Most of about 250 commuter buses donated by China to Armenia early this year are still standing idle because of what municipal authorities in Yerevan described on Monday as a shortage of qualified drivers.
The brand new buses were unveiled in Yerevan’s main Republic Square in late March during a high-profile ceremony attended by President Serzh Sarkisian. The Chinese government donation was touted then as a major boost to a modernization of the city’s public transportation system promised by the municipal administration.
The network is currently dominated by some 2,000 mostly privately owned minibuses. They are notorious for being overcrowded and contributing to traffic congestion.
Yerevan Mayor Taron Markarian announced in March that the number of the minibuses will be cut by nearly half before the end of November, in time for the planned delivery of another 350 buses.
The plan’s implementation now seems in doubt as only about 100 of the Chinese-manufactured buses are currently operating in the Armenian capital. According to Henrik Navasardian, head of the public transportation department at the Yerevan Mayor’s Office, another 14 buses will go into service next month.
“The problem is that we have not hired drivers for all the vehicles,” Navasardian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “There is strong demand for drivers.”
“We have been posting job announcements since March and still waiting for applications,” he said.
The salary of roughly 80,000 drams ($192) a month is hardly enticing for prospective applicants even in an unemployment-stricken country like Armenia. The country’s average monthly wage currently stands at around 120,000 drams, according to official statistics.
“It’s more beneficial to drive a minibus than a bus,” one minibus driver told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
But one of his middle-aged colleagues disagreed. “Neither is beneficial,” he said. “We drive for 12-14 hours a day.” Neither man agreed to disclose his monthly income.
Navasardian insisted that the main reason for the lack of job applications is that driving a bus is more difficult than a minibus or a taxi. He argued that bus drivers, who collect fares at the wheel, are also able to earn additional revenue.