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After three and a half years of operation, Cuenca’s tram still not integrated with city’s bus lines

Published on May 08, 2023

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Cuenca’s tram system has been grappling with reducing operating losses since its debut on September 22, 2019.

 In 2022, Cuenca’s tram collected $2.7 million in fares, covering less than half of the annual operating cost of $5.5 million. The Municipality of Cuenca subsidizes the remaining operating cost. The tram also carries a debt of $50 million from the construction and an additional debt of $10 million with suppliers for losing arbitrations.

To reach economic equilibrium, the system needs to carry at least 40,000 passengers per day, but currently only carries an average of 20,000 passengers daily. The incoming mayor, Cristian Zamora says he knows it is critical that the municipality find a formula to reduce the system’s losses.

Jorge Moscoso, the director of the tram, acknowledges that transport services throughout the city will always require a subsidy, but he aims to reduce the gap as much as possible. According to Moscoso, achieving an average of 20,000 daily passengers as of March 2023 exceeded expectations.

Moscoso said that the key to achieving the 40,000-passenger goal is integrating the tram with urban buses, a model that has worked successfully in other cities such as Medellín, Colombia.

Studies commissioned by the Municipality of Cuenca have identified that the system requires five integration lines to be fully integrated with the urban bus system. However, neither the administration of Marcelo Cabrera, who completed the construction of the tram, nor that of Pedro Palacios, who launched the system, have successfully achieved this integration.

Palacios’ administration did develop a plan that it said would cover 90% of the tram’s operating costs by 2024, a percentage that Moscoso says is “sustainable.”

Bus integration has failed

In September 2020, the tram began operating with two feeder bus lines, but that was short-lived. There is even a bus line that competes with the tram because it covers almost the same route.

Incoming mayor Cristian Zamora has proposed several ideas to achieve the sustainability of the tram, such as integrating the payment of buses and trams into a single card, creating a trust to manage and distribute the resources collected by the tram and the Chamber of Transportation, and implementing an urban tourist plan to increase the number of passengers. However, Zamora has not yet detailed his plan to achieve the sustainability of the tram.

Zamora believes that the official figures do not reflect the reality of the tram and that the resources that the Municipality allocates to the subsidy are greater than those published. To resolve the issue of the operating deficit, Zamora says he will seek to have discussions with the Chamber of Transportation. However, reaching an agreement may prove difficult, starting with the value of the ticket, which is different on buses and trams.

The urban carriers have already requested a review of the rate, which is currently $0.30, plus a subsidy of four cents (which is covered by the Municipality). The tram operates with a fee of $0.30 or $0.35 with a multi-trip card, and $1 for a single ticket. If the talks with the carriers fail, the outgoing administration proposed a “plan B,” which is to create a transportation system managed entirely by the Municipality of Cuenca. This includes the tram, electric buses, and electric bicycles.

According to outgoing mayor Palacios, the new administration is being left financing to acquire 34 electric buses, from which two feeder routes and a trunk line can be launched.

Solutions remain out of reach

The Cuenca tram is a public system, and its operation requires a subsidy. However, to reduce the gap between the operating cost and the revenue generated, the system needs to increase its ridership. Integrating the tram with urban buses, creating an urban tourist plan, and offering a single payment card for both systems are potential solutions to increase ridership. However, reaching an agreement with the Chamber of Transportation regarding the value of the ticket is a significant challenge.

The Municipality of Cuenca also needs to explore alternative sources of revenue, such as advertising or real estate development along the tram route. The tram could also consider introducing value-added services, such as on-board Wi-Fi or entertainment, to attract more passengers.


  1. If you would hold drivers responsible for speeding and running red lights, and fine the, for these infractions, you would triple the city’s income. And drivers might become a little more respectful of pedestrians.

  2. We live in Oregon and have made four trips to Cuenca during the last seven or eight years. Obviously the span of our visits covers the “non-tram” time and the tram time. Using the Tranvia has been a welcome change. It has made movement around the city much more comfortable and seemingly safer.
    I would go so far as to say that continued visits to Cuenca depend somewhat on the existance of the Tranvia. Of course other factors, such as weather, are the main reason we visit Cuenca.
    Do everything you can to guarantee the preservation, and perhaps expansion of the line.

  3. Not living in Ecuador, specifically in Cuenca, I am not familiar with how the city or the Chamber of Transportation operate. From this article, it seems a major hurdle to solve this issue is the Chamber. This is what needs to be solved first, why is it such a challenge dealing with the Chamber?

    This article also mentions bus lines that run the same route as the tram. Two things come to mind there. First, why is this still allowed, and can this be changed? Second, what is the difference between bus fares and tram fares? If there is a way to make it more attractive for riders to ride the tram, then they would use it instead of the buses.

    Ideas regarding the fares: Set tram fares as close to the bus fares as possible to increase tram ridership; Start a monthly tram pass that would save riders money over paying daily; Have a tourist tram pass with daily and weekly fare rates.

    Another area mentioned in this article was adding Wi-Fi and / or entertainment. Incentivize these options with the prospective companies that would supply these services. Let them advertise on the tram and at tram stops for a reduced rate that would bring in extra revenue. Otherwise, the cost of adding the services will outweigh the benefit.

    I’m sure there are other ways the city of Cuenca can work with businesses that are able to help with increasing ridership. Investigate all feasible options and vote on what will work best for the city.


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