Sustainable Transportation: Ecuador

In the small country of Ecuador — roughly the size of Colorado — its 15 million people appear to be very mobile despite using 11 times fewer vehicles (cars, buses, trucks, commercial vehicles) per person than we do in the US.   The US has 797 vehicles per 1000 people, compared to 71 vehicles in Ecuador.  How do Ecuadorians do it?  How are they so mobile with so few vehicles?  (Hint: they don’t do it by staying home.)

Ecuador has invested in new roads, public transit systems, has a carbon tax on vehicles ($1500/vehicle/yr), and a culture that embraces the use of buses, mini-buses, small trucks, trolleys, and  light-rail.  We observed (during our visit last summer) that in rural Ecuadorian villages few people owned a vehicle and neighbors paid them when they needed a ride into town.  Buses are widely used.  In the cities, it was rare to wait for a bus more than a few minutes.  Between cities, we rarely waited more than an hour.

Although there are no statistics on the percentage of people that use public transit versus private cars for Ecuador, there are statistics for China, which is similar to Ecuador in that it uses 85 vehicles per 1000 people.  In China, 43% of the people use public transport every day or most days; while only 2% never use public transport.  Compare that to the US, where 5% use public transport every day or most days and 61% of people never use public transport.

Quito, the largest city and Ecuador’s capitol,  uses  “bus rapid transit” in the form of a trolleybus system forming the main transit artery for the city, with feeder buses forming the branches.  The Quito trolleybus system  opened in 1995 and by 2002 was carrying approximately 220,000 passengers per day. It is managed by an agency of the municipality  and is operated by Compañía Trolebús Quito, S.A.  (At 1.6 million bus trips per day in Quito, the trolleybus passengers just one piece of a larger public bus system.)

Cuenca, the 3rd largest city,  plans to finish a light-rail system by the end of 2014, that will eliminate many diesel buses (causing air pollution downtown), and result in quicker  travel speeds for passengers.  The tranvía, or tram, will be the largest infrastructure project in Cuenca history, the $230 million cost being shared by local and federal governments, supplemented by grants and loans from China, Spain, and France.

Personal note:  While John and Cheryl traveled in Ecuador last summer, they found that buses , small trucks, and taxis provided quick and inexpensive transportation wherever we went — including peasant villages.

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