With the Quito public bus strike looming in the background, the Cuenca municipal council begins debate this week on raising fares on the city’s bus system.
The Quito strike was called after the city council refused to raise bus fares from the current 25 cents to 30 cents on Thursday. The council voted to send the issue back to committee for further study. Angry bus company owners and drivers stormed out the meeting and began a work stoppage that has paralyzed the city.
In both Quito and Cuenca, owners and drivers claim that the 25 cents fare, adopted in 2002, is insufficient to operate the system.
“We have been talking about fares for years and the time for talk is long past,” says Leonardo Albarracín, president of the Cuenca Transportation Chamber president, which represents the bus owners. “Our buses are in poor condition and drivers are not paid a good salary with the current fare. We see what happened in Quito and would hate to see it in Cuenca,” he added.
On the other hand, Cuenca councilman Carlos Orellana argues that the process should move slowly to assure that “all voices” affected by a fare increase are heard. “This is not a race against time,” he says. “We need discussions so we can come to a consensus on the issue.”
A group of consultants from the University of Cuenca, contracted by the city, offered three fare increase options in April — 26, 32, and 33 cents, saying that a 32 or 33 cent fare is necessary to update the rolling stock and improve driver salaries.
Organizations representing students and the elderly are lobbying for no rate increase, saying members of their groups cannot afford it. Both the city and the transportation chamber agree that bus companies would require a large public subsidy if rates remain 25 cents.