QCOSTARICA — What to do with the metropolitan area train or “tren urbano” that carries less than 1% of the total number of people who use public transportation, and runs up annual losses without any indication that the situation will improve?
One option is to patch the current system, hoping that demand will grow with the development of high population density points along the route.
On the other hand, there is no certainty that these points will appear, demand could even decrease as people take advantage of remote work.
The system has a permanent cost of maintaining an old track, as well as the purchase of rolling equipment that would not stop polluting because it is diesel.
Another option is an electric fast train, which would save passengers time.
But this implies a billion-dollar cost for the construction and maintenance of an elevated system without any guarantee of a high level of demand.
The current administration of Rodrigo Chaves has said that it will present a legislative bill for the electric train.
However, there is little time left to do so, while five proposals for a new urban train have already failed since the administration of Laura Chinchilla (2010-2014).
Plan X? Create an 80-kilometer linear park after converting the railway. It would be an attraction for both Costa Ricans and global tourists with a moderate investment; however, there would be maintenance and security costs. What follows is a review of key data on the current passenger transportation system in the GAM.
The train carries less than 1% of the passengers
The tren urbano, on average, carries 0.7% of the total passengers transported per day in the GAM.
The data does not include the exceptional years 2020 or 2021, numbers affected by the Covid pandemic; However, they retain the same proportions.
According to data from the Aresep, the regulatory authority, in 2029 a total of 1,353,424 people used the bus. However, that year, the Incofer (the railway) reported carrying only 9,828 people or 0.7% compared to the bus; excluding the Covid years, in 2022, 961,643 people used the bus, while only 7,068 people (0.7%) rode the train.
The train generates losses
The tren urbano, with low demand, racks up millions of colones of losses each year:
- 2022: ¢ 5.7 billion
- 2021: ¢ 5.3 billion
- 2020: ¢ 5.1 billion
- 2019: ¢ 7.9 billion
- 2018: ¢ 7.5 billion
These losses are made up of taxpayer dollars (you and I), each year contributing more than double the fare paid by the train passengers.
The cost of a train ticket (average 2022) ¢700 colones, while taxpayer contribution per ticket was ¢1,500 colones.
The lack of connectivity between the west and east trains in San Jose could explain the low demand for the train service. Passengers must transfer in San Jose between the Pacifico and Atlantico stations and must either walk, take a taxi, or ride a bus to get to the other station.
The unreliability of the timetable, which does not take into account the needs of passengers, is another factor.
The train only operates during weekday mornings and afternoons, which offers limited options for someone needing to travel from one end of the GAM to the other; this may not be an ideal transportation option for them due to the lack of flexibility.
And, the service is often disrupted due to issues with the track, as well as traffic incidents involving vehicles and pedestrians.
Patch the current system, invest billions of dollars in a new train system, ie electric, or convert the train into a linear park…what would you do?