Sunday, 8 February 2015


During my recent winter escape holiday on the island of Tenerife at the end of January 2015 I had the chance to explore its small tram system, el Tranvía de Tenerife, and thus do the necessary research for my forthcoming 'Metro & Tram Atlas Spain' due to be released later this year.

All in all, the modest 2-line tram system has a very French feel to it, not just because of the Alstom Citadis trams used with their 5-colour scheme (I prefer the blue end to the green one), but especially for the alignment chosen. The routes are on reserved right-of-way throughout, and pretty well integrated into the urban environment which with the arrival of the tram certainly experienced an improvement. I was surprised that the decision-makers at the time were strong enough to really reduce space for cars, be it by taking away car lanes or parking spaces, in favour of a reserved route even through the older parts of town where hardly good alternatives for car traffic exist. So, all in all, travelling on the tram is quite fluid, and traffic lights seem well-adjusted so that there are no annoying waiting periods. There are, however, numerous roundabouts which the trams pass through the middle, and having done the entire route also twice driving in a car, I'm not convinced about this solution. When trams pass through, cars actually, or at least, get a red light, but this is somehow contradictory to a roundabout philosophy (I observed, however, that in Tenerife, many roundabouts are illogical, and that suddenly you get a red light to allow pedestrians to cross or even worse, that suddenly you get a 'give way' sign in the roundabout!). Anyway, I would think that these roundabouts are too often the cause of accidents between trams and cars, although I don't know what Tenerife's record is and I did not experience any 'almost hit' situation, in fact, I observed that the locals drive rather cautiously and slowly.

Many track sections are covered by lawn, even on the central section between La Paz and Weyler, which is unusual, as in many other cities such sections would rather be paved to allow emergency vehicles to use the reservation. Between Weyler and Fundación, the tracks are embedded in the roadway, although very limited access is allowed for vehicles. I think that grooved rail was used on all sections when actually Vignol tracks are normally more pleasant to ride on and some sections would certainly have allowed that.

What is pretty fascinating about Tenerife's first line is that on its 12.5 km route it rises from sea level in the capital Santa Cruz up to some 550 m in La Laguna, the old capital and university city of the isle. Thus from some points you get an nice view of the harbour and Santa Cruz. This difference in altitude also explains the somewhat detour the tram takes between the two termini. In Santa Cruz, the two stops Weyler and Teatro Guimerá serve the city centre proper, whereas the trams continue down to the Intercambiador, which is a huge bus station. Unfortunately, the tram is not directly integrated into the complex, so transferring passengers need to walk a bit between buses and trams. Before the big economic crisis, a train line was planned south to Tenerife Sur airport and Los Cristianos, I guess the terminus for that line would also be part of this hub.

So while L1 links the two centres of what is an agglomeration with some 400,000 inhabitants, the layout of the 3.5 km L2 is not really convincing. L1 runs about every 5 minutes on weekdays, whereas L2 has a tram only every 10 minutes or so. It really feels like a second-class annex, requiring a transfer to L1 for almost everybody. And these transfer options are not too convenient, because they are also related to the least convincing sections of the route alignment: both junctions were put below street level – a good thing a such, because it avoids conflicts with cars at two roundabouts – but these underpasses are not well built (a bit like the flaws on Madrid's Metro Ligero): the Citadis, not too good in curves anyway, have to crawl through them at minimum speed! So passengers from the Tíncer end of this line who want to get into Santa Cruz, need to crawl through one of these underpasses twice and change trams at El Cardonal next to the tram depot. So, people who would board L2 at San Jerónimo would probably be faster walking to Taco station and get L1 there directly. And to add to the inconvenience, the two stops shared by both lines have side platforms instead of the otherwise prevalent island platforms (despite of these being the majority, an announcement is heard at these: 'parada con andén central'), so it is not surprising that L2 trams run half empty compared to the well-patronised L1 trams.

The stops all have a standard design, simple, but well done, each with two multilingual ticket machines and an information panel with a map and tram frequencies. As said before, most have island platforms, but some have side platforms. In the case of Príncipes de España, the island platform is actually part of a central Rambla (esplanade). The island platforms are generally accessible via ramps at both ends. The platform height matches exactly the tram floor. So, full accessibility has been achieved, although the steepness of some stops, notably Conservatorio, may be a challenge for wheelchair users. What I appreciate is that the name of the stop is written in big letters on flag-like panels, so they are easily identifiable even for car drivers and thus serve for orientation. The M-logo, however, is not so convincing.

With an average distance between stops of more than 600 m on L1, I think there should be a couple of more stops to give better coverage, notably between Puente Zurita and Cruz del Señor (830 m) in a densely built-up area with a significant gradient, an additional stop inside the big roundabout halfway between these two stops is recommendable. And Las Mantecas stop should really be relocated some 250 m further south just after the ramp to give service to existing housing estates, whereas now it is in the middle of nowhere on a steep gradient. If the area further up towards Campus Guajara gets developed, an additional stop could be added. Similarly, there could be an additional stop between San Jerónimo and the terminus Tíncer (850 m) as the latter is up on a steep hill and noone wants to climb up the hill to catch a tram.

The 26 (or so) Citadis trams are standard Citadis vehicles, with an acceptable interior distribution (especially enough space in the modules with doors), although the single-leaf door at the front leads to some congestion especially as everybody boarding needs to validate their ticket somehow (see below). But I have never been happy with the Citadis' behaviour in curves, luckily, except those described in the underpasses, there aren't any that I would have classified as ridiculous or horrible, as the overall alignment and track layout is quite satisfying, no unnecessary turns or deviations from what is a rather straight-forward route.

There have been several proposals for extensions, notably from the La Laguna end to the northern (more domestic) airport, from Tíncer southwest to La Gallega, the only area available for urban expansion in Santa Cruz, and a second cross-city route that would connect to L1 at Intercambiador, serving the newer parts of the city before turning into the old centre, intersection with L1 at Weyler and heading northeast along Méndez Núñez street towards the north pier of the harbour. It will be interesting to see how the later route will be laid out, as the street in question, besides the Rambla, is one of only a few that actually allow some fluid car traffic, so restricting access for cars here too would be quite a brave decision. But certainly, the tram route would be useful, as it would serve the new landmark Auditorio and the Congress Center. Many areas of Santa Cruz will still be left without tram service, impossible to implement as most streets are too narrow and too steep, although a direct tram line from La Cuesta down into the Santa Cruz centre along the historic route could be feasible if desired.

Unfortunately, like so often in Spain, the positive French influence did not affect the fare system and integration with the local bus company TITSA, although there are several fare options which allow transfer between tram and buses in the metropolitan area (TITSA serves the entire island). Single fares on the tram without transfer to buses are just 1.35 EUR, and a day pass for the tram only is 4.50 EUR: although the ticket might suggest 'guagua' (Canarian Spanish for bus) + tranvía, it is only valid on the tram! So, this ticket seems to be made for tram fans only, for anybody else a multi-ride ticket (5 trips for 6 EUR) or a BonoVía (a money value card sold at 15 or 25 EUR that deducts 1.05 EUR per tram ride plus a small transfer fee if changing to a bus) is a better deal. Even the day pass needs to be validated upon each boarding (each time the machine stamps a car code on the reverse of the ticket so inspectors would see immediately if you forgot to validate it). Many of the locals, especially the younger ones, use their smartphones which they hold against a QR code posted all through the trams (Vía-Móvil system). TITSA operates urban buses with varying headways, they do have a timetable booklet, but are unwilling to produce a map it seems. When I asked why they didn't have one, the lady at the Intercambiador counter answered that there were too many lines to show on a map. I asked her how she thought that proper cities like Paris or Madrid were able to produce bus maps? Unfortunately, I have noticed repeatedly that when a company is in charge of an entire region, they neglect the service they are supposed to provide in the urban area. So, the local population would probably be better served if there was a single transport operator for trams and buses for the metropolitan area, and a different company for regional buses serving the rest of the island.


Metropolitano de Tenerife (Tram operator)

Tenerife Tram at UrbanRail.Net