About 160 drivers are on strike in Makhachkala, the capital of the Russian Republic of Daghestan. They are protesting against rising fares and changing working conditions.
The strike began on Thursday with drivers from two transport lines. The following day, drivers of three more lines joined the strike.
Nutuk Magomedov, one of the striking drivers, told OC Media that they are protesting against a fare increase from 1 March and that the Astoria company, which this line belongs to, intends to launch its own transport on this line.
According to him, the company also seeks to change its relationship with drivers, making them employees rather than contractors. Magomedov told OC Media that prior to the change in policy, most fixed-route minibus drivers were forced to rent their cars to transport companies, but would as a result not only receive payments from passengers but also from the companies themselves for the use of their privately owned vehicles.
Yunus Amirov, another striking driver, told OC Media that drivers oppose raising the fare from ₽23 ($0.36) to ₽28 ($0.44) because they believe that this is a ploy to push them out of the passenger transportation market.
Amirov said that ‘at the expense of [drivers] and passengers’ transport companies will buy new minibuses, leaving drivers without work, even though they were just recently required to update their vehicles and took on personal debts to do so.
Amirov told OC Media that on 6 February, drivers of his route were told that their new base was in a remote area of Makhachkala. He says that all the drivers on Astoria lines — about 700 — would now have to undergo a medical examination before going on a route. Their vehicles will also undergo a technical check. Both taking place at this distant base.
‘This base is inconvenient for drivers’, Amirov said, adding that drivers who live in villages adjacent to Makhachkala will have to come to the base before work.
‘How will drivers of 700 cars manage to pass inspections? The last driver will leave for the route at 4–5 pm’, he said.
According to Magomedov, drivers must also pay carriers a ‘plan’ of ₽4,000 ($62) daily. He says the drivers also independently pay for fuel and pay monthly and daily fees for ‘waybills’ — as a result a very small part of the overall earnings is left to the drivers.
The striking drivers say that they intend to refrain from working until the company management retracts the fare increase and policy changes.
Municipality of Makhachkala ‘does not want to regulate the fare’
Isalmagomed Nabiyev, chair of the independent trade union of entrepreneurs and drivers of Daghestan, told OC Media that last December two companies —Astoria and Third Park — merged under the name Astoria.
Nabiyev suggests that there could be repeated fare increases in the future.
[Read on OC Media: Daghestani anti-monopoly regulator orders minibus companies to lower prices]
According to him, since it appeared in the passenger transportation market in Makhachkala in 2017, the Third Park company from Saint Petersburg has been striving to ‘increase the fare and capture all route lines’.
‘This idea was supported by the government of Daghestan. The plan was partially implemented: last year there was an increase in cost from ₽17 ($0.27) to ₽23’, he said.
Gadzhimurad Nurmagomedov, a deputy of the Makhachkala city assembly, told OC Media that the solution to the problem of increasing fares could be the cancellation of the unregulated fare by the mayor’s office, which allows transport companies to change the fare at any time.
In his opinion, if the fare becomes regulated, then the municipality will be able to set the cost and control passenger transportation.
He said that in August he had sent a letter to the mayor of Makhachkala with a request to create a commission to resolve this issue and switch to a regulated tariff.
Nurmagomedov also offers the Makhachkala administration lease vehicles for passenger transportation for five years to get rid of private companies. According to him, it will pay off in a year-and-a-half.
‘Rumors and provocations’
In a statement given to OC Media the press service of the Makhachkala City Hall denied that a strike was happening or that there was a fare increase, instead saying that it was all ‘rumor and provocation’.
A spokesperson for the press service said that the mayor of Makhachkala invited representatives of carrier companies to a work meeting and instructed them to voice an official refutation of the strike on camera.
The Makhachkala administration called the driver’s strike ‘a meeting initiated by the Astoria company’s leadership to clarify the location of the mandatory pre-trip medical examination of the drivers on the line and the technical condition of vehicles’.
Astoria’s general director Magomed Bulatkhanov declined to give a comment on the situation to OC Media.