For years, motorcyclists and bus drivers fell victim to gang members in El Salvador, which caused an increase in insecurity and problems for public transport users. But thanks to a government security strategy, these problems are now a thing of the past. The new approach has eliminated the millions of dollars that transporters paid to gangs as extortion fees, which will have a positive impact on transport operations and the lives of the people. The common news was “Motorist of public transportation murdered, and the route suspends service for fear of more attacks, affecting hundreds of users.” This situation left Salvadorans with mobility problems and unable to reach their destinations.
The attacks on public transportation were characterized by armed assaults on the units, with passengers often injured, or even losing their lives. The reason for these attacks was the non-payment of extortion fees to the gangs, which, according to transporters’ estimates, amounted to $19 million per year. For more than 30 years, the gangs made public transportation one of their main sources of income to finance their criminal activities, and they operated with total impunity under the watch of corrupt governments from the ARENA and FMLN parties that never resolved the issue.
Additionally, between 2004 and mid-2019, 2,452 people linked to public transportation, including bus and microbus drivers from various routes, ticket collectors, dispatchers, and entrepreneurs, were murdered in gang attacks, according to data from the National Transportation Bureau released in August 2022.
During an interview with El Salvador Daily, Luis Regalado, a spokesman for the National Transportation Bureau, provided an update on the current security situation and the government’s implementation of its strategies, such as the exception regime, to combat gangs.
“As a transportation sector, we are grateful to God and secondly, we thank the president (Nayib Bukele) for making this decision (…) We know that any change comes with action, and many might have viewed it as heavy, but we can all perceive the results as Salvadoran citizens because we are experiencing a different kind of tranquility,” he said.
Thanks to the security plans, routes such as the 41-B in Soyapango have resumed operations in areas such as Monte Blanco, where they previously avoided due to gang-related safety concerns. Passengers no longer have to worry about being robbed every time they take out their cellphones while on public transportation. Users travel without fear, and it is clear that the majority of them do so without concern.
Regalado stated that they maintain close communication with motorcyclists, and in case of any inconvenience or criminal activity, it is reported immediately. He added that “there has been a significant drop in criminal activity within the public transportation units. Although some incidents have occurred sporadically during the night, during the rest of the day, the number of comments about incidents of assault or theft has been minimal.”
Regarding the attacks, the businessman said that they had records of an attack over a year ago, but the National Civil Police (PNC) acted promptly to identify and capture the perpetrators. He believes that the quick response led to a reduction in impunity in these incidents.
Regalado praised the government’s decision to deploy police and military personnel to patrol public transportation units as a crime prevention measure. “Seeing a uniformed person providing security generates trust in users, motorists, and the population in general. Everyone would like to see them at all times in different areas because it generates confidence without fear of becoming victims,” he said.