Peru government and transportation strikers meet for talks after 24-hour strike

Dialogue begins today in Lima between Ministry of Transport officials and the leaders of the association of mass urban transport companies, following the strike on Tuesday in Lima of approximately 260,000 private-sector bus and taxi drivers. The strike was held to protest a new transport law that sharply increases traffic fines.

Only a few buses – charging double the normal fare – were seen on the city’s usually overcrowded streets, while the number of taxis available increased as the day proved quiet and calm in most areas. Police arrested 138 people in disturbances on the incoming highways from the north and south cones of the city.

According to Radio Programas, RPP, 60,000 bus drivers and 200,000 taxi drivers answered the strike call in Lima. The new traffic law, which calls for increases in fines for traffic infractions, goes into effect today, July 1st.

Though protests were mainly peaceful, approximately 100 drivers violently attacked bus and taxi drivers who decided to work – in spite of the ongoing strike – in Villa El Salvador in south Lima. Dozens of passengers were asked to step off the buses and taxis, and left stranded on the Pan-American Highway.

“We have to start changing our attitudes concerning traffic regulations and road security,” said Transport and Communications minister Enrique Cornejo. “We have to stop wondering whether we will be sanctioned or not for committing an infraction. These changes have been made to protect life, to prevent accidents and so that we may all learn to respect existing regulations.”

Two weeks ago, President Alan García enacted a law creating the National Transportation Superintendency, Sutran.

The institution is to be responsible for monitoring, supervising and authorizing all activities to transportation – both of goods and people.

In Peru – where the high number of severe car and bus accidents is notorious – many of the vehicles are old, drivers reckless, and the roads often in a bad state. In the past several years, an average of 3,500 people died and 40,000 others were injured every year as a result of car or bus accidents.

Last April, at least 20 people were burned alive after their passenger bus collided with a fuel tanker truck and burst into flames on a highway some 150 kilometers south of Lima.

Accidents have shot up from 16,000 in 1997 to 24,000 in 2007, reported police, and more than half occur in Lima.

Reckless driving is the main cause of the accidents, particularly speeding, and despite frequent campaigns by the Ministry of Transport, bus companies both in the city and on rural routes continue to use often young and inexperienced drivers or demand that their drivers work longer shifts. The risk is increased with badly built or poorly maintained roads and deffective signposts.

In March 2008, a badly-designed guardrail did keep a vehicle from flying over a cliff, but sliced the car in two upon impact, killing the driver.

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