The costs for municipal bus fares in Ecuador are probably headed higher, setting up a battle between riders, bus owners and city governments.
Another point of contention is between the federal and municipal governments, as Quito is transferring authority for bus fares to cities. The transfer has sparked a war of words between Guayaquil Mayor Jaime Nebot and President Rafael Correa, as Nebot contends the federal government is shifting the burden to cities to escape blame for fare increases.
The conflict turned violent two weeks ago in Quito as high school students and others battled police near the presidential palace. Their demand: Keep bus fares at the current 25 cents. Two dozen police and demonstrators were injured in the protest.
Operators of municipal buses say that fares, fixed by the federal government 12 years ago, are barely enough to cover their expenses and mean that they cannot afford to buy new, less polluting buses and are forced to require drivers to work overtime because they cannot afford to hire new ones. They also say that a government subsidy meant to cover the cost of half price fares for students and the elderly are inadequate.
Bus owners in several cities, including Cuenca, say even with the subsidy, fares should be raised to 40 to 45 cents, which they say, is less than the level of inflation over the last 12 years.
Correa says that the transfer of authority is mandated in Ecuador’s 2008 constitution and that a uniform national bus fare no longer makes sense. “Costs and conditions are different in different cities and each city should determine its own fare,” he says. He adds that the bus subsidy will be given to local governments.
Throughout the country, bus companies are demanding meetings with city governments and discussions have begun in several cities, including Cuenca. Cuenca Mayor Marcelo Cabrera has asked for a study of bus fares, similar to the one that established new fares for city taxis two weeks ago. He says that a fare increase is inevitable.