During the crackdown, which began on Sunday, dozens of van passengers, most of them headed to Guayaquil, have been stranded on the highway. Some were picked up by passing buses while others hailed taxis to take them to their destinations.
The NTA says that most of the vans that have been seized were offering passenger service but were only authorized to provide tour service. Registration fees for passenger service, officers pointed out, are much higher than for tourist service.
Tempers flared between passengers, NTA officers and van drivers as passengers were told they needed to find alternative transportation. Even properly licensed tour vans were held up for as long as three hours on Monday as officers checked licenses and permits.
“This is outrageous,” said Wilson Avila, a naturalist guide for a group of German tourists headed to Cajas National Park. “We are completely legal and because of the long delay we had to cancel our trip. I am embarrassed in front of my guests at the way my country is handling this.”
A passenger on one of the impounded vans, Canadian tourist Jeff Anderson, said he was angry at the van company for not having the proper permits. “I assumed they were licensed and that everything was in order. The driver tells me that it would cost hundreds of dollars more a year to be licensed for passengers but how much more would that cost per trip? A buck or two?” Andrews, who missed an international flight out of Guayaquil, took a taxi back to Cuenca.
Maria Fernanda Tenorio, ANT provincial director, said she was sorry for the inconvenience to passengers but her office is charged with enforcing the law.
“Our job is to make sure that the paperwork is in order and that the vans are providing the service they are licensed for,” Tenorio said. “The passengers should not be mad at the officers. They should be mad at the van companies.”
She added: “We are very sorry for the inconvenience to properly credentialed vans but it is the illegal activity of a few of van operators that is responsible for the delays.”
Bus companies, which had pushed the ANT to crack down on passenger vans, reported that their passenger loads have increased 30% to 40% since the unlicensed vans have been stopped.
Armando Rodas, manager for a bus cooperative, said he was thrilled to see more passengers. “These were our passengers anyway. They were stolen from us by the vans.”
Many van passengers who were put out on the highway said, however, they won’t take the buses. “They are dirty and smelly and uncomfortable,” said Gabriela Lopez. “I will fly before I ride on one.”
Photo caption: A van stopped on Cuenca – Guayaquil highway on Tuesday; photo credit: El Mercurio