Country Listing

Ecuador Table of Contents




Figure 15. Transportation System, 1989


A truck hauling bananas in the Costa
Courtesy Martie B. Lisowski Collection, Library of Congress


Boarding a ferry on the Coca River
Courtesy Martie B. Lisowski Collection, Library of Congress

Until the twentieth century, the transport pattern reflected and reinforced the historic division of the country into two antagonistic regions--the Costa and the Sierra (see Natural Regions , ch. 2). Transport routes on the Costa were laid out to move export crops from the production areas to the ports, and routes in the Sierra ran north-south through the inter-Andean valleys. Interregional movement was confined to a few crude pack trails that permitted only limited exchange of goods or people between the two regions.

Completion of the Guayaquil-Quito railroad in 1908 provided the first effective interregional link and cut the travel time between the two cities from twelve days to twelve hours. In 1989 the rail system totaled 965 kilometers, all owned and operated by the State Railways Company (Empresa Nacional de los Ferrocarriles del Estado- -ENFE) (see fig. 15). The principal line in the late 1980s remained the 447-kilometer link between Quito and Guayaquil. Floods in 1982 and 1983 disrupted service on this line, with service only partially restored by early 1989.

In the 1950s, the rail system added two extensions: a spur south to Cuenca and, with French help, an outlet to the Pacific from Quito to the port of San Lorenzo. The Quito-San Lorenzo line suffered frequent suspensions of service and in 1989 trains ran only on the portion from a point well north of Quito to the port. Several short lines, built in the late 1800s or early 1900s to transport agricultural products to ports, had all been abandoned by the 1980s.

Until the 1950s, the railroads were the prime mover of passengers and freight and had played an important role in integrating the economy. After World War II, the government began to stress investment in the highway system, and highways gradually became the principal means of transportation. A comparison of statistics from 1969 to 1989 illustrates the decline in the overall importance of the rail system: the amount of freight carried dropped from 260,000 to 37,000 tons, and passenger traffic declined from 4.6 million trips to slightly over 1.6 million.

Construction of highways began on a small scale in the 1920s and continued sporadically until after World War II, when a greatly expanded effort created the outlines of a network covering many parts of the country and opening up vast tracts of land to new settlement. By 1989 Ecuador had about 28,000 kilometers of roads, of which about 3,600 were paved, 17,400 were gravel and improved earth, and 7,000 kilometers were dirt roads.

The 1,148-kilometer Pan American Highway remained the oldest and most heavily traveled route in the road network, following the route of the Inca imperial highway through the Sierra and connecting all the towns along the inter-Andean corridor between the Colombian border and the southern border with Peru. Except for a twelve-kilometer segment, this highway was paved from the Colombian border south through the capital to Cuenca. From Cuenca south to the Peruvian border, however, most of the surface was gravel and in fair condition.

A paved north-south route through the Costa from Esmeraldas in the north through Quayaquil to the Peruvian border just south of Machala roughly parallelled the Pan American Highway. From Quevedo to Quayaquil, this route split into two branches with the eastern branch passing through Babahoyo and the western branch along the Daule River. This highway carried an important portion of the traffic in tropical produce of the Costa.

Four paved highways connected the Pan American Highway and the north-south Costa route. In addition, asphalt roads linked Guayaquil with the small port of Manta and the oil-producing area of Salinas on the Pacific. These east-west arteries served to integrate the regions, as evidenced by the growing volume of goods trucked between the Costa and the Sierra.

In the late 1980s, the Oriente continued to suffer from an almost total lack of all-weather highways. A few gravel or dirt roads extended east from the Pan-American Highway, mostly to oilproducing areas in the northern part of this region. Although usually built by the petroleum companies for easier access to their fields, the roads served to increase colonization of the Oriente, and small population centers sprang up along their paths.

A large number of bus lines and trucking companies provided intercity motor transport. The majority of the trucking enterprises were small with no schedules and were operated by the owner-driver. Most bus owners and drivers, and a few of the truck drivers, belonged to cooperatives, which set uniform rates. Intercity bus service among towns was frequent and inexpensive but often crowded and plagued by frequent vehicle breakdowns. In 1986 there were an estimated 250,000 passenger cars, 14,000 buses, and 22,000 trucks.

Air transport was fairly well developed with 179 airports, of which 43 had permanent surface runways. Since the 1920s when commercial air service was first established, airlines held a secure, if limited, segment of the transport market. Because of the short distances between most population centers, particularly in the Sierra, and the steadily expanding road network, few air routes were heavily traveled. The largest volume of passenger and cargo traffic moved between Quito and Guayaquil. Throughout most of the Oriente, air travel provided the only means of communication with the rest of the country.

Ecuador had four main airlines, one with both domestic and international routes and three smaller companies with mostly domestic service. Private interests originally established the largest company--the Ecuadorian Aviation Company (Compañía Ecuatoriana de Aviación--CEA, known as Ecuatoriana)--but sold it to the government in 1974. Designated the national airline of Ecuador, Ecuatoriana maintained service from both Quito and Guayaquil to more than a half dozen cities in Latin America and four in the United States.

Water transport was more important for foreign trade than for domestic commerce, although the country had well-developed coastal shipping and businesses extensively used some rivers, particularly the waterways of the Guayas Basin. Although ships with moderate draught could navigate the rivers of the Oriente, only small canoes and vessels were used there. Competition from highways had diminished waterborne traffic, but riverboats continued to ply traditional routes calling at towns and farming areas not reached by roads. Boats sailed frequently between coastal cities and between the mainland and the Galápagos Islands.

Ecuador's ports carried about 95 percent of all imports and exports. Guayaquil handled about 60 percent of all seaborne trade, including most of the agricultural exports. The Old Port (Puerto Viejo) was located on the banks of the Guayas River; in 1962 the New Port (Puerto Nuevo) was built ten kilometers south of Guayaquil on an estuary and connected to the Old Port by a canal. The New Port, Ecuador's largest, could berth up to five ships.

Three other small ports had limited trade. Puerto Bolívar, near Machala, handled most of the agricultural exports, especially bananas, from the southern part of the country. Coffee, castor beans, and frozen fish from the central provinces passed through Manta. Balao, sixteen kilometers south of Esmeraldas, was greatly expanded in the 1970s to accommodate petroleum exports.

As of 1983 the national merchant marine consisted of 130 vessels with 530,000 gross registered tons (GRT). Ecuador's national oil tanker fleet, the Ecuadorian Petroleum Fleet, accounted for 164,000 of the GRT. The principal maritime carrier, the Grancolombian Merchant Fleet, was jointly owned by Ecuador and Colombia, and its thirty-five ships accounted for a total of 250,000 GRT. The Banana Fleet was a subsidiary of the state general cargo line, the Ecuadorian Ship Transport.

Data as of 1989

Country Listing

Ecuador Table of Contents