** Originally published in print edition of the Los Angeles Times:
MEXICO CITY -- There were fewer riders than normal on driver Octavio Diaz's bus early Wednesday, the first day that a transit fare hike raised costs from about 4 pesos to 5 for a short trip, a difference equivalent to a mere 8 cents.
But many commuters, drivers, and officials in Mexico's capital seemed to more or less agree that increases on fares for taxis and buses were to be expected considering inflation and rising gas prices.
Ridership "does go down, as people get adjusted," the 39-year-old Diaz said, looking back to half-empty rows of seats on his hurtling microbus. "But then they return to their usual routines."
The fare increase was announced by Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera last week during a holiday, when many capital residents were away on vacation.
Mexico City in recent years has aggressively expanded its public transit system, investing millions of dollars in Metrobus, the city's dedicated-lane bus service, and Ecobici, its shared bicycle program. Both systems expanded rapidly under former Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, and Mancera has said he'll push for more growth.
City officials said bus and taxi fares hadn't been adjusted since 2008 and the city's subway fare, which increased in 2010, will remain 3 pesos a trip, or about 25 cents.
"I think people anywhere in the world prefer not having to pay more for services. However, this increase was necessary," Rufino H. Leon Tovar, the city's transit secretary, said in an interview. "People understand."
Although Mexico City's economy is considered healthy, many workers make meager wages, earning barely more than Mexico's minimum wage, about $5 a day. City officials said the transportation services are still a good deal, but a peso a day in two directions, on two or three separate buses, five or six days a week, can add up.
"You have less to spend in the house," said Araceli Graniel, 63, a retired nurse who was leaving a station at the Hidalgo transit hub. "That pesito that looks like just one, well, in a big family, that's a lot of pesos."
Taxi driver Arturo, who declined to give his full name, called the latest fare increase "one big joke," starting with the requirement that cabbies go to a City Hall office to get their meters adjusted.
"Listen, they said they lowered the city car tax, but I still pay other fees, permits, whatever you want to call them," the driver said. "Excuse me, but that's a big scam, my friend."
Diaz, the microbus driver, said he has worked on the same central-city route for 25 years. Fare hike or not, he doesn't expect a major increase in his earnings.
"Diesel just goes up and up and up and up," Diaz said. "When they raised [the fare] the last time, diesel cost about 50 pesos per loop on my route, and now it costs 115 pesos per loop.... There's never enough money."
* Photo: Commuters wait to board at a mass transit stop in Mexico City. Credit: Omar Torres / AFP