Several dozen drivers of minibuses in Yerevan went on strike on Tuesday to protest against a sizable increase in fuel prices that has cut their incomes.
The prices of gasoline, diesel fuel and liquefied natural gas, which is used by virtually all buses and minibuses in Armenia, went up on January 1 following the entry into force of higher excise duties on fuel set by a new national Tax Code. The gas price rise was particularly sharp, exceeding 16 percent.
Yerevan’s public transport system is dominated by minibuses belonging to private firms. Drivers working for them collect fares and pay their employees fixed amounts of money on a daily basis.
Despite the price hike, the minibus fares set by the municipal administration remained unchanged at 100 drams (21 U.S. cents) per ride, translating into less revenue for the already underpaid drivers.
“Let them cut the gas price so that we can keep working,” said one of the protesting drivers that gathered on a street.
“If you go to work but earn nothing will you turn up for work the next day?” complained another driver.
Senior municipality officials met the protesters and urged them to end the strike. Alik Gevorgian, an aide to Yerevan Mayor Taron Markarian, said while the municipality cannot cut the fuel price it will try to get the minibus firms to ensure that the drivers do not end up earning less.
“We will sort out all issues with your operators in an organized way,” said Gevorgian. “Everything will be fine.”
The drivers responded to these assurances with skepticism. Still, they agreed to end the strike shortly afterwards, while warning of more such protests if their demands are not met.
The municipality has pledged to embark by the end of this year on a radical overhaul of the city’s outdated transport system. The battered and overcrowded minibuses are to be replaced by a centralized transport network consisting only of large and medium-sized buses. Deputy Mayor Vahe Nikoyan said in August that the municipal authorities hope to attract a “foreign investor” that would run the network.