More than 40 van drivers gathered yesterday in Cuenca’s historic district and at the regional headquarters of the national transit commission (CTE), demanding the right to transport passengers. Currently, vans are only allowed to carry tour customers accompanied by licensed tour guides.
According to Jenny Sarmiento, spokeswoman for the drivers, owners of passenger vans are victims of an “abuse of authority” by transit police and the CTE. “They chase us like we were criminals,” she says. She added that the CTE has been intimidated by the large bus companies who insist on the exclusive right to provide land passenger service.
Sarmiento says that passengers deserve the right to choose between vans and buses. “The buses are crowded and dirty and many people prefer vans, which are more comfortable and arrive at their destinations in less time,” she said. “Why don’t people have the right to pick the transportation that they want?” she asked.
Sarmiento and other drivers met with CTE director Luis Almeida to press their demands but were told that the rules are based on national transit laws and cannot be changed by the CTE. “The rules under the law governing passenger service are administered by the National Traffic Agency, not by CTE,” Almeida said. “We cannot change the laws and it is our job to enforce them until they change.”
Despite the laws, vans continue to carry paying passengers between Cuenca and Guayaquil, Machala and Loja, playing a cat-and-mouse game to avoid transit police. Van drivers hire “scouts” to drive ahead, providing notification of police roadblocks. “It’s crazy,” said driver Jorge Vega. “If they make us legal, the problem goes away.
Van drivers who are arrested for illegal operation are fined $780 and have 10 points deducted from their driver’s license. Driver Pedro Zalamea says that in the last month more than half of the drivers he knows have been fined.
Photo credit: El Tiempo