Mayor Pedro Palacios said Thursday that live tests of Cuenca’s Tranvía de los Cuatros Rios will begin soon and that a fare will be determined in January. Although Palacios did not specify a date when tests will begin, the director of tram operations says it will be in late January or February.
In recent weeks, Palacios has come under intense criticism for his handling of the tram project, most of it from radio and television talk shows and social media.
More than two years behind schedule, the $250 million project has been the source of bitter controversy since it began. “We understand the disappointments and the burden that the delays have placed on businesses and residents along the route,” Palacios says. “We want to assure the community that we are close to beginning operations.”
The mayor said that almost all the obstacles to start-up have been overcome. “In June, we identified 630 issues that had to be resolved before operations could begin and all but a few of these have been fulfilled. There are still outstanding issues with contractors but those will be solved soon.”
Tram director Carolina Ormaza told the municipal council on Monday that she expects the tram to be in full operation for at least six months of 2020 and possibly more. “There will be at least three months of testing as well as the public education campaign that must be completed before start-up.”
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Among the outstanding issues, besides a determining a fare, are providing compensation to businesses harmed by construction delays and reaching an agreement with municipal bus company owners who fear loss of ridership.
“We are working on a plan to provide relief to businesses that have been affected. This was promised by the previous administration but little relief was actually delivered,” Palacious says.
Municipal Councilman Alfredo Aguilar says a project is underway to identify affected businesses on the tram route and provide economic relief to those who need it. “We will offer relief from taxes and fees and are considering other options if necessary,” he said.
Palacios said that loss of bus ridership is inevitable. “The tram and bus lines must be part of integrated transportation system and some users of the system will inevitably switch from buses to the tram,” he said. “It would be illogical for the tram to compete with buses on its route. We will continue talks with bus companies and hope to reach a reasonable agreement.”
Began in 2013, the tram will run on a 21-kilometer route from Control Sur, at the intersection of Av. Las Americas and Av. Mexico, in southwest Cuenca to the industrial park in the northeast. The system has 27 stations and has a maximum daily carrying capacity of 120,000. The master plan anticipates spur routes off the main line to other areas of the city but a date for their addition has not been determined.
All infrastrcuture work for the system was completed in 2018 but some upgrades and repairs remain to be completed, Ormaza says.