Traffic Jam: Consumer agency says minibus bus monopoly part of uncivilized for public transport

Lilit Martirosyan, 20, has to take a minivan (commonly known by its Russian name "marshrutka") to go to university every day. Although she leaves home in the afternoon, she almost never sits while travelling.

“Even if you take a seat, right on the next stop somebody’s back will hang onto your face,” says Lilit, “Marshrutkas are a real trial for somebody’s nerves, let alone being risky for human life.”

Minivans - the main means of public transport in Yerevan - are not designed for standing passengers and therefore taking extra passengers is finable by Armenian laws.

“Two years ago the drivers would fear to take an extra passenger,” says Nune Harutiunyan, 44, “Today you would often hear driver’s request to the standing passenger to make a room for new ones. If one tries to object he may get kicked off the car.”

Traveling like a “chess horse” is the least disaster, as compared with other shortcomings that this type of public transport has in Yerevan.

However, despite a lot of frustrating shortcomings many choose minivans for their daily travels simply because they have no other choice.

“There is no room in the minivan for you if you are taller than 1.60 meters or if you weigh more than 65 kilos,” says Nune, “The other day I lost three of my buttons trying to get into the seat. And if you have a chance to sit in the back, you always sit on a gas balloon.”

“You may get choked in a car with closed windows by cigarette smoke of the driver,” adds Lilit, ”You hope it will soon end, but the driver lights up the next cig right after he finishes one. Should I say about black curtains unbearable especially on a hot sunny day?”

According to the data provided by the Transportation Department of the Yerevan Mayoralty, minivans occupy 85% (around 2300-2350) of the whole public transport in the capital (buses make only 5%, trolley-buses – 2%, and metro - 8%).

“Our government moves in the opposite way of civilization in terms of public transport,” says head of “Consumers Association” Armen Poghosyan. “The international experience shows that for big cities large-scale vehicles are more practical, ecologically more feasible than smaller ones. We got rid of trams in Yerevan, the business of metro and trolley-busses today are in agony, whereas in European cities electric vehicles are the main means of transportation.”

Based on the results of the survey of public transport correlation conducted by “Consumers Association” in 2005, Poghosyan assures that marshrutkas occupy 98% of transport business in the city. Buses and trolley buses practically disappear in the evenings.

Poghosyan believes that the situation was created artificially by a powerful group of individuals to serve their own needs. Running a marshrutka business is more profitable than a bus business, the outcome of which does not promise much. The travel cost by minivans is higher – 100 dram (22 cents) than by other means. Buses cost 11-22 cents. Trolley buses cost about a dime.

From the YM Transportation Department it was informed that bus and trolley-bus routes today are partially exploited because of a lack of vehicles, and the general disrepair.

The municipality says bus service discontinues in the evening, due to low demand. Poghosyan, however, believes that this is due to intimidation on behalf of minivan route-owners.

“Starting a bus business may be risky, but we have a government that must think of boosting it through subsidies and not escaping the problem by referring to ‘market needs’.”

Meanwhile, Yerevan Municipality assures that positive changes in terms of public transport are under way. The issue has been included as part of a city project expected to be finished by 2020. Among the important changes will be decreasing the volume of transportation by minivans and increasing that of metros, buses and trolleys. Minivans will occupy only 19%, whereas buses will be 45%, trolleys – 24.1% and the metro – 11.9% of the whole city transportation. However, as the Department of Transportation assures, those figures are 15 years away while the traffic needs are already real.

Still some changes will be evident soon. Already, 50 Russian-made buses are on the streets since Monday, and another 150 city buses of different sizes will be purchased, and within the next two years 900 bus stop signs will be installed throughout the city, some furnished with weather protection and benches. Other positive changes are to come from two new laws. The new law on road traffic safety adopted three months ago contains stricter rules for vehicle and driver licensing for public transport. Public transport drivers’ smoking will be banned by another law on motor vehicles, which already passed first reading in the Parliament.

However, Poghosyan believes that new laws will add little to the existing reality with unpunished mass violations.

“We already had laws, which remained on paper. Who fines marshrutka drivers for taking extra passengers today? If it is done, it is done sporadically. I do not believe a miracle will happen with the new laws.”