cabrera will resume his duties March 25, following the election.

Vice-Mayor Ruth Caldas

Caldas and the municipal council face big decisions regarding Cuenca’s tram system during Cabrera’s absence, including deciding on passenger fare. The council must also approve plans to coordinate bus service with the tram and compensate bus owners for the loss of routes that will be assumed by the tram.

During his absence, Cabrera will miss the official start of public tram service, which is scheduled for March 8. In his campaign, the mayor is taking credit for rescuing and completing the project that was more than two years behind schedule when he took office in 2015.

Big decisions about the tram await resolution by the municipal council.

Tram fare will be set by the council between 35 cents and 50 cents based on the recommendation of a transportation consulting firm. Cabrera favors the 35-cent fare. Also to be determined is whether the tram will be free to the public, as the project administrator recommends, in its first month of operation.

Besides establishing the fare, Councilman Carlos Orellana warns that full operation of the system cannot begin without a budget for the subsidy necessary for operation. “The fare is important, of course, but we must also have a clear picture of the government’s financial obligation to maintain the service,” he said.

Caldas says the subsidy issue will be resolved this month.

Beginning this week, the tram will operate on its full schedule, with 12 five-car units on the tracks simultaneously. In addition to testing systems, the exercise is necessary to allow conductors to attain the minimum number of driving hours set by the Spanish company overseeing operations.