Authorities worry about transportation paralysis as city bus owners announce a Monday strike

May 12, 2021 | 11 comments

The Cuenca Transport Chamber, which represents the owners of the city’s 475 municipal buses, announced Wednesday that it will end service beginning Monday, May 17. According to the Chamber, the service stoppage is the result of an “economic crisis” due to increasing fuel costs and the city’s refusal to pay a subsidy it agreed to three years ago.

Some Cuenca city buses participated in a work stoppage in April.

City and business leaders worry that the stoppage will paralyze travel in the city, especially if taxi companies join the strike and if roadblocks are erected. The Cuenca Chamber of Commerce says that 60 to 70 percent of workers depend on buses for daily transportation.

“Bus owners are carrying unsustainable debt that is increasing monthly and the low income from fares can no longer cover the operating expenses,” the transportation chamber said in a statement. “Diesel fuel has increased 48 percent in price since the government eliminated the fuel subsidy last year.”

On Tuesday, the government announced that diesel prices will increase for the fourth time since the subsidy was dropped, rising from $1.44 to $1.48 a gallon. Prices for regular and premium gasoline also increased.

Bus owners are calling for a fare increase of 15 percent, the same as the one granted interprovincial and intercantonal buses last month by the national government. Owners also say that the mayor and municipal council of Cuenca have not honored an agreement to provide compensation for the half-rate fare for the elderly, students and those with physical disabilities.

On April 19, about half the city bus fleet participated in a work stoppage coincidiing with a strike by interprovinicial buses and transport companies, protesting high diesel costs. The Chamber did not say if the strike will include blockages of streets and highways.

On Wednesday night, the Cuenca Emergency Operations Committee expressed concern that a strike could increase the risk of Covid-19 transmission. “In particular, we worry that this could cause over-crowding on the tram, which is operating at half capacity due to the health emergency,” the committee said in a Tweet.