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Tram will be free in first month of operation

Tram cars at the main rail yard on Ave. Espana.

Passengers on Cuenca’s new electric tram will ride free during the first month of operations. “We want to introduce the public to the system so people will understand how convenient and comfortable it is,” says city tram technical director Carolina Ormaza. She added that providing a period of free service is standard operational procedure worldwide when new mass transit systems go into service.

March 3 is the tentative date for the start of service, Ormaza says, but is subject to change. “We will make an official announcement about the beginning of service soon.”

The tram on a test run through El Centro.

The early months of tram operations will be a period of “socialization,” according to Ormaza. “People in Cuenca have not ridden on the system before so they need to become familiar with paying the fare, entering and exiting the cars, as well as the seating arrangements. During this time, transportation staff will be observing passengers’ reactions to the procedures and we will make adjustments as necessary.”

During the period of free fares, Ormaza added, passengers will still be required to use their transit cards to enter the train. “We want the process to function just as it will when passengers pay full fare.”

The final fare has yet to be determined but will be between 35 cents and 50 cents, says Xavier Barrera, city councilman who heads the council’s transportation committee. “We are in discussions about this now and will make a final decision soon,” he says.

A transportation consultant’s report recommended a fare of 35 cents if the system has 60,000 riders annually but 50 cents if ridership is 40,000. “The problem is that we can’t look into the future to see how many riders there are when we establish the fare,” says Barrera. “Typically during the first year, public rail systems like ours begin with lower ridership and then grow and we expect the same to happen in Cuenca. Of course, we can raise the fare later but we would prefer to get it right from the start.”

Test runs on the 20.5 kilometer system will increase in frequency during February, Ormaza says. In the two weeks prior to the beginning of public service, the tram will run on a full schedule with all 12 five-car units in operation, making stops every 10 minutes at stations.