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Where will Cuenca’s tram riders come from? A ridership projection analysis

By Bill Keyes

Mayor-elect Pablo Palacios has said he wants the tranvia to be self-sufficient, which, I guess, means it will pay for itself by covering the operating and maintenance costs from ridership revenue. Excellent aspiration.

So following is an analysis of the projected daily ridership of 120,000 riders per day. Now that the fee has been set at 39 cents that number can be used to predict amount of yearly revenue that would be available to cover the operating and maintenance costs. Thus avoiding having to subsidize the tranvia.

So at 39 cents a ride the total daily revenue at 120,000 riders a day would come to $45,000 a day. Multiply this by 365 days in a year and you get $17 million dollars a year. Now while I don’t know the total costs I would guess this would more than cover the maintenance and operating costs.

Cuenca’s tram is still in the testing phase.

However, there are some other factors that have to be integrated into this analysis. The ridership is higher during the work week vs. the weekend days. So I looked at some stats for a similar light rail transit line in Seattle. The weekend daily ridership was less then half the work week daily ridership. So to be fair I need to revise the 120,000 riders a day for the tranvia as follows

In a year there are approximately 245 workweek days. Using the $45,000 a day number it comes out to be $11,000,000 a year So that leaves 120 weekend days and holidays which at half the weekdays revenue of $22,500 a day or $2,700,000 a year. So now the adjusted total for the the week days and the weekend days would be just under $13,000,000 which should probably still cover the costs.

Now as far as ridership per day goes there is another factor to consider which impacts the ridership numbers and that is how long the line is. The longer the line is the higher the daily ridership .

Here is some recent data from some cities in the U.S.

1. Los Angeles, 219,900 (Avg. daily weekday boardings), 83.6 miles (system lenngth), 2,496 (average daily boardings per mile)
2. Boston, 204,000 (Avg. daily weekday boardings), 26 miles (system lenngth), 7,846 (average daily boardings per mile)
3. San Francisco, 162,500, 35.7 miles, 4,552
4. Portland, 119,700, 60 miles,1,995
5. San Diego, 112,100, 53.5 miles, 2,095
6. Dallas, 98,700, 93 miles, 1,061
7. Denver, 67,500, 58.5 miles, 1,153
8. Philadelphia, 80,100, 68.4 miles, 1,171

Ok, the total mileage for these eight lines is 478.7 Miles, and the total daily average boardings per mile for the eight cities is 21,300 boardings per mile. Then if you divide this number of 21,300 boardings per mile for the 8 cities in the chart you get an average of 2,662 boardings per day per mile of light rail line.

So let’s then apply that number to the length of the tranvia which is 12 miles. So multiply 2,662 boardings per day per mile times 12 miles and you get 32,000 boardings a day. Multiply this by 39 cents and you get around $12,500 a day times 365 days or $4,500.000 a year. The boardings go higher maybe but my analysis is based on some big cities in the U.S. so I think my prediction could be close to what actually happens. So if the maintenance and operating cost are higher then the whole thing will have to be subsidized.

Now there is another factor here which will affect even this number of 32,000 boardings a day and that is where will this ridership come from?

In general, when light rail/tram systems like this are put in one of its main purposes is to eliminate traffic. In my hometown of St Louis, most of the people who worked in the city center, lived in the suburbs/outskirts of St Louis, but drove their cars to the city center and parked them there which usually was expensive.

In the early 70’s the city set up a light rail system utilizing an old abandoned rail tracks that went about 15 miles from the suburbs directly to the city center. Today, over 50,000 people a day commute to work utilizing this system and are not driving their cars to the city center. I should mention that in St Louis where the light rail started in the suburbs there was a huge parking lot where people could drive their cars to from their homes, park there and then ride the light rail to the city center. This trip is by the way is more pleasant then driving and, of course, eliminates fossil fuel from polluting the air. Also, the price of the ride was way cheaper then the cost to park. So there has never been an issue with getting people out of their cars to use the light rail system.

Here is a bit of humor. When there was a football or baseball game in the stadium in the city center on the weekend people would use the light rail system to get to the stadium, and of course they would enjoy the games and probably have a few beers. But then when the games was over they could “sober up“ on the train ride back to the parking lot drive their car back to their house and not have to risk being stopped for a DWI!!

But seriously folks I will now editorialize a bit. So then for Cuenca where will the ridership come from? Will Cuencanos abandon their cars to go downtown on the tram? I don’t know but I do know that people here love to drive their cars everywhere. Again only time will tell.

Ok, where else will the ridership come from? Possibly the bus system? Well again a good question. Most people who ride the bus system on a regular basis, ride certain bus lines that go exactly where they need to go and are also fairly close to where they live. Yes some have to use more than one bus line. So for ridership to come from the bus system people would have to see if the Tranvia went to where they want to go. If it did then maybe they would completely abandon the bus system all together and use the Tranvia
But since the tranvia runs through a narrow swath of the city it is not likely that a lot of people could or would choose this option.

The other way would be to integrate the tram route into their normal route to get where they want to go. So in summary to me it is still an open question as to how much the ridership of the tranvia will ultimately be and where the riders will come from.

Maybe my analysis is all wrong and the tranvia numbers go higher than 32,000. Again only time will tell. I welcome comments.