The city of Madrid has stopped looking the other way when cars carrying high-ranking officials violate traffic regulations in plain view. Instead, it has notably increased the number of fines it is handing out to drivers caught speeding, double parking, using bus lanes or driving in areas restricted for the use of local residents.
In September the state agency that runs the official vehicle service, Parque Móvil del Estado, received 30 fines in just one week.
Chauffeurs are complaining that they are forced to pay the fines out of their own pockets and that their bosses often pressure them into ignoring the rules of the road.
Now, more than 200 of the agency’s 700 drivers have signed a document protesting the situation.
“Often the user of the official vehicle urges [the driver] to violate one of those rules to gain an advantage in terms of speed, comfort or out of the simple desire to do so,” they say.
In September the state agency that runs the official vehicle service received 30 fines in just one week
Chauffeurs admit that they tend to accept this abuse of power. “The money we earn largely depends on whether we accept the requests, official or not, from our vehicle users, who thus become our bosses.”
Part of a driver’s salary comes from bonuses received for working flexible schedules and for chauffeuring high-ranking officials such as state secretaries, ministers and magistrates.
In their letter, which is not co-signed by any unions, chauffeurs urge their agency to “inform or reiterate to the users of official vehicles” that not only are they not exempt from following traffic regulations, but also that they are bound to follow them faithfully.
Faced with the choice of “paying fines or giving up a level of productivity,” the drivers are also requesting that Parque Móvil del Estado create an administrative channel to let them “report the abuse and pressure [...] without damaging our salary, professionalism or dignity.” They also point out that the system would work both ways and allow vehicle users to complain about drivers who fail to do their jobs properly.
The complaint demonstrates the lack of a dedicated communication channel that would allow drivers and management to tackle the issue. At a recent press conference, Parque Móvil director Miguel Ángel Cepeda said management was aware some vehicles had been put to improper use, although he would not go into details. “It is not generalized,” he said.
Over 200 of the agency’s 700 drivers have signed a document protesting the situation
What is is shocking is that Cepeda should deny that there has been an increase in traffic fines – something he did on two occasions. An internal document dated January 27 and signed by a deputy confirms “an increase in sanctions by the City of Madrid, […] especially those caught by speed cameras, and reminds chauffeurs that their job is to observe road regulations.”
But staff sources said they were very aware of the traffic code, having had to pass “stringent tests” to get their jobs. They insist the problem has nothing to do with their driving abilities but with the attitudes of the officials they chauffeur around.
Parque Móvil del Estado has 62 luxury vehicles at the service of the government and the state, including eight for the royal family. An austerity plan introduced in 2010 reserves this privilege for ministers, state secretaries and deputy secretaries, the speakers and deputy speakers of Congress and the Senate, the secretaries of the congressional and senatorial management committees, the Ombudsman and the president and members of the Constitutional Court, the General Council of the Judiciary and the Audit Court.
Sources told EL PAÍS about a few cases of high-ranking officials who use the service for private trips or ask the drivers to run errands for them.