Bus owners call off strike ‘temporarily’ after city pays subsidy debt; Taxis, heavy trucks still plan stoppage

May 13, 2021

Cuenca bus owners announced Thursday afternoon that they will suspend next week’s strike as talks continue with the city on a variety of issues. “This is a temporary action based on negotiations with the municipality about the allocation of routes, bus capacity restrictions and a fare increase,” Manolo Solís, president of the Cuenca Bus Chamber, said in a radio interview. “The payment of the subsidy is only the first step in restoring the financial health of the bus system.”

City bus owners have temporarily suspended next week’s strike.

Earlier Thursday, city taxi owners and heavy truck owners said they would begin a work stoppage Monday morning and it is unclear if they will maintain the plan following the bus owners’ decision. Taxi and bus owners say need permission to increase rates to cover higher fuel costs.

In an emergency meeting Thursday morning, the Cuenca municipal council agreed to pay a subsidy, including arrears, to cover half-price fares for the elderly, students and those with physical disabilities. The city had resisted the payment for almost three years, claiming bus owners had not provided reliable data to justify the subsidy.

Before calling off the strike, Solis had described the city’s subsidy payment “too little, too late,” and claimed that two mayors and two municipal councils had acted in bad faith in negotiations with bus companies. “After talking to the owners and after receiving assurances from city officials that they understand our situation, we have decided to maintain service as negotiations continue.”

According to Solís, the 48 percent increase in diesel prices is the biggest problem facing bus companies. “Under current circumstances, with the current fare structure, we cannot maintain service in the long-term. Changes need to be made.”

The United Taxi Drivers Front says the planned a work stoppage will idle most of its units. “We suffer the same problems as bus owners, with higher gasoline prices and higher maintenance costs,” said Patricio Padilla, president of the Front. He declined to say how many taxis would continue to operate next week, saying there are “emergency situations” due to the Covid-19 pandemic that will require some units to remain in operation. Padilla said his union will demand a new fee schedule.

The Austro Heavy Transport Association, representing interprovincial truck owners, also says its strike plan involves higher fuel costs. “Like the buses, we are restricted from raising our rates to pay the higher diesel prices and we need relief,” said association president Marcelo Orbe.

The rise in fuel prices is the result of the government’s decision in May 2020 to allow diesel and gasoline prices to rise to international market levels. Prior to that, prices had been subsidized. Since July 2020, diesel prices have risen 48 percent will gasoline prices have gone up 15 percent.

Strikes by bus and truck companies, protesting fuel costs, are spreading across the country. As of Thursday afternoon, there were work stoppages in Pichincha, Carchi, Tungurahua, Chimborazo, Cotopaxi and Santo Domingo Provinces with roadblocks set up in several locations.