City fines 500 Juarez drivers for packing riders into buses despite virus restrictions

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Contractors face restrictions and penalties of up to $400 as officials want to contain the spread of COVID-19

Public transportation buses continue to run in Juarez, but with heavy restrictions on occupancy and social distancing. (photo courtesy government of Chihuahua)

JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) — Transportation authorities have fined nearly 500 drivers in the past week for packing passengers into their buses despite occupancy limits to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Some of the drivers who were fined carried up 57 passengers in violation of the 30-passenger cap imposed this month, said Tania Amaya, director in Juarez of the Chihuahua state Transportation Department.

“If we see them carrying 32 or 33 passengers, we invite to observe (the rules),” Amaya said on Monday. “But if they have been warned before or have a large number of people inside, we escort the bus to another location, ask the people to get out and impound the unit in some cases.”

The restrictions, a steep drop in passenger volume and fines of up to US$400 prompted a protest Monday morning in south Juarez, with now-idle contracted public transportation workers driving a caravan of empty buses. In Juarez, private contractors are assigned public transportation routes by the government and provide their own buses and drivers.

“Their main concern is not having to pay fees, reopening the maquiladoras … nothing that the state government can do,” Amaya said. “The reopening of businesses is not up to us, the only thing we can do is invite them to observe (the rules).”

Juarez, which as of Monday reported 237 cases of COVID-19 including 52 fatalities, is struggling to convince its residents to observe social distancing, compulsory use of masks and stay-at-home orders. Many non-essential businesses remain open as well, despite being asked to shut down.

Traffic on city streets is down less than 50%, according to the latest mobility study, said Dr. Leticia Ruiz, head of preventive medicine in Juarez fo the Chihuahua Health Department.

“It’s necessary to make a greater effort to observe the (stay-at-home) recommendations before it is too late,” she said. “Remember that up to 30 percent (of the infected) are asymptomatic. None of us wants to end up on intensive care.”

But if many Juarez residents are out, including past 8 p.m. when the buses are supposed to stop running, it’s because their employers are still expecting them to show up to work, even if it’s non-essential work, some officials say.

“We’re asking employers to not keep their employees at work past 8 p.m. because buses must stop operating at 8 p.m.,” Amaya said.

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