Tram ridership triples as system grapples with ticketing problems and integration with public buses

Oct 26, 2020

Carolina Ormaza, director of Cuenca’s tranvía, is breathing easier these days. “When the system began commercial operation September 22, we were only carrying 6,000 passengers a day and I was getting calls and emails asking if it was a failure, even suggesting it should be shut down,” she said. “Today, the numbers are much better and complaints have mostly ended.”

Tram ridership has risen from 6,000 to 17,000 a day since September 22, when commercial service began.

According to Ormaza, one of her biggest jobs is preaching patience. “We have said all along that it could take two or three years before the tram reaches its full potential and a lot of people don’t seem to understand. They want immediate results. We will reach our goal when there’s full integration with the public buses and when passengers are comfortable using the system. We hope to have the integration complete in 2021 but it could take longer.”

When pay-to-ride service began, only 6,000 Mobilízate cards had been sold for the tram. As of Thursday, Ormaza says 23,000 cards had been sold and she expects sales to reach 40,000 by the end of the year. “This is actually more than what we had predicted at the beginning of the year,” Ormaza says. “During the period of free service, we determined that people liked the train and will use it but growth will be slow until the integrated system is operational.”

She added that the Covid-19 pandemic also affects ridership. “We’re restricted to 75 percent capacity and we understand there are some people who are not using the system now because they are afraid of infection.”

Of immediate concern, according to Ormaza, is instructing passengers how to use the tram’s card reader. “It is not a swipe reader like many people are used to. Passengers need to press their cards onto the reader surface to register the ride,” she says. “We’ve assigned agents to the platforms to show people how this is done and the number of unauthorized rides have gone from 87 a day to 10.”

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She says there have also been technical problems with the card readers. “After it was installed, the equipment was not used for almost two years so there have been equipment failures that had to be resolve.”

When the transportation system is fully integrated and accessible with a single card, Ormaza says the tram will carry about 64,000 passengers a day. “Six years ago, there was an estimate of 120,000 but this was a mistake since it would mean every unit would be operational and filled to capacity. We have 14 five-car units and we need to keep two or three in reserve in case of mechanical problems and accidents. At 64,000 daily rides, we will be close to covering our $10 million annual operating cost.”

She adds that more units can be purchased and put on the tracks if demand warrants.

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