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Eremonar Zakarís Žrat Zaram (in Staynish: Transportation Authority of the City of Žrat Zaram), abbreviated as either EZŽZ or more popularly just EZ (a pun on the Staynish word easy), is the public transit agency serving the city of Zaram, Acronis and its surrounding metropolitan area. It is the busiest transit system in the country in terms of daily ridership, and it maintains the longest streetcar (trolley) and light-rail systems in the country. Formed by an Act of Parliament in 1949, EZŽZ operates buses, streetcars, light rail, and commuter rail.
EZŽZ was formed by the Mass Transportation Authority Act of 1949, an act of the national Parliament designed to allow the two largest cities in the country, Zaram and Crystal Coast, to establish public transit systems outside the control of the provincial Ministries of Transportation in their provinces. At the time of the act, Zaram was served by four privately-owned streetcar companies and a bus network operated by Zaram Province, all of which were nearly bankrupt. EZŽZ took ownership of the assets of all five entities upon its creation. (The Zaram Province Ministry of Transportation continues to serve the areas of the province outside the Zaram metropolitan area defined in the Mass Transportation Authority Act.) The various streetcar companies had begun operation between 1899 and 1930, and the bus system had been operating since 1935. The streetcars primarily served the urban core of the city, while the bus network was designed for commuters coming from the suburbs into the city to work.
The first task for the new agency was to eliminate redundancies now that the five formerly competing networks were now combined. One of the streetcar networks even used a different gauge track than the other, a system that was maintained until the 1970s due to fears that re-laying the track would be too costly. From 1971 to 1974, the system was converted so that every streetcar used the Acronian Standard Gauge of 2 1⁄4 nai (1,371.6mm).
The primary mode of transportation used by EZŽZ is the streetcar, known also as a trolley or tram. Unlike cities in many other countries, Zaram has continuously maintained a network of streetcars, powered by electric overhead cables, since the turn of the 20th century. Today, the network of streetcars is typically known by the service name "EZtram" in both Acronian and Staynish. There are 244km (231 monai) of track in the EZtram network, making it one of the largest tram systems in the world - if not the largest. As of 2020, EZŽZ uses 496 trams across 25 routes, with 1,801 stops in total. Of these 25 routes, 6 are designated as 24-hour lines, while the other 19 cease operating at certain hours to allow for maintenance.
Streetcars have long been considered a significant part of local culture in Zaram. They are popular across all demographics, with even politicians seen regularly riding the streetcars to and from sessions of Parliament or the city council. The expression "too good for the streetcar" in Zaram is a way of derisively referring to people who are seen to act condescendingly or ostentatiously wealthy. With significant redesign of the city's traffic layout since the 2000s, it is often said that the streets of Zaram "are designed for streetcars, not for private cars." Several streets in the urban core have been made streetcar-only, or restricted to streetcars, buses, and light-rail, in what are known as "transit malls".
EZtram routes are known by either a color or a number. The 6 24-hour routes, which are major routes designed to run from the city's core out to the edge of the urbanized metro area, are named for colors: the Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, and Purple Lines. While these routes do technically see service 24 hours a day, service is limited on off-peak hours at night and on weekends, with trams stopping at fewer stops. During the hours of the peak weekday commute, trams run every 5-7 minutes on these lines, while headway can be reduced to as low as once every 20 minutes on nights and weekends.
The numbered routes are designated 7-25. (Theoretically, the routes 1-6 are the 24-hour routes, but they are never referred to by number in public marketing material.) These routes all officially close between 2 and 5am on weekdays, with some routes having extended closing times between 12am and 6am on weekends. These routes are spread across the entire urban area, designed to give most neighborhoods and communities EZtram access. They have headways of anywhere from 7 to 20 minutes between streetcars, but EZŽZ is moving to standardize all numbered routes to a headway of 10-12 minutes on each route on weekdays and 20 minutes on weekends.
The EZbus system is primarily used to fill gaps in EZtram service; reaching areas where it is less practical or more expensive to fit tracks and overhead wires. Buses run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, which provides some level of transport service while the streetcars are not operating. While in the past the buses were the only service that reached the suburbs, the expansion of tram and light-rail tracks has seen this exclusivity end in many places. However, outside the city center, there are still more bus routes than tram routes. EZbus also operates some inter-city lines between major suburbs, and two loops around the entire metropolitan area, that do not enter the city center at all.
There are some 120 bus routes in the EZbus network, a number which has been decreased from a high of 300 in the year 2000. Routes are given 3-digit designations, with the first digit indicating the type of service of that route (express, airport connector, etc.) EZbus consistently sees lower ridership numbers than EZtram, and the consolidation efforts have been aimed at reducing costs and increasing efficiency. The agency maintains, however, that it will continue to operate buses because they cost less to acquire than trams and can be operated nearly anywhere, making them logical as a service to fill gaps in tram and train coverage. The majority of the buses used for EZbus service are biodiesel-fueled, as are most Acronian automobiles. However, since 2010, EZŽZ has been adding battery-electric buses to the fleet, which are charged at charging stations at bus depots. EZŽZ is also testing the use of hydrogen fuel-cell buses; there are currently 3 of these models in service.
Light rail is a relatively recent addition to EZŽZ, with the first line entering operation in 2003. EZŽZ refers to its light rail service as "EZrail." Unlike streetcars, EZrail trains run on their own rights-of-way, separate from surface streets. Since they are not subject to the same traffic signals as automobiles, buses, and streetcars, transit times on EZrail can be much lower than through streetcar or bus service. EZŽZ made the decision to build a light rail network when it came to the conclusion that the surface streets in the downtown urban core had, for the most part, reached their maximum capacity for streetcar service. In 2003, the system opened with a single east-west line running from City Hall downtown to the newly constructed King Kanor IX National Stadium, a distance of 18km. In 2008, a major expansion of the network occurred when the second line, known as "Project Infinity," opened. The new line runs north-south from from the city of Nakara (at the northernmost edge of the suburban EZŽZ operating area) to Queen's Beach at its southernmost edge, a distance of 41km. And in 2010, the third line opened: another east-west route that also begins at City Hall but runs on a separate right-of-way through the Zaram Arts District, near the Old City, and then to Kanor Intercontinental Airport, for a distance of 27km.
The three EZrail lines are designated R1, R2, and R3. However, it is still common to refer to R2, the long north-south line, as "the Infinity." R3, the most recent line, is often called "the Tourist Line," because it was designed to provide easy access to many of the city's most popular tourist destinations. All three routes have some portions underground and some portions above. The R1 and the R3 share the same underground, multi-track tunnel while in the Zaram central business district for about 5km, and then diverge into separate paths once on the surface. The R2 is underground for a total of 17km in two separate sections in the city of Zaram. Notably, it runs above ground over the tunnel through which the R1 and R3 run. Because of this, the R2 does not actually connect to the other two EZrail lines via shared stations. Riders of the R2 who wish to transfer to R1 or R3 must exit at one of three surface stations downtown and then make their way to stations for the R1 and R3 below ground. It is more common for riders of the R2 to transfer to streetcars or buses instead.
EZŽZ has proposed two more EZrail lines, R4 and R5. R4 would be another north-south line running entirely underground from the City Hall transit hub to War Memorial Park, a distance of 9km that has been identified by the agency as "the stretch of the network that consistently sees the highest excess demand compared to transit supply." Despite two transit malls along the stretch designed to allow buses and streetcars to move more quickly and frequently along the route, both these modes are regularly overfull between City Hall and the War Memorial, near which are the headquarters for a vast majority of Acronian defense contractors. R5 would be an east-west line running from the Port of Zaram to Kanor Intercontinental Airport, through the southern suburban areas of the region. Neither of these lines have been approved, as funding would likely need to come either from the national government or through imposing a tax on area residents, both of these options having extensive preparation requirements before the agency would be able to apply for them.
Government Center People Mover
It is an urban legend that there is a "secret underground network" of trains connecting various government buildings in Zaram. However, in 2009, when the national government was constructing the large office complexes known as Government Centers One and Two, they did include one tunnel equipped with a track on which an electric-powered "people mover" could run. In 2010, during the construction of the R3 light rail line, the tunnel underneath Government Center and the people mover were extended 1.2km to reach the Parliament building. The people mover is designed for government employees, legislators, and their support staff, to easily move between Parliament and the various government offices. This system is owned exclusively and directly by the national government and is not part of the EZŽZ network. However, through an agreement with EZŽZ, the government pays the agency to staff and maintain the people mover. Though it is not officially open to the public, guests of government employees can ride the people mover if accompanied by an employee.
Commuter rail differs from light rail in this case primarily in that it uses heavier rolling stock, with full locomotives, rather than cable-powered electric systems used in light rail. EZŽZ operates one commuter rail line, known as the Coastal Express. In 1994, the freight railway company Coastal and Inland Inc., known as C&I, filed for bankruptcy. C&I had once been the largest mover of cargo from the Port of Zaram out to the industrial regions beyond the Zaram metropolitan area, but as heavy manufacturing declined in Zaram Province in the 1990s, it rapidly lost revenue. While competing freight railways purchased most of C&I's tracks and equipment at auction, EZŽZ purchased one section of track running southward from the Port of Zaram to the city of Tovora, 51km away, in 1995. The manufacturing industry in Tovora and its environs had long since closed, and the route was of little interest to the freight railways. EZŽZ, in cooperation with the Zaram Province Ministry of Transportation (ZPMoT), believed they could help bring re-development to the region by connecting it by passenger rail to Zaram.
The Coastal Express opened in 1997. It is a partnership between EZŽZ and ZPMoT, as the route extends beyond the legally-defined boundary of the EZŽZ service area. The track and rolling stock are owned by EZŽZ, and employees of the agency operate the trains and staff the stations. ZPMoT is responsible for constructing and maintaining the stations outside of the EZŽZ service area, maintaining the tracks outside the service area, and pays an annual grant to EZŽZ to cover costs for staffing and maintenance on the rolling stock. The Coastal Express runs every half hour 6 days a week between 5am and 10pm, being closed on Sundays. It is popular among employees of the Port, many of whom now live in areas nearer the route, and is considered a "moderate success" in attracting development to Tovora and other economically-depressed areas south of Zaram, according to the Tovora Chamber of Commerce. As much of its course runs very near the ocean, it is also popular with sightseeing tourists. During the dry season, three trains a day are run with special "observation cars" with large windows for a better view of the sea.
Fares and Payment
In 2010, EZŽZ introduced a contactless prepaid payment card system across its entire network, known as EZpay. It replaced a system of paper tickets issued from vending machines, and eliminated the need to request transfer validation from bus and streetcar operators. All buses, streetcars, and rail stations are equipped with EZpay terminals, where a fare can be paid by holding the EZpay card near the terminal. EZpay terminals can also accept payment from contactless credit and debit cards as well as mobile phone-based contactless payment apps. Riders must "tap" the terminal every time they board a bus, streetcar, or train. Because the entire system uses flat-rate fares, it is not necessary to "tap" upon exit.
For EZtram, EZbus, and EZrail, the flat-rate fare depends on the time of day. During "peak hours," which are the busiest commuting hours on weekdays, fares are 5.00 Nashdat (approx. $4.17 SHD) for streetcars and buses and 6.50 Nashdat ($5.41 SHD) for EZrail. During off-peak hours, the fare is 4 Nashdat ($3.33) for streetcars and buses and 5 Nashdat for EZrail. For the Coastal Express, the fare is 4.50 Nashdat ($3.75) at all times. The fare was originally 6.00 Nashdat ($5.00), but ZPMoT agreed to pay a yearly subsidy to EZŽZ to allow for a rate decrease.
Buying one fare gives free transfers for two hours to services of the same or lower price, with transfers to a higher-priced service requiring the rider to pay the difference. (This is accomplished through the normal process of tapping the card at the terminal.) After purchasing two fares from any service, any further taps in the same day (technically, until 2am the next morning) are free of charge. EZŽZ does not offer monthly passes, but annual passes can be purchased for 1,200 Nashdat ($999.60 SHD). Semester-passes for students providing a valid student ID for 350.00 Nashdat ($266.56), which are good for 4 months. Senior citizens (elves aged 80+, other species groups aged 65+) and military veterans who earned particular awards may apply for and receive a pass that allows them to board free-of-charge for life. In 2021, EZŽZ instituted the lower age policy for humans and other non-elves "in an effort to better align ourselves with the reality of our society, which is a diverse one," according to an agency spokesperson. It had previously been 80 years for all species. The change was controversial, drawing praise from species advocacy groups but criticism from senior citizen advocacy groups, a powerful lobby in Zaram.