An increase in bus fare is long overdue says the president of an organization representing Cuenca bus owners. “Cuenca needs to decide what quality of public transportation service it wants,” says Wilmer Bravo, President of the Cuenca Cámara de Transporte. “If it wants high quality service, it will have to pay for it,” he says.
Bravo says that as many as 10% of city buses are out of service for repairs at any given time, which often means longer waits for passengers. He also says that many buses have broken seats, windows and railings, as well as leaking oil and gasoline.
“Owners need money to upgrade the fleet,” he says.
Bus fares are 25 cents for most riders, but students and the elderly pay 12 cents. “The fares have not changed since 2003 even though inflation has amounted to almost 40% in that time,” Bravo says. He added that the basic salary was $110 in 2003 while it is $370 today. “Passengers can afford to pay more and most of them understand that the level of service will improve if fares are raised,” Bravo says.
Opponents to a fare increase, particularly university student groups, say they don’t buy the argument that higher fares will mean better service. They say the city should insist on improved service before considering an increase. They also suggest that the city should increase subsidies to bus owners as an alternative to raising fares.
Cuenca city officials agree that fares need to be examined and probably raised, and have ordered a technical study of operational costs, similar to the one that resulted in higher taxi fares when meters were installed.
A complicating factor is that city transportation officials want a common fare for buses and the new tram that goes into service in 2016, and it could take several months to determine operating costs for the tram. Bravo says that bus owners can’t wait much longer.
Gerard Fernandez, Cuenca transportation director, says a unified fare structure is important for integrating bus and tram service. He and other officials have been busy countering claims by tram critics that fares will need to be 75 cents or $1 to cover expenses. “Fares will be the same since we plan to have a coordinated system between buses and the travía,” Fernandez says.
He would not say if the process of determining a unified fare would delay an increase for buses.