New modern electric ‘trams’ to connect Mérida

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Mérida’s next bus system, as seen in France. Photo: Irizar IE Tram

Yucatan is planning to add up to 30 electric buses, constructed in the style of a European tram, to Mérida’s public transportation system.

The Irizar IE Trams, presented Thursday at the Smart City Expo LATAM Congress, will be the first in Mexico with zero emissions. They are due to begin running by December 2023.

The high-tech fleet — which will connect Uman, Kanasín, the north, and La Plancha in the Centro — will be programmed centrally to move at safe speeds through places like the Centro. Three routes totaling 100 kilometers will connect 137 neighborhoods on abandoned train tracks. 

Talk of trams and train tracks sounds like light rail, but videos and photos indicated no overhead wires or rails. So what is the IE Tram exactly?

“It will be a bus with the benefits of a streetcar, the flexibility of a bus that can carry up to 105 passengers,” said Go. Mauricio Vila Dosal.

The tram-buses will be part of Va y Ven, a popular public transportation system on the Periférico.

The units will have cellphone chargers, wifi, braille buttons, real-time locators, and will be available on the Va y Ven mobile app. Each unit has four handicap-accessible doors and will glide silently, their batteries charged at stations along the routes.

Photo: Irizar IE Tram

Reaction was mixed. Comments on the government’s social media channels were favorable, but Eco Yucatán was skeptical.

“Once again, full of good intentions but zero transparency as Gov. Mauricio Vila Dosal announces the construction of an electric tram for Merida and two more municipalities, but does not indicate where he would get the resource for it. Will he ask for another loan?” wrote an editor, nothing that polluting, old buses still crisscross the Centro today.

Other commenters on social media pointed out that the investment seemed to leapfrog over other basic needs, like well-paved roads and safe sidewalks.

The project was described as a public-private initiative, with 2.8 billion — 60% of the budget for the units and infrastructure work — contributed by the state government. The federal government kicks in 23% and private initiative, 16%. Costs for riders were not discussed.

The new system’s capacity is half a million people a week, 20% of Mérida’s public-transportation riders.

The buses are a familiar sight in much of Europe. Video demonstrating the buses, shown at the expo, appeared to have been taken in southern France.

The route will run at street level along the path of the city’s old rail lines, the governor said, from Umán — near the site of a planned airport — and the Centro Histórico.

A tram-style bus route in Mérida will serve industrial areas and commuters, according to a map released by the Yucatán state government.

“Kanasín is the main source of people who come to work every day in the city of Mérida,” he said, indicating that this will be the first route activated.

The buses will connect the three municipalities and 117 neighborhoods, benefiting 137,000 people directly and 200,000 indirectly, he said. Around 43% of those who live on the Centro-Umán and between Kanasín and the Centro do not have a car or motorcycle. Between the Centro and the UADY engineering school in the north, more than 22,000 residents lack their own car or motorcycle, the governor stated.

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