Yerevan’s municipal administration announced on Friday that it plans to replace hundreds of battered minibuses by modern buses next year as part of a radical overhaul of the city’s outdated public transport system.
Ever since the mid-1990s, the system has been dominated by minibuses belonging to private companies, many of them owned by government-linked individuals or even government officials themselves. Few of them have invested in their fleet of aging vehicles in the past decade. The minibuses as well as a smaller number of buses provided by the municipality have become even more overcrowded as a result.
A European consulting firm was hired by the Yerevan municipality late last year to look into the troubled network and come up with detailed recommendations on how to revamp it. Mayor Taron Markarian mentioned that when he pledged to “sort out municipal transport” during his reelection campaign in April.
One of Markarian’s deputies, Vahe Nikoyan, said the new centralized and “optimal” network to be introduced by the end of 2018 will be made up of only medium-sized and large public buses.
“One thing is clear: we know what we don’t want to have in the reformed transport system,” Nikoyan told a news conference. “We don’t want to have [minibus] route owners and [overcrowded Russian-made] Gazel minibuses which force commuter to bend over and whose exploitation creates many problems. Nor do we want to have citizens waiting at bus stops for too long.”
Nikoyan said the long-awaited change will require as much as $100 million in investments, a sum equivalent to almost 57 percent of the entire municipal budget projected for this year. In his words, the municipal authorities hope to attract a “foreign investor” that would run the new network and foot the bill.
“It’s possible that there will no such investor in the transport system,” the vice-mayor went on. “In that case, we will have to make those investments. We have already held negotiations on the issue with international financial organizations.”
One of them, the European Investment Bank, which is the European Union’s nonprofit lending arm, has already expressed readiness to extend a major loan to Yerevan for the reform, said Nikoyan.
The official also insisted that the authorities will do their best to ensure that the reform does not result in higher transport fees. “In an optimal [transport] network, we expect to have a substantially smaller number of vehicles, which will partly or fully make up for the cost of the reform,” he said.
Markarian’s administration sparked angry protests in 2013 when it raised those fees by at least 50 percent, citing mounting losses incurred by minibus operators. It scrapped the highly unpopular measure amid an unprecedented campaign of civil disobedience led by young activists.