Russian Truck Drivers Protest Tolls

Road Warriors in Mother Russia are taking on the Putin regime, and may find themselves in Siberia soon, as the OTR Drivers have protested a National Highway Toll system that was imposed last year. The drivers, who snarled traffic across the country last winter in a rare display of open mass discontent in the Russia of President Vladimir Putin, began protesting in numerous cities on November 11 to mark the first anniversary of the implementation of the tolls, according to Radio Free Europe.

The reasons for the toll are a bit too familiar to us. The fees are set to be doubled in February 2017 after a compromise reached by protesters and the government in January expires. Under the system, the revenues raised, estimated at $700 million per year, are supposed to be used for infrastructure maintenance and development.

I know what you’re thinking--sounds a bit western right?

According to protest organizers, demonstrations were held in at least a dozen cities across Russia, with drivers crowding major thoroughfares by driving at slow speeds in all lanes and then assembling for rallies. In the Moscow suburb of Khimki, police broke up the rally before it got under way and detained about 15 activists, as well as several journalists.

So much for civic disobedience.

Our comrades in Russia, or whatever they call themselves these days, are hard core. In the winter of 2015-16, protesters spent five months camped out in a Khimki parking lot in an unsuccessful effort to force the government to rescind the toll system. When authorities came down on them and denied a request to have a rally, truckers took matters into their own hands and decided to act individually in trucks festooned with banners of the United Truck Drivers of Russia trade organization. Andrei Bazhutin, head of the union, told journalists in St. Petersburg that the truckers are insisting on the resignation of the government and, particularly, of Transportation Minister Maksim Sokolov.

That didn’t sit well with authorities as protesters were also reportedly detained in Ryazan and Tula.

Just like America, there seems to be some political favors being granted. According to the government, about 650,000 of the country's 1.5 million long-distance trucks have been registered with the toll system, which is called Platon. The system is administered by a company owned by a son of Arkady Rotenberg, an oligarch who was once Putin's judo sparring partner. Protest activists claim the money paid into the system is either stolen by Platon's managers or used for other state budget needs.

The media is siding with the government (who didn’t see that coming?) across the country on November 11, however, newspapers published articles with similar headlines such as "The Platon System Repaired 86 Kilometers of Roads in The Southern Urals" and "In Volgograd Oblast, 72 Kilometers of Roads Were Repaired at Platon's Expense."

Surkhai Alimirzayev, who owns a trucking company in the North Caucasus republic of Daghestan, told RFE/RL that the tolls have crippled his business and that of many other drivers.

"Many people are trying to sell their trucks," he said. "I have also sold half of my vehicles and plan to sell another five in the near future. Fuel is expensive. Spare parts are expensive, and the roads haven't gotten any better.

On the bright side, deliveries of Russian vodka were not affected.