People from a number of different walks of life took turns occupying the Tepotzotlán toll booths on the Mexico-Querétaro highway Friday, lifting the tollgates for drivers in exchange for spare change, a win-win situation for commuters and toll occupiers as the normal fee is 90 pesos.
A group of political activists was there early Friday morning, later replaced by people who told drivers they had lost their jobs and were seeking money to help support their families.
Around noon, bus drivers and circus workers moved in to take their turn at collecting money from commuters.
But when a group calling itself La Lágrima arrived Friday afternoon, the situation turned tense.
La Lágrima tried to kick the 40 bus drivers out of the toll plaza area, but more than 100 circus people went to their defense. Violence ensued as both sides shoved and kicked each other, some attacking with their belts, police said.
After brawling for about 15 minutes, members of La Lágrima got back on their bus and left. Authorities say around 200 people, including a few women, participated in the scuffle but no one was seriously injured.
The practice of commandeering toll plazas has become commonplace in Mexico. Between June 19 and September 29, a report shows that in Mexico state alone, plazas were taken over 1,215 times by various groups of people.
The Ecatepec-Pirámides plaza was seized 445 times, followed by Ojo de Agua which was taken 338 times. The Revolución toll plaza was occupied 313 times.
“Carnival workers, circus workers, waiters, neighborhood groups, they take turns taking the booths. Some leave and others arrive,” said Marco Antonio Frías Galván, head of the Association of Road Infrastructure Concessionaires.
Protesters and the unemployed took over at least 18 toll plazas across the country on Monday just one day after the National Guard cleared eight in Nayarit.
Plazas in Mexico City, Morelos, Baja California, Guerrero, México state, Oaxaca, Querétaro, Guanajuato, Sonora, Puebla and Hidalgo were occupied last week, according to a report by the newspaper Reforma.
In 2019 the country saw revenue losses totaling 3 billion pesos (US $138.7 million), according to Capufe, the federal highways and bridges agency, and this year losses from hijacked plazas are already at a similar level.
Enrique González, president of the National Chamber of Trucking, said that toll plaza takeovers cause significant losses for his industry, as truck drivers must pay those occupying the toll booths as well as tolls levied by sensors that detect their electronic tags.
Apart from necessity, impunity is also a significant incentive for would-be occupiers as a single toll plaza can yield up to 1 million pesos (about US $46,000) per day.