Russian truckers stage mass protests against new transport tax
Mass demonstrations have taken place in many regions across the country, including outside Moscow, St. Petersburg, as well as the Siberian cities of Novosibirsk, Irkutsk, and Omsk.
The drivers are protesting against a law that has been adopted recently and will come into effect on November 15. The legislation envisages a transportation tax for all trucks weighing 12 tons or more. According to the new law, each kilometer will cost truck drivers 3.73 rubles meaning the transport companies will have to pay about 350,000 rubles ($5,410) on average for each heavy goods vehicle per year. The tax will be introduced stage by stage and will be fully implemented by February 2019.
The fine for an unpaid journey will be 450,000 rubles (almost $7,000) for the first recorded violation and one million rubles (around $15,500) for subsequent violations.
The protest was organized via social networks by several drivers associations, including the Interregional Union of Professional Drivers, Gazeta.ru reports.
Representatives of small and medium-sized enterprises along with haulage companies joined the truck drivers’ protest. In the Belgorod region, 150 drivers blocked several lanes of the ‘Moscow-Crimea’ federal highway leaving only one lane available for motorists in each direction.
In Siberia, 370 drivers parked their trucks on the roadside of the highway between Novosibirsk and Omsk, with around 50 truckers joining the protest on a road near the city of Irkutsk.
Groups of trucks, raging from several dozen to several hundred, held rallies in other Russian regions. The protesters put placards on their windscreens of their vehicles that read: “No to the tax!” “We are against requisitions!” “Build good roads first!”
“We demand that the tax for trucks should be cancelled – that is our main aim,” one of the protest organizers told TASS. The demonstrators claim that a levy amounting to one ruble per kilometer would be “bearable” adding “3.73 rubles – it is just too high,” Gazeta.ru reports.
Initially, the protesters planned to drive at a speed of 10 kilometers per hour, which was expected to cause serious traffic congestion. However, after several ‘test runs’ they decided not to take any ‘drastic measures,’ leaving the roads fairly clear.
“We have not blocked the highways as we are basically against such measures but we ask the government not to force people into taking desperate measures,” one of the local protest organizers told Interfax.
Transport police officers who were visible at the protests said the demonstrations were peaceful. However, they warned the truckers against blocking federal highways, stressing that it could “entail criminal liability.”
Costs will rise
The drivers and representatives of transport companies warn that new tax could lead to a rapid increase in prices for many consumer goods, including basic food stuffs, as companies will “be forced” to raise tariffs for their services.
“We will have to raise prices for transport services because fuel, maintenance and repair costs have increased… we will just have to include the new tax in the price for our services, so suppliers… will include it in the cost of their goods and eventually the prices for food and basic necessities will increase several times,” one of the protesters told TASS.
“When prices for [food] rise, it will be not only drivers who are protesting – it will be the whole country,” another demonstrator told Gazeta.ru.
Meanwhile, some transport companies have already announced a 30 percent increase in prices for their services, Interfax reports.
Even before the protests started, the government decreased the tax rate from 3.73 rubles to 3.06 rubles for 2016. Additionally, on November 10, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev issued an order, lowering the tax rate for the period between November 2015 and March 2016 to 1.5 rubles.
Fines for an unpaid journey will initially only be collected in the Moscow Region, while the measure will take effect in other regions from May 2016, the deputy transport minister Evgeny Ditrich told Interfax.