About 200 taxi drivers used their cars to block National Route 4 in Kandal province’s Ang Snuol district and Sihanoukville’s Prey Nop district on Monday morning to protest the introduction of tolls on vehicles traveling between Phnom Penh and the port town, drivers and police officials said.
Riot police and military police forces were deployed to clear the blockade, held to protest the first day of AZ Investment Co Ltd’s toll charges on all four-wheel vehicles traveling on Route 4.
Though no violence was reported, the taxi drivers blocked traffic for up to one hour in Ang Snuol district and for some 30 minutes in Prey Nop, leading to lengthy traffic jams on the busy highway.
“We want the company to stop charging us,” Chan Thun, representative of the protesting cab drivers, said by telephone from AZ’s tollbooths in Ang Snuol district where the protesters converged.
“Now there are a lot of taxi drivers, and the price of gasoline is very expensive so we cannot afford to pay the company,” he said. “We cannot work to just feed the company.”
Protesters plan to escalate the demonstration this morning by burning car tires and torching an old vehicle in front of the toll booths, Chan Thun added.
Starting Monday, taxis and private passenger vehicles were required to pay AZ Investment $1.40; mini-buses and buses $2 and $2.50; trucks under 6 tons between $1.50 and $2.50; while large container trucks were already charged $18 to use the Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville route.
AZ Investment, which secured the 35-year concession to operate tolls on the US-built National Route 4, is chaired by CPP parliamentarian for Takeo province, Ung Bun Hauv.
Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay has blasted the concession as a sweet government deal awarded to AZ Investment without a competitive bidding process.
More than 100 military police, intervention unit police and two fire trucks were deployed on Monday morning to disperse the protesters, said Ang Snuol district police Chief Kem Sokun, adding that an larger force will be on standby this morning.
“We have enough equipment to confiscate their taxis,” Kem Sokun warned.
Sihanoukville police Deputy Chief So Bannoeun said traffic was blocked for around half-an-hour before the demonstration ended.
Chuon Van Dorn, general manager of AZ’s toll road operation, said Monday that dropping the vehicle fees was impossible as the company was licensed by the government to levy charges.
“This is an investment, the request to not charge money is impossible,” he said.
However, he said, the company may consider reducing the charge for taxi drivers who travel from Phnom Penh to Kompong Speu province, and not all the way to Sihanoukville.
Currently, some vehicle owners who live in Kompong Speu and travel to work in Phnom Penh are not charged, he added.
Commenting on the possibility of further protests, Chuon Van Dorn said the company was not concerned.
“Cambodian people are not used to paying the fees, but tomorrow it will be better and [the next day] better,” he said.