WorldThe curse of the Quito Metro: it's finally ready to go, but...

The curse of the Quito Metro: it’s finally ready to go, but there’s no one to drive it

One of the trains manufactured for the Quito metro.CAF

Quito’s Metro was designed so that city residents get to work faster from their homes. A journey of an hour and a half from south to north of the capital of Ecuador would be reduced to half an hour. The pledge is now eight years old and underground transport has yet to start. The work is 99.32% complete, but the new manager doesn’t dare give a date for the opening. It is not yet clear who will operate the trains. He has been in office since October 22 and eight people have passed the chair before, seven of them in the last term. Nobody was able to make the biggest work in the city, which cost 2 billion dollars (11 billion reais) and would be a reference for sustainable and efficient transport, to work.

The 16 trains of the Quito Metrô are in the garages, waiting for the city’s City Hall to decide on the operating model. The option went from direct municipal management to an alliance with a foreign partner, public or private. Today, new advisors were hired to assess the best way. Meanwhile, stations will remain closed.

When the project was announced, it was offered a 22.6 kilometer underground line with 15 stops that would traverse from south to north a city squeezed between the Andes mountains that is 45 kilometers long and five kilometers wide. “Before, we could have all the political will, but there were no resources,” said in 2013 Fander Falconí, Rafael Correa’s secretary for Planning and Development in the government of Rafael Correa, who financed part of the construction. Now that the investment has been made, it is the political shifts that have slowed the progress of the country’s first metro line, built by the Spanish company Acciona.

Efraín Bastidas, the current incumbent, almost takes it for granted that if the trains start running, they will do so in early 2023. That year there will be municipal elections and, for now, there are only tests without movement. “I don’t like to put dates, as dates have already been mentioned in the past and it would be irresponsible for me to do the same”, he declared in an interview with the digital newspaper first fruits.

The manager of Metrô, to whom EL PAÍS unsuccessfully requested an interview, also acknowledged that they do not have the railway knowledge to drive the trains and that Catalonia advisers who are evaluating the most convenient operating model for the capital will take months to arrive to a conclusion. The current mayor believes that the subway is now a “white elephant” and asked Bastidas to reverse one of his predecessor’s last decisions: to operate under direct municipal management, but with international assistance. The new administration fears that the same thing happens with the subway as with land transport, that is, it will receive numerous complaints of poor quality from users. It has not even been decided whether the fare should be 45 cents or more, so that it is profitable and, at the same time, accessible to the population.

Édison Yánez was in charge of the project for 18 months, until January of this year. He says that 80% of the works were received, 99% were completed and that since his departure, only the controversy over the model for operating and driving the trains has been discussed. A matter that, in his understanding, should already be resolved and on the way to a partnership with a foreign partner, whether public or private. According to their studies, this option means a savings of 14 million dollars (79 million reais) over 10 years by delegating the handling of transport to an international company. Yánez says that the multilateral agencies that financed the project — the World Bank, the Latin American Development Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and the European Investment Bank — also advised to form the alliance, which could put the Quito Metro into operation for 43 million of dollars (243 million reais).

“The difficult thing is not to put it into operation; the problem is political”, diagnoses the former manager. If the municipal authority reviews and accepts the studies prepared, it is certain that the Metro can start operating in 2022. But this option, criticizes Yánez, has a political cost because the metro competes with bus transport, which has always been measured in wishes. “This war must be changed for the drivers’ penny, who own each vehicle, for a service model managed by the city”, he says, because if the subway does not integrate with bus routes, it will not have sufficient demand for passengers.

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