As a consulting team from the University of Cuenca considers a new fare schedule for Cuenca’s taxis, some say the rates currently programmed into taxi meters are already too high.
Ivan Granda, chair of the Cuenca Legislative Committee, says fares in Cuenca are the highest in the country. “Everywhere else in Ecuador the minimum is $1. Here it’s $1.14. Why should this disparity increase?”
Granda says that claims by taxi drivers that costs are higher in Cuenca are largely bogus. “We are talking about a 1% to 2% difference with other cities and there is no evidence at all that motor oil, tires and maintenance cost any more here,” he says. “And of course, gasoline is the same everywhere.”
Even if the university team evaluating a new fare schedule determines that vehicle costs are more in Cuenca, says Granda, the additional 14 cents should more than cover it.
Alfredo Aguilar, director of the city’s transportation office, says that the consulting team has limited discretion in raising fares and must follow the rules of the National Transit Agency. “The law has established nationwide criteria for fares that must be met,” he said. He added that he does not expect a large increase.
In addition to claiming that Cuenca has a higher cost of living than the rest of the country, taxi drivers say that they must meet demands of foreign residents and tourists, which increase costs. Granda calls the claim “silly.” “Other cities have tourists and foreign residents and do not charge more,” he says. “Our first responsibility is to the citizens of Cuenca, not to the visitors.”
Meanwhile, some taxi passengers have complained that the transportation office is not taking action on complaints they have made by phone or Twitter. Although the office says it plans to extablish a dedicated phone line for complaints, those who want to file an official complaint must now come in person to the main transportation office (EMOV) at the corner of Carlos Ariguga Toral and Tarquino Codero to fill out paperwork. As of Tuesday afternoon, no official complaints had been filed.
Signs of former mayor are coming down
The administration of new Cuenca Mayor Marcelo has been busy taking down old signs bearing the image of former Mayor Paúl Granda and his “Cuenca, todo un mundo” slogan.
According to Catalina Serrano, Cuenca communications director, the work is a matter of cleaning up “visual pollution,” especially in areas such as Parque de la Madre, where there were a number of “self congratulatory” signs for Granda’s administration that are no longer necessary.
In some cases, the new administration is replacing the “Cuenca, todo un mundo” signs with ones bearing the official municipal emblem. In addition to signs of the old administration, old brochures are also being removed from city offices, replaced by new ones.
According to Serrano, the old signs and brochures were primarily for political purposes and are no longer needed. “The new image of Cuenca should be one that promotes the entire city and empowers its citizens.
Cuenca to update urban planning ordinance
The Cuenca Municipal Planning office is working on a new ordinance to replace the one created in 2003. Paúl Abad, director of panning, says the previous plan is outdated and needs stricter building and land use controls.
Abad says the new ordinance will strengthen the vision for Cuenca established by UNESCO when it designated the city’s historic district an international heritage site in 1999. UNESCO said Cuenca should be a “compact” and “polycentric” city, with the historic center as its focus.
According to Abad, the vision for compactness is in line with Cuenca’s geographical realitiy. “We have mountains on three sides, which means the city can only grow substantially to the northeast, the open end of the valley,” he said.
The new urban plan should include rules to avoid sprawl, not only to the northeast but up the surrounding mountains and in adjacent communities such as Baños and El Valle, says local architect Carlos Miller. “The new rules will have more building retrictions than the previous plan in an effort to control growth.”
According to Abad, there are 13,000 building lots close to the Cuenca city center and these should be used before more urban land is added. Abad also said the new ordinance will look at ways to control land costs which, he says, have made it prohibitive for many residence to build.
Photo caption: Cuenca traffic police continue to ticket taxi drivers who don’t use meters.