Staunton, October 22 – Russia’s long-haul truckers were forced this past summer to end their strike against the imposition of new Plato fees on their vehicles as a result of repressive measures by the authorities and of the drivers’ need to earn money to pay their bills and feed their families.
But now the Russian government has introduced legislation that would quadruple fines for those who don’t pay the road use fees and double the time the statute of limitations would allow the authorities to go after those drivers who avoid the system by various ways, something many if not a majority of truckers have been doing.
In response, leaders of the carriers’ unions are warning that they will resume their strike before the end of the year and that the adoption by the Duma of this proposed law will end up costing the regime more in revenue and making Russia’s roads more dangerous as well (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2017/10/21/74282-opyat-stachka).
Andrey Bazhutin, head of the United Carriers of Russia, warns that if the authorities don’t begin talks and drop these plans, his activists “are ready for decisive measures.” He said that 600,000 of the 900,000 trucks registered with Plato are already avoiding in whole or in part the fees that system require, implying that more rather than fewer will if the new law is passed.
At present, he continues, Moscow has established automatic photographic equipment to track drivers in only five regions of the country: Moscow, Krasnodar, Rostov-na-Donu, Volgograd, and Tatarstan. Elsewhere the system depends on voluntary compliance, and it isn’t getting it.
Drivers have adopted various strategems to avoid paying, sometimes turning off their own recorders after a few kilometers and then going on for hundreds more, according to Mariya Pazukhina, a Murmansk activist who works with the truckers in northwestern Russia. At present, she says, Moscow is getting “no more than a tenth” of the money it thinks it deserves.
If the new law goes into effect, she suggests, the center will get even less. Ever more drivers will register only trucks they still owe money on and that the government can track. Others will simply proceed under its radar. If Moscow cracks down against this, the drivers will expand their strike and make things difficult in advance of the presidential elections.
Aleksandr Kotov, head of the Inter-Regional Trade Union of Professional Drivers, says his group has not yet decided whether to resume their strike or not, but he too says truckers are avoiding the fees and will do so even more consistently if the government increases the rates, whatever repressive means the authorities employ.
That will create more problems for the government, but trucker moves will create others for the population. If many drivers strike, many goods of first necessity won’t be delivered. If they go along with the government, they will simply be forced to drive more hours every day in order to make the same amount of money.
That represents a serious danger, Kotov concludes. “A tired driver on the road is more dangerous than a drunken one.”