Angry bus owners and drivers voted to suspend all municipal transit service in Quito following the failure of the municipal council to raise fares from 25 cents to 30 cents. The system shut-down went into affect after midnight Friday morning.
Late Thursday, Quito Mayor Mauricio Rodas threatened legal action against the Pichincha Chamber of Transport, the union representing bus owners, based on a law prohibiting strikes of providers of public transportation services.
At its Thursday afternoon meeting, the Quito municipal council voted to send the fare increase proposal back to a transportation committee for further review. After the vote, bus owners and representatives who attended the meeting began shouting and stormed out of the meeting.
“We feel insulted and mocked by the long delays and failure of the municipality to act on this matter,” said José Santamaría, president of the chamber of transport. “We have operated for 14 years with the same fare and cannot afford to continue to provide service for 25 cents,” he said at a rally Thursday afternoon. “Our buses are falling apart and we cannot pay our drivers a decent wage due to he inaction of the council.”
After voting to strike, Santamaría said bus operators would surrender their operating permits to the national transportation ministry. “Since we are giving up our permits and are no longer agents of transportation in Quito, we will not be in violation of the law,” he said.
In addition to threatening legal action against the bus union, the mayor’s office announced contingency plans if the strike goes forward. Quito transportation director Dario Tapia said the city would use school buses to cover as many public routes as possible and is asking taxi drivers to provide service at 25 cents rate.
“We will do everything in our means to keep the system in operation if the drivers continue with this illegal action,” he said. He added that restrictions on vehicles entering the city based on license plate numbers, known as pico y placa, would be lifted.
Rodas announced earlier that police would arrest bus drivers who attempt to block traffic during the strike.
The strike does not affect trolley and Ecovia service, which were operating normally Friday morning.