Q COSTA RICA – Two bus operators are calling it quits, throwing in the towel, announcing they will stop providing service to La Carpio, Barrio México, La Uruca and Barrio Escalante on July 17.
The reason? Low fares and the inability or unwillingness of transport authorities and the Aresep to increase fares, said Alfredo Villalobos, representing the Guilial S.A. and Biusa S.A and bus companies.
If you will recall, on the afternoon of last June 13 the two companies, without notice, suspended bus service. The no service continued into the next day, forcing thousands of daily users to find other ways to get to work, school or doctor’s appointments. By the afternoon of June 14, the bus operators resumed service, after getting a commitment from the community to support a fare hike.
The hike was never approved by authorities. The bus companies say they are losing money on the existing fares and if the new fare model is applied, they will see a drop in fares up to 52%.
But is this a tactic on the part of these two bus companies to force a fare hike or is it for real? And can they just call it quits, break their route concession agreement? And if so, what can the Transport Authority do about it?
The situation affects up to 60,000 users of the bus daily, many in low-income areas and with little in the way of cheap alternatives. For example, La Carpio is a ‘marginal’ community and the closest access to a public bus is in the area of the Hospital Mexico, some 5 kilometers away, with only one road in and out.
On June 14, residents of La Carpio took to walking, hitching a ride (for a fee) on the back of pickups, cramming into a minivan, paying informal taxis or if lucky enough get a spot on the lone bus operated by a private individual.
The resignation of a bus operator is unprecedented, leaving the government with few options.
One of the the options, being analyzed by the State Legal Affairs Department, is the possibility of the Public Transport Council (CTP), a division of the Ministry of Transport, to “enter the premises (of the bus companies) and make use of the buses that have been authorized (under concession) to provide the public service.”
An official at Legal Affairs told La Nacion it could take up to two months to issue a resolution.
However, such an action by the government will surely have repercussions in the public transport sector, mainly bus operators.
Silvia Bolaños, the former Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Transport (MOPT), who left her post in 2015 to taken on her current role of executive director of the Cámara Nacional de Transportes (Canatrans) – National Carriers Chamber – said that transportation authorities should remember that the bus service is public, but the assets used to provide it are private.
While Bolaños assures there are no plans for a national strike, she did not rule out that some bus companies may apply measures to pressure the government.
For her part, Marcela Guerrero, legislator for the Partido Acción Ciudadana (PAC), the strategy of suspending bus service to push for fare increases is an “affront” and a “manipulation”.
For the legislator, she believes the State can make use of the vehicles authorized for the services, as the Ley de Transportes Remunerado de Personas (Public Transport Law) obligates concessionaires not to suspend services. The legislator refers to an article in the law that says “concessionaires can not remove equipment (vehicles) or shut down essential public services without written authorization from the competent authority.”
Bus services in Costa Rica are provided by private operators under a route concession agreement with the Public Transport Council (CTP), which sets out the following obligations on the part of the service provider, among them:
- Not to charge a different fare than the approved.
- To provide the service on the specified concession route and approved times.
- Replace decommissioned vehicles for the same or better in capacity and quality.
- Keep the book on income and costs and provide same to the competent authorities, such as the MOPT and the ARESEP.
While the concessions are managed by the CTP, the fares are set by the Autoridad Reguladora de Servicios Publicos or the ARESEP, the government agency that oversees fares and of all public services.