By Ruzanna Stepanian
Municipal authorities defended a 30 percent increase in the key public transportation fare in Yerevan which took effect on Wednesday and appeared to cause widespread discontent among commuters.
A ride on a privately-owned minibus, the principal means of transportation in the Armenian capital, will now cost 130 drams (30 U.S. cents). The decision to raise it from 100 drams, taken by Mayor Yervand Zakharian on Tuesday, was expected for the last few weeks.
“To be honest, the measure was long overdue. We didn’t resort to it in view of the people’s living conditions,” Vrezh Asatrian, a senior official at the Transport Department of the Yerevan municipality, told RFE/RL.
Asatrian claimed that the tariff hike was requested by over 50 private firms that operate minibus lines across the city of one million. “They argued that the prices of fuel, spare parts and bus repair have gone up,” he said. “Their concerns are justified.”
However, minibus drivers disputed the claim, saying that the higher fare could mean fewer passengers and reduce their revenues. “There is no way the route operators could do that,” said one of them. “It’s the municipality that took such a decision.”
Citing municipality officials, Armenian newspapers reported earlier that the price rise will be primarily aimed at boosting the revenues of state-owned buses that find it difficult to compete with private carriers. Most of those buses were purchased from Belarus last year with a loan borrowed by the Armenian government from the Russian-based Interstate Bank of the Commonwealth of Independent States.
The smallish buses were never likely to be cost-effective and the city authorities have trouble repaying the loan. A top executive of a state-run company operating them was fired recently for failing to generate enough revenues. But Asatrian denied any connection between this and the fare increase.
Critics say that instead of raising fares the authorities should have limited the disproportionately large number of the mostly old minibuses that only aggravate the city’s chaotic traffic. The minibus business is highly lucrative and is mostly controlled by government-connected individuals.