By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The dispute over a proposed fare hike on Rio’s municipal bus lines came to a head late last week as the city’s major bus companies, known collectively as Rio Ônibus, filed a suit in the 15th Public Treasury Court seeking to compel Rio City Hall to raise the bus fare from its current R$3.80 to at least R$5.30.
In a statement released on Monday, May 1st, Rio Ônibus argued that, due to the harsh economic realities facing the city, the fare increase is both necessary and long overdue. According to the bus companies, the City was obligated to raise the bus fare on January 1st under the terms of a 2010 contract between the bus companies and City Hall.
“Rio’s decision not to readjust fares,” said the statement, “in disobedience of the terms of the contract signed in 2010, has caused the economic and financial imbalance of the companies in the contract, who, without the adjustment – which should have occurred in the first week of January, almost 120 days ago – can not afford the cost increases incurred in 2016 (tariffs, supplies, services, taxes, etc.).”
Rio Ônibus’ complaint, filed to Treasury Court Judge Luciana Losada Albuquerque Lopes, alleged that the lack of a fare increase has cost the bus companies approximately R$27 million so far this year, damaging an industry that was already in deep financial distress.
“In recent years, there have been nearly 3,500 employees of bus companies who have lost their jobs, over a thousand bus lines closed, and six companies are filing for bankruptcy,” said Rio Ônibus lawyer Paulo Cezar Filho. “Companies have been suffering from losses for many years.”
“Last year, our companies, our buses gained a lot of resources with the Olympics,” exclaimed the Mayor. “They carried millions of passengers with the executive buses, which are also working now. Executive bus fares are a way for us to balance, to compensate for what I am asking of them, a sacrifice to maintain the price of the ticket.”
Mayor Crivella argued that the same financial crisis which the bus companies say necessitates a fare increase is the exact reason why there can not be a fare increase. “That’s why we have 350,000 unemployed people in Rio de Janeiro,” said the Mayor. “We are experiencing the worst crisis in our recent history, our contemporary time. We all need sacrifices.”
Sacrifices, which according to the Mayor, even he must make. “When Eduardo [Paes] went to Brasilia he would rent a jet,” exclaimed Crivella. “Today, when I go to Brasilia I use miles, my miles plan. And that’s it. We all have to sacrifice ourselves.”
With the ultimate decision now in the hands of Judge Lopes, the Mayor vowed that if Judge Lopes rules in favor of a fare increase, “We will appeal, appeal.”
The 2010 contract, between Rio City Hall and Rio Ônibus, foresaw an annual fare increase, normally, granted at the end of the year. At the end of 2016, then Mayor Eduardo Paes suggested a fare increase to R$3.95. Yet, Paes ultimately left the decision to his successor, current mayor, Marcelo Crivella.
Earlier this year, Mayor Crivella publicly claimed he was against any fare increase and added that no increase would be considered until the bus companies first provided air-conditioning on all of its buses.
According to a recent survey conducted by the Municipal Transportation Department, only 48 percent of municipal buses are air-conditioned, representing approximately 3,960 of the city’s 8,158 buses.
In 2013, a much smaller bus fare increase sparked national protests that brought hundreds of thousands to the streets in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte and Brasília.
The demonstrations focused on the increase in transportation fares but also frustration over the inequalities seen in their country, and the misallocation of funds in spending for international sports events.