Bogotá bus drivers go on strike
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Bogotá bus drivers go on strike

Private bus drivers in Bogotá began an indefinite strike at midnight Monday, in protest of a municipal government initiative to restrict the number of buses on the roads.

The strike, which involves thousands of the city’s bus drivers, snarled traffic and packed public transportation stations across the city, with some passengers, particularly those in the poorer southern neighborhoods, left stranded without transportation to their jobs in the central part of the city.

Drivers are protesting the citywide implementation of ‘pico y placa‘ — a law that limits which cars can circulate within city limits on given days, depending on their license plates. Previously, the policy only applied to private vehicles, but the administration of Mayor Gustavo Petro recently announced that it would be extended to include the fleet of private buses that serve the city as part of an effort to encourage passengers to use a new public bus system instead.

The fleet of shiny blue buses that make up the SITP (Integrated Public Transit System), rolled out in 2013, were supposed to replace the lurching, overcrowded, diesel-spewing buses that for decades have provided urban transport for Bogotá’s millions of residents.

However, the adoption process has been a slow one, as many riders say they are confused by the new routes, can’t find a route that works for them, don’t have the cards required to use the buses or don’t have a convenient location where they can add more money to the cards.

The traditional private buses accept cash and have no designated stops, instead zig-zagging their way through streets and screeching to a halt whenever — and wherever — a passenger needs to board or exit. Accusations of corruption have long followed the bus system, with many residents speaking of a “bus mafia” that controls the city’s transit services.

In an effort to encourage more riders to make the switch to the SITP buses, which have been losing money since their introduction, Bogotá’s city government has rolled out multiple initiatives intended to educate residents about the new system. The introduction of license plate restrictions is the most dramatic move yet, and many drivers of private buses as well as various drivers’ unions have complained about it, saying the measure violates their right to work and will result in significant lost wages.

An estimated 10,000 fewer vehicles were on Bogotá’s roads on Monday as a result of the strike. While it may have been a welcome relief to drivers used to crawling through the capital’s notorious traffic jams, it was hardly

During Monday’s morning rush hour, lines to get on the SITP buses stretched out of bus stops and down city blocks, and the perpetually-packed stations of the TransMilenio articulated bus system were even more crowded than normal. After the rush subsided around 9 a.m., though, most service appeared to have returned to relatively normal, though there were reports of blocked roads and transportation shortages in some of the city’s southern neighborhoods, where transportation is an ongoing point of conflict.

Authorities said there were reports of a few acts of vandalism during the morning. As of 9 a.m., 13 buses had been damaged and a few minor injuries were reported.

The city has mobilized all 17,000 officers of the metropolitan police force, of which 3,000 have been stationed at strategic locations that could be potential flashpoints, including bus and TransMilenio stations and major roads used by the city’s millions of commuters.