Cuenca bus companies are again demanding that the city allow fare increases, claiming that dozens of meetings between owners and officials have accomplished nothing. “We need a fare of 40 or 45 cents to maintain our service and pay our debts,” says Oswaldo Flores, president of the Cuenca Transportation Chamber, which represents bus owners. “If we do not receive a positive response to this demand we will begin a series of service shut-downs.”
About 200 bus owners and drivers marched up Calle Simon Bolivar Monday morning before gathering in Parque Calderon to hear speeches.
In a meeting earlier this month, Mayor Pedro Palacios rejected the proposal for higher fares, saying that bus riders cannot afford to pay more under current economic circumstances.
Flores says that the agreement reached two weeks ago between bus operators and President Guillermo Lasso to provide a national fuel subsidy for public transporters is not enough to overcome the financial crisis faced by owners. “That plan is to study the fuel costs and that will take two months,” he said. “That will help, if it happens, but it will not be enough for us to pay our bills.”
Flores claims that local circumstance require local solutions. “In 2015, we made an agreement with the municipality to replace our entire fleet with new buses and, as you can see, the old blue buses are gone, replaced by the new red ones,” he says. “That agreement was based on allowing fare increases as economic conditions required and the city has not upheld its end of the deal. The owners are stuck with huge payments and a six year old fare.”
The owners have renegotiated their debts with the banks and are now paying only interest, Flores says. “This is a temporary solution and we must increase income to pay the full debt.”
Flores also complains that the tram is taking passengers away from the bus system, costing it 15 percent of ridership. “Again, the city has not followed through on promises to work with owners for an equitable division of riders and income,” he says. “They are spending $5 million year to support the train but are not unwilling to work with the bus companies that transport many more passengers.”
He adds: “If this is their position, very soon they may not have a public bus system.”
Both Palacios and Lasso maintain that the pain of the Covid pandemic and the economic crisis must be shared by the transportation sector as well as the government. “We are all hurting and we must all share the burden of circumstances beyond our control,” Palacios said.