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Protesting truckers snarl traffic in downtown Riga

Angry over the introduction of eurovignettes, the term given to Latvia’s new road use tax on commercial transport vehicles heavier than 3.5 tons, more than a hundred truckers circled the 11th of November Embankment Tuesday afternoon, honking their horns and congesting traffic around Old Town’s riverside drive and bridge arteries. 

Representing about 60 transport service firms, the protesting truckers’ spokesman Ziedonis Apariņš called it “a day of mourning” for the sector, predicting job losses “in the thousands.” He showed a symbolic bundle of keys meant to stand for the vehicles about to get repossessed by banks owing to the likely defaults on lease agreements many truckers could soon be facing. Apariņs plans to present the symbolic bundle to Transport Minister Anrijs Matīss later today.

In order to ensure the competitive survival of the industry, cargo truckers are urging the government to rescind the road tax or at least postpone it for a couple of years. They are also appealing to the Financial and Capital Markets Commission to broker compassionate restructurings of credit agreements with the commercial banking sector in the face of the current force majeure situation.

Apariņš also expressed incomprehension toward Latvian Trucking Association chief Valdis Trēziņš’ mild response to the government plan.

 “And whatever planned revenue – €4.3 million euros – the state hopes to take in might as well be set aside for the even greater inevitable unemployment payouts,”  Apariņš added ironically.

Trucking companies are concerned that the newly introduced fees will bring the industry to a halt. They are disappointed that Latvia’s government did not postpone implementation of what they say was a hastily conceived scheme that could not have come at a worse time. Apariņš pointed to Estonia’s example, where the introduction of eurovignettes was put off until 2016, when rosier economic times have been forecast for the sector.

And unlike Lithuania, which negotiated a mutual exemption from road tolls with Russia, Latvia has no such agreement with its eastern trading partner, meaning that the costs of serving routes through Russia are now set to increase significantly for Latvian transport companies.

Another transport sector representative Andris Morozovs told newspaper Diena that truckers are in principle reluctant to pay fees for roads “before they’re at least brought to a decent state of repair.”  

On his part, Transport Minister Anrijs Matiss said that Latvia had applied the most cost-effective possible model for implementing internal EU regulations governing the cargo transport industry, which has been on the books since Saeima approved the norms in 2008. Instead of letting it go into effect on January 1 of this year, Saeima had postponed the new road use tax until July 1 by amending the law previously. 

“If it turns out to be in line with EU regulations, I’ll be the first to propose calling off this duty on cargo transport,” said the minister. “Just remember that truckers are currently paying fees even lower than those assessed on light automobiles,” he added.

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