El Salvador Launches New Urban Mass Transit System

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Passengers enjoy the new, accessible buses
photo: Vice Ministry of Transport

El Salvador has launched the first phase of the San Salvador Metropolitan Area Transport System (SITRAMSS), making good on the leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) administration’s commitment to modernizing the country’s chaotic mass transit system.

Since its inception, SITRAMSS has faced relentless attacks from the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) opposition party and its allies in the media, with the ARENA-governed city hall in San Salvador even obstructing construction permits, delaying the system’s opening by several months. Nevertheless, the system represents an enormous step forward in organizing mass transit in El Salvador, where private bus route owners receive a government subsidy but rarely invest their profits in maintenance or new buses, instead packing passengers into dilapidated vehicles that produce vast quantities of air pollution and congest city streets.

SITRAMSS includes a state of the art fleet of some 200 buses that run in dedicated bus lanes; passengers swipe prepaid fare cards upon entering bus platforms that have been built along the route. The new, energy-efficient vehicles are wheelchair accessible, and the system, with its security cameras and enclosed bus platforms, also offers a safer commute for passengers than the existing bus lines plagued by extortion and theft. It is currently in a pilot stage, with ten buses carrying passengers from the working class suburb of Soyapango to the capital city of San Salvador free of charge. By March 21, 30 buses will be circulating and the fare cards that are now being distributed in SITRAMSS stations will be activated; students, the elderly and people with disabilities will receive a 50% discount.

“SITRAMSS will change the face of the city,” said Vice Minister of Transport Nelson García, “We are making history in transportation, as well as creating a very safe system for passengers.”

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