If you stop in front of a porch in Maine where two old men are sitting in rocking chairs and ask for directions, you will undoubtedly get the answer, “You can’t get there from here”. There are challenges to getting around Cuenca, Ecuador, but there are also solutions. Your choices are car, taxi, Metro (or tram), bus, bicycle, or walking.
There are approximately 858,000 cars (excluding 8,000 taxis) in Cuenca with a population of 436,000. In Chicago, there are approximately 1,731,600 cars (excluding 7,000 taxis) with a population of 8,901,000. This results in fewer people per car in Cuenca compared with Chicago, but there are more taxis in Cuenca than Chicago. My conclusion is there are too many cars in both Cuenca and Chicago. Might this not be an example of our problem with greenhouse gases?
The center of Cuenca and some of its close-lying areas are composed of predominantly one-way streets. Given the number of cars, there is more driving, faster speeds, and excessive gridlock. One-way streets are necessary in El Centro because the streets in this old part of town are narrow. Because of the one-way streets, going from point A to point B may require going around several blocks to arrive at your destination; hence more driving. High speeds are the results of traffic lights being coordinated to lessen the amount of stop and go. In Cuenca, from 2021 to 2022, the number of vehicle registrations grew 7.2% from 152,676 to 163,598 while the population grew 2.11% . It is this excess number of cars which result in the gridlock.
Taxis are a popular means of transportation because they are usually readily available and the fares are inexpensive. With more taxis than Chicago, it is often easy to flag a ride. There are also popular phone apps for requesting a taxi. You never have to tell a taxi where to pick you up. You open the app and a map appears giving your exact GPS location. You will receive an estimated time the taxi will arrive and you can watch a car icon traveling the streets on its way to your location.
At times, however, it is difficult to get a taxi—on holidays when fewer taxis are operating and when it is raining and more people are soliciting taxis. All taxis are required to have a visible meter so you know the cost of your trip. Generally, a taxi ride within Cuenca costs $2.00 or $3.00. Drivers also expect a tip, so you can round up the meter charge. Uber and other cars-for-hire are not allowed in Cuenca.
Not to be outdone by the taxis, the metro or light rail system (called Tranvia) also offers an option of paying a fare with an app. Your charge will come from your local bank account. With the large number of tourists in Cuenca, it will probably only be a matter of time before the payment will come from any bank.
Jorge Moscoso, the Tranvia Director, predicts the use of the app will increase ridership by 20%. Currently, the Monday-Friday riders amount to 19,400. The Tranvia is new in Cuenca with only one 11 km line starting at Parque Industrial via the airport and ending at the Rio Tarqui. There are 27 stops along the way. taking about 35 minutes, but expectations are more lines will be developed in the future. You can purchase a card at the Tranvia office or various other locations for $1.00. You then insert your card into pay stations at various metro stops and add money to the card; you cannot use cash on the metro. The normal fare to ride anywhere on the line is $.35 (or a discounted fare of $.17 for students or senior citizens with a cedula). Without the card, expect to pay $1.00 per ride.
For the more intrepid, I will discuss bicycling and walking as well as the bus system in the post next week.
Fact: Getting around Cuenca is quite easy
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