Ecuador: The curse of the Quito Metro: it is finally ready to start but has no one to drive it | International

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One of the trains manufactured for the Quito metro.CAF

The Quito Metro was designed so that Quito residents could get from their homes to work faster. A journey of an hour and a half from south to north of the capital of Ecuador would be reduced to half an hour. Of that promise eight years ago and the underground transport still has no start date. The work is 99.32% complete, but the new manager does not dare to set an opening date. It is not yet clear who could operate the trains. He has been in office since last October 22 and of course eight people have passed before him, seven of them in the last legislature. Nobody has managed to get the largest work in the city, which has cost 2.009 million dollars and was going to be the benchmark for sustainable and efficient transport in the entire country, to start.

The 16 trains of the Quito Metro are in the depots, waiting for the capital city to decide on the operating model. The option has evolved from direct municipal management to an alliance with a foreign, public or private strategic partner. Today, new advisers have been hired to evaluate what the ideal formula will be. Meanwhile, the stations will remain closed.

When the project was announced, a 22.6-kilometer underground line with 15 stops was offered that would cross from south to north a city sandwiched between the Andes mountains that is 45 kilometers long and five kilometers wide. “Before we could have all the political will, but there were not the resources,” said in 2013 Fander Falconí, the Secretary of Planning and Development of the Rafael Correa Government, who financed part of the construction. Now that the investment is made, it is the political lurch that has blocked the start-up of the country’s first metro line, built by the Spanish company Acciona.

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Efraín Bastidas, the current incumbent, takes it almost for granted that if the trains start they will do so at the beginning of 2023. In the middle of that year, there will be municipal elections and, for now, there are only tests without movement. “I don’t like setting dates, because dates have already been discussed in the past and it would be irresponsible for me to fall into the same thing,” he declared in an interview with the digital newspaper. First fruits.

The Metro manager, whom MRT unsuccessfully requested an interview, also acknowledged that they do not have the railway knowledge to drive the trains and that the Catalan advisers who are evaluating the most convenient operating model for the capital will take months to arrive at a conclusion. The current mayor believes that the metro is today a “white elephant” and has asked Bastidas to reverse one of the last decisions of his predecessor: to operate under direct municipal management but with international assistance. The new administration fears that the same thing will happen to the subway as to land transport. Plagued by poor quality user complaints. It has not even been decided whether the fare should be 45 cents or higher, so that it is profitable and at the same time affordable for the citizen.

Édison Yánez was in charge of the project for 18 months, until January of this year. He says that he received the works at 80%, bequeathed them 99% in progress and that since his departure nothing has moved other than the controversy over the model of operation and conduction of the trains. A matter that, in his opinion, should already be resolved and inclined towards an alliance with a strategic partner, whether public or private. According to their studies, this option results in a saving of 14 million dollars over 10 years by delegating the handling of transportation to an international company. Yánez assures that the multilateral organizations that financed the project – the World Bank, the Development Bank of Latin America, the Inter-American Development Bank and the European Investment Bank – also advised the alliance, which could put the Quito Metro into operation for 43 million dollars .

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“The difficult thing is not putting it to work; the problem is political ”, diagnoses the former manager. If the municipal authority reviewed and accepted the studies prepared, it is sure that the Metro could begin to function in 2022. But that option, Yánez reproaches, has a political cost because the subway is in competition with the bus transport, which is always has measured in votes. “We must change that war for the penny of the drivers, who own each vehicle, for a service model managed by the city,” he says, because if the metro is not integrated with the bus routes, there will be no sufficient passenger demand.

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