Dozens of minibus drivers in Yerevan went on strike on Wednesday to protest against a more than 20 percent surge in the price of liquefied natural gas used by their privately owned vehicles.
Gas stations in and outside the Armenian capital raised the price last week, citing the depreciation of the national currency, the dram. Their managers claim privately that the wholesale gas price is set for them by the Gazprom Armenia operator in U.S. dollars, meaning that its dram equivalent had to be revised upwards.
The retail gas prices in Armenia are officially set only in drams. Gazprom Armenia has so far not attempted to raise them because of the sharp weakening of the dram.
The protesting drivers, who pay for the gas with proceeds from minibus fares collected by them, said that they are now barely able to meet daily revenue targets set by their private employers. Dozens of them parked their empty minibuses on a street in Yerevan, demanding a meeting with government officials.
“I can’t drive anymore,” said one of them. “Why should I do that after gas has become more expensive? When I go home my kid asks, ‘Dad, have you brought food?’ I say, ‘No, my dear, I don’t have money.’”
“I haven’t worked for a week because of the gas price rise,” another driver told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Henrik Navasardian, the head of the Yerevan municipality’s public transport department, met with the protesters and urged them to resume their work until “we see what happens to the gas price.” “We have nothing to do with the gas price,” he told them. “We need to raise the issue with higher echelons to see what can be done about this issue.”
Navasardian said that he will discuss the matter with the owners of private firms operating dozens of minibus routes across the city. The drivers remained unconvinced, however. “We work at a loss. Can you understand that?” one of them told the official.
The Yerevan Mayor’s Office reported later in the day, the strike is over for now.
Even before the gas price hike, the minibus owners were pressing the municipality to allow them to raise fares that have not changed since the late 1990s. They said that they are operating at a loss. “We now can’t pay state duties,” one route manager said on Wednesday.
The municipal authorities sanctioned a 50 percent fare hike last year only to reverse that decision in the face of angry protests staged by mostly young Armenians.