By Atom Markarian
Yerevan’s public transportation system was in disarray for the second consecutive day on Wednesday amid continuing shortages of liquefied natural gas -- the fuel used by hundreds of commuter minibuses.
The crisis was caused by last week’s serious accidents on two key pipelines carrying Russian gas to Georgia and Armenia. The disruptions reported in the Russian North Caucasus, near the Georgian border, have resulted in renewed power shortages in Georgia.
The reactivation on Tuesday of the Metsamor nuclear power plant appears to have staved off a similar energy crisis in Armenia. Still, the temporary cut-off in Russian gas supplies has hit hard the local transport network. Scores of Yerevan residents have been forced to spend hours getting around the city, overcrowding the main bus stops.
Over 2,000 mainly old minibuses servicing 70 different routes are the principal means of public transportation in the capital. With engines converted to use the cheaper natural gas, most of them have been left scrambling for fuel and stood idle in recent days. Officials said only about half of them were on duty throughout Wednesday.
According to Areg Barseghian, chief of the transport department in the Yerevan municipality, the authorities are now trying to have van owners revert to petrol which is not in short supply in Armenia. He said they have also increased the number of municipal trams and trolley-buses.
It is still not clear when the gas link with Russia will be restored. Reuters news agency quoted a Georgian Energy Ministry spokeswoman as saying on Tuesday that “the problem will be solved in three to four days.”