Quito Metro: A megaproject to transform mobility

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People waiting for the arrival of the Quito Metro during its start of operations. Photo: Marco Andrés Palacios / World Bank. People waiting for the arrival of the Quito Metro during its start of operations. Photo: Marco Andrés Palacios / World Bank.

The dream of a “Line in the Andes” in Quito became true in early December 2023, as I boarded the train at El Labrador station on the first of the month.

Geography shapes the city as a very narrow one. In 1995, with the inauguration of the Trolebus, Quito pioneered the resurgence of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), after its introduction in Curitiba, and expanded it to its limits: the narrowness, the thick street grid in the historic center, and the impenetrable Panecillo rocky hill made it impossible to further expand the public transport system on surface. There was only one option to serve the prevalent and growing demand and it was underground. 

The Quito Metro is an example of a successful megaproject that managed to survive countless challenges. Despite being marred by delays in entry into operation and closure of work, the completion of an infrastructure of such complexity, in an urban environment, without previous experience in the country and at a cost in the lowest range in the world is exceptional.

When compared to similar projects around the World, the timing from conceptualization to implementation is among the fastest.

The process of Quito Metro 

The Municipality of Quito agreed with the Madrid Region to develop the studies of the first metro line in 2010.  In 2012, we started working on the financing. The European Investment Bank, the Development Bank of Latin America (CAF), the Inter-American Development Bank, and the World Bank, became the four musketeers. Not only did the project become an unprecedented breakthrough in collaboration between multilateral institutions, but also the use of a flexible contract management framework that would allow the project to successfully overcome multiple challenges.

In 2022 Metro got technical support for hiring an operator. Once Medellin–Transdev was selected in 2023, all pieces were in place. The final success was a matter of time (and lots of work).

Quito Metro Today

The new metro brings dignity to the majority of people in Quito, who use public transport , especially women. The majority of people are used to squeezing into old buses, with unreliable operation. Quito people had a prevalent perception of insecurity and discomfort in public transport. This is why the commencement of operations generated such a shock. The smiles, the surprise. Strangers talk to each other about how long since the last time they had this genuine feeling of celebrating community.

This newly found dignity changes it all and should permeate through the whole urban mobility system. First, users will expect better quality of service in the rest of the system. Second, authorities have realized that there are strategies that make it achievable.

Initiatives like the metro police, the panic buttons, the cameras, the cleanliness, alternatives for fare collection, and kind support personnel in the extensions… all can be replicated in the (Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and conventional bus system. The mayor of Quito said it clearly when stated that the Metro opening was only the beginning, and a transformational process of the whole system was about to begin. 

Extending the metro to meet the demand in the north of the city, buying more trains to increase the frequencies, improving pedestrian infrastructure along the line, and, restructuring and strengthening public transport on the surface, will increase the current Metro benefits:

  • 22,5 kilometers long with 15 accessible station
  • Fully electric system that allows to save 67,000 tons of CO2 a year
  • Capacity to mobilize 1,200 users over a shorter time

It´s been only 39 minutes, and I am reaching the southern terminal in Quitumbe. Not bad for its first day, and it will be reduced to 34. It is hard to describe the emotions triggered by this first trip.

An end that, as usual, is shaping a beginning. I can’t help but remember the names of the many people who, with good intentions, capacity, and hard work have made this possible. They know who they are. This blog will be published on the day of its foundation, December 6th. Join me in congratulating all involved in organizing today's success: ¡Enhorabuena y qué viva Quito!


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