This year, President Mauricio Funes’ administration is beginning two new initiatives to overhaul the public transport system in the greater San Salvador metropolitan area. On January 14, the Ministry of Public Works and the Vice-Ministry of Transport inaugurated construction in Soyapango of the first bus terminal of the Metropolitan San Salvador Integrated Transport System (SITRAMSS).
The new system will be capable of moving 20,000 passengers an hour, and will include dedicated lanes of traffic for the new buses, which will run on set schedules between downtown San Salvador and the surrounding cities of San Martín, Ilopango, Soyapango, San Marcos, Mejicanos, Ciudad Delgado, Apopa, Antiguo Cuscatlan and Santa Tecla. Passengers will pay their fare, board and exit the new buses at stations along the route. Government officials expect the first leg of the system, running from Soyapango to San Salvador, to be completed by June of this year.
In addition, the government will begin piloting an Integrated Prepaid Card System (SIPAGO) for bus riders in Santa Tecla. Transport users will purchase and add money to prepaid fare cards at local businesses so that bus drivers will no longer be managing money while driving.
Currently, public transport in El Salvador is administered entirely by private bus route owners, who must get authorization for their routes from the Vice-Ministry of Transport. Most buses are over 20 years old, in poor condition and produce vast quantities of air pollution. Bus route owners, who receive a government subsidy, rarely invest their profits in maintenance or new buses. In the years since Funes took office in 2009, route owners have organized several disruptive national transport stoppages, prompting accusations that they are carrying out destabilization strategies organized by the Salvadoran right-wing.
According to Vice-Minister of Transport Nelson García, “for more than 20 years, administrations have been incapable of providing a viable solution to collective transport users.” The SITRAMSS and SIPAGO initiatives, says García, are “a demonstration of political will to resolve the transport problem.”