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Students collect tolls on the Mexico City-Toluca highway. Students collect tolls on the Mexico City-Toluca highway.

Senator to present petition calling for stop to toll plaza hijackers

'What I don't understand is why the National Guard doesn't do anything:' Senator Lucy Meza

A ruling party senator will present a petition next week calling for authorities to put an end to the takeover of toll plazas, a lucrative activity that can yield occupiers more than 1,000 pesos per minute.

Morena party Senator Lucy Meza said she will present a petition in the upper house of Congress urging Capufe, the agency responsible for federal highways and bridges, to clear the toll plazas of illegal occupiers.

She said the takeover of plazas – a common occurrence in many states – generates significant losses for highway operators.

“The impact on [legitimate toll] collection is terrible,” Meza said, explaining that she has personally had to hand over at least 300 pesos (about US $15) per week to toll plaza hijackers while traveling to Mexico City from Cuernavaca, Morelos.

Protesters are the most common toll plaza hijackers but a growing number of unemployed people have taken to the highways to source income at a time when jobs are scarce due to the coronavirus-induced economic downturn.

senator lucy meza
Senator Meza: ‘It’s a federal crime but nothing happens.’

Meza was critical of the National Guard for not putting an end to the practice.

“The National Guard doesn’t do anything; they’re just observers, … they don’t prevent this situation,” she said.

“Every day that I travel to Mexico City, I suffer the same thing. The Oacalco toll plaza is always occupied and after that the Tepoztlán one is too. … It’s the same thing every day and at any time,” Meza said.

“What I don’t understand is why the National Guard doesn’t do anything. The National Guard is there, the Morelos police, who might as well invite them [to take over the toll plazas] are there [but they do nothing]. … It’s an attack on the highways, a federal crime, but nothing happens. I’ve spoken with the Communications and Transportation Ministry [of which Capufe is part] and the word is that they can’t do anything.”

President López Obrador has claimed that the federal government is putting an end to the practice and that it has avoided losses of up to 7 billion pesos. But the Association of Road Infrastructure Concessionaires contends that impunity remains a significant incentive for would-be occupiers.

The potential for monetary gain is also a significant incentive. Senator Gloria Nuñez of Nayarit said the takeover of eight toll plazas in the Pacific coast state – where the National Guard did evict protesters last month – caused losses of about 3 billion pesos (US $141.8 million) in legitimate toll revenue in the first nine months of the year.

A member of the National Guard watches as hijackers collect tolls.
A member of the National Guard watches as hijackers collect tolls.

“If we’re talking about 3 billion pesos in Nayarit, in all the other states where toll plazas are occupied [losses] could be around 7 billion pesos. They’re really alarming amounts,” she said.

According to a report published Friday by the newspaper Reforma, groups of toll plaza hijackers on federal highways can collect 1,000 pesos (US $47) or more per minute.

The newspaper confirmed that occupiers collected 200,000 pesos in a three-hour period from motorists passing through a toll plaza on the Mexico City-Cuernavaca highway in the borough of Tlalpan. No authorities attempted to arrest or evict the illegal toll collectors.

Reforma said it observed that nine of every 10 motorists handed over money.

Tourism sector drivers currently out of work due to the pandemic collected 25,000 pesos in 45 minutes at the same toll plaza last Saturday and about 160,000 pesos in 105 minutes a day later.

A group of people displaced by organized crime in Guerrero also recently occupied the Mexico City-Cuernavaca highway toll plaza in Tlalpan, Reforma said.

Families of missing persons occupy a toll plaza earlier this year.
Families of missing persons occupy a toll plaza earlier this year.

Meanwhile, a group of 30 young people who commandeered a bus in Guerrero and illegally collected tolls at a plaza on the Mexico City-Acapulco highway, the Autopista del Sol, were arrested by state police Thursday but subsequently released after they each paid a 200-peso fine.

Chilpancingo Police Chief Romualdo Aguilar Carmona said that none of the 24 young men and six women were taken to the state Attorney General’s Office because the company from which they commandeered the bus, Estrella de Oro, didn’t file a complaint against them.

He said the young people tried to pass themselves off as students of the Ayotzinapa rural teachers college. Students from that school, attended by the 43 young men who were abducted and presumably murdered in 2014, have a history of commandeering buses to travel to protests.

Aguilar said the young people admitted that they occupied the Paso Morelos toll plaza to collect “voluntary contributions” from motorists to fund a weekend away in Acapulco.

The police chief said that 15 young people, who also attempted to pass themselves off as Ayotzinapa students, were arrested in August after trying to commandeer a bus traveling on the Autopista del Sol. They too were released after paying administrative fines.

Source: Reforma (sp) 

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