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Urban Train will operate with a 77.2% loss its first year

Operating the train costs $4.4 million a month; expected to recover $1 million monthly in fares


March 3, 2005
Copyright © 2005 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

After the free rides are over and the Urban Train begins full-time operations sometime in April or May, Puerto Rico’s first rail system, which costs the government $52.8 million a year to run, is expected to recover about $12 million in fares its first year–22.7% of its annual operating costs–and hopefully rise to $2 million by mid to late 2006.

Puerto Rico Department of Transportation and Public Works (DTOP) officials predict the $2.1 billion Urban Train–an 11-mile (17.6 km), 16-stop metropolitan rapid-transit system built by Siemens–will initially move up to 100,000 passengers per day, seven days a week, from 5:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. The fare is $1.50 one-way and includes transfers to Minibus and Metropolitan Bus Authority (AMA) buses. They expect that number to rise to 115,000 by 2010. At these levels, revenue from fares would pay about half the Urban Train’s operating costs, which is said to be typical for mass transit.

Inaugurated in mid-December 2004, Puerto Rico’s rail line will be available to the San Juan metro area, the island’s most densely populated region with 1.4 million people. It will link the central business district to residential and employment areas in San Juan and neighboring communities. Stops are: Santurce, Hato Rey, Roosevelt, Domenech, Piñero, Universidad, Río Piedras, Cupey, Centro Médico, San Francisco, Las Lomas, Martínez Nadal, Torrimar, Jardines, Deportivo, and Bayamón.

The definitive opening of the Urban Train awaits the completion of contract negotiations with <I>carros públicos</I> (public cars) associations and the rearrangement of Metropolitan Bus Authority (AMA) route schedules. The reconfiguration of AMA and public car schedules is considered crucial to the success of the Urban Train since the train is envisioned as part of an integrated mass transportation system using public cars and buses as feeders.

DTOP this month will add a third day to its current free weekend Urban Train schedule, said the rail system’s spokeswoman. The third day, either Friday or Monday, is aimed at making people comfortable with riding the train during a weekday when schools and businesses have full schedules.

The cost of the free rides is covered by the Urban Train under its $4.4 million a month operations contract with the company ACI. So far, the free weekend schedule has worked out well, the Urban Train spokeswoman said, revealing more than 600,000 people have ridden the train in its 16 days of operation. The train proved its usefulness for transporting people to special events. Last Saturday (Feb. 26), the Bayamón municipal government requested the Urban Train extend its schedule to accommodate the ride home for spectators of a prizefight held in the municipality.

The free weekend experience has also served to work out bugs in the system. For instance, on a couple of occasions, late-arriving passengers stuck their arms into the closing door of the train expecting it to open like an elevator door. "It doesn’t work like that, the door stays closed," the spokeswoman said. "It just showed us we have to make a greater effort to educate people." The passengers were not injured nor in any danger because train drivers visually check the doors before departing, she added.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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