Cuenca Mayor Marcelo Cabrera has angrily rejected a threat made by bus owners to shut down municipal bus service if fares are not increased within 30 days. The owners are demanding an increase to 42 cents from the current fare of 25 cents, which was established 13 years ago.
“I categorically reject the threat,” Cabrera said. “The city of Cuenca will not be held hostage to this kind of action. Under Ecuadorian law, since this would affect the public well-being, a strike would be illegal and we will make sure that those responsible are prosecuted if it happens,” he said.
Cabrera added that the city has been talking, in good faith, with bus owners for months and is following a process that will arrive at an adjustment to fares. “We have been in dialogue with everyone who will be affected by the situation and we are working toward a solution. I do not accept this blackmail.”
The Cuenca Transportation Committee (CTC), which represent the owners of the city’s 475 municipal buses, set the 30-day deadline on Friday, saying that the city is dragging its feet on a fare increase. Owners have complained for years that the current fare is not enough to operate and maintain buses. It cited a CTC study that suggests a new fare of 42 cents.
In June, the city had proposed a $315 per month subsidy for all buses in the system as a short-term solution but the proposal has not been implemented. City officials say it is still under review. Also under review is the demand by owners that all bus fares be paid by pre-paid card and that the use of cash be discontinued.
According to Cabrera, the study by the CTC will be considered in the final decision about bus fares. “That is their position but we are also conducting other studies that will be part of any new fare structure,” he said.
One reason for the delay in the negotiations may be the fact that the city wants a common fare for both the new tram system as well as buses. A spokesman for CTC says that this is holding up a decision for buses. “We are being held hostage by the tram, which should be another consideration altogether,” he said.