Cuenca Mayor Pedro Palacios and Azuay Province Governor Matias Abad said Wednesday morning that Cuenca’s independence holiday will proceed as planned despite the threat of protests. “The disruptions have not been as serious as we feared so I see no reason the celebration should not continue as planned,” said Abad. “Although there may be brief travel delays, the government has assured us that the highways to Cuenca will remain open to tourists.”
Palacios said he will not restrict access to the historic district and to holiday events. “Contrary to what you might hear on social media, the city will open and we don’t anticipate major problems. We look forward to welcoming thousands of tourists this weekend.”
Palacios’ biggest challenge appears to be restoring public transportation within the city as bus companies cancelled service until noon Wednesday. “Without prior notice, the bus owners have made a unilateral decision to suspend urban transport service in the city and we have no choice but to respond with sanctions to the companies that participated in this action,” he said. “Tens of thousands of Cuencanos were unable to go to work and school today because of this action and it will not go unpunished.”
Palacios said only one bus line was in operation Wednesday between 6 a.m. and noon.
In a public statement, the union representing bus owners, the Cuenca Transport Chamber, said it is reevaluating all its routes and schedules and will have to reduce service to meet a financial emergency. “We cannot continue to operate as we have in the past because many of our routes are no longer profitable due to high fuel costs and reduced ridership. The city is aware of our dilemma but has not allowed us to raise fares to meet our costs. Neither has it offered to provide a subsidy to maintain a full schedule of routes.”
Chamber officials said they need a fare of 45 to 50 cents to maintain full service or a subsidy equal to a fare increase.
Protest road closures
According to transit police three highways were blocked by protesters Wednesday morning, the Cuenca-Guayaquil route through the Cajas Moutains; Cuenca- Loja; and the Cuenca-Girón-Machala. By late afternoon, police reported that passage on all three roads had been restored and that military personnel are standing by in case new blockades are erected.