Around 2,000 protesters marched in the western Colombian city of Cali Wednesday, calling for changes in the city’s mass transit system, according to a spokesperson for the demonstration.
Supporters of the “Zero Hour” movement say the city’s new mass transit system (MIO) does not cover many of the neighborhoods surrounding the Valle del Cauca capital, and that a program forcing independent bus drivers to retire their older vehicles will only exacerbate the problem.
Edilson Huerfano, a community leader and one of the event’s organizers, told Colombia Reports that Zero Hour is hoping to keep independent transport, one of the only means of access to some of the city’s poorer areas, from “disappearing in Cali.”
The movement requests that independent bus drivers be allowed to form a new co-operative company that would integrate with the new mass transport system and “together, would supply the transport needs of the wider community,” said Huerfano.
With 56 stations located across the greater Cali metropolitan area, the redesigned MetroCali services more than half a million passengers everyday. Many of the areas not served by the new system coincide with some of the city’s less privileged communities.
“We don’t think it’s fair to be a city that is left without forms of alternative public transport, when the existing mass system does not cover everyone,” said Huerfano, who clarified that “we’re not against the mass transport system (MIO), we welcome development for Cali, but we ask that a socioeconomic study of the true impact on families, for example, that depend on the traditional ways of transport be carried out,” he said.
As part of its programs to eliminate older vehicles and what it deems as superflous routes, the city is compensating drivers with some $33,000 a piece, plus $6,000 from the “Fresa Fund,” which pays drivers 30 months of minimum wage to subsidize their lost business, reported El Pais newspaper.
According to Huerfano, though, the payments are not being made in many cases, or are coming in short for drivers. Some drivers, he said, have not been paid in over two years due to a lack of funds, “and that’s the reality that we are living with in the communities today,” he added.
At the end of the peaceful march, which followed some of the soon-to-be-retired buses through various parts of the city, protest leaders met with the Cali Ombudsman, requesting a meeting with the city’s Transport Minister to present a petition outlining their requests.
“We have a document with signatures from a number of community groups, and from the people who use these services, asking for a roundtable discussion to work out these issues,” Huerfano said.
A spokesman from the Cali Mayor’s Office declined to comment on the protests or the transit conversion program.
Cali, Valle del Cauca
- Interview with Zero Hour spokesperson Edilson Huerfano
- Movimiento de ciudadanos anuncia marcha para exigir movilidad digna en Cali (El Pais)