In the absence of a modern, safe and reliable public transportation network, many people in Yerevan, especially those commuting from the outer suburbs, rely on private cars. There are 319,000 registered passenger cars in Yerevan for a population of a little over 1 million. This overreliance on cars has turned Yerevan into a city with constant traffic jams. In recent years the number of bicycles has also grown while more recently electric scooters have become trendy. All these different modes of transportation compete for limited space in a city designed during the Soviet Union, when people had to wait for years to receive cars. Yerevan’s road infrastructure has not changed much since the Soviet times, but the population has skyrocketed as has the number of vehicles.
Currently, the City of Yerevan is focused on reforming the public transportation system. The city’s public transportation system is serviced by buses, trolleybuses, minibuses and the metro, which has only one line and ten stops. While buses are relatively new, minibuses and trolleybuses are worn out and in need of replacement. Public transportation routes are operated by Yerevan Bus CJSC and 15 other private companies and thus far they have been in charge of investing in the maintenance of their respective bus fleets. The salary of the drivers is workplan-based, which means that every day they have to give a certain sum of money to the private company that employs them and keep the rest of the profit. There are many overlapping routes and bus and marshrutka (a Russian term which the locals use to refer to the minibuses) drivers compete to get to the bus stops first to take on more passengers, often resulting in careless driving. Buses are often overcrowded, the majority lack air conditioners and few operate after 10 p.m. As a business model, public transportation in Yerevan is not profitable and fares are subsidized by the municipality.
The planned reforms of Yerevan’s public transportation system were initiated in 2017. After the 2018 Velvet Revolution and the election of Hayk Marutyan as Yerevan’s mayor, the new city administration decided to continue with the reforms that their predecessors had initiated. The new reform package is being enacted in partnership with the Yerevan Bus company. Transforming transportation of a city with limited road infrastructure is no easy task. Moreover the pandemic, the 2020 Artsakh War and the local impacts stemming from the Russo-Ukrainian war has delayed international shipments and the arrival of the new buses that the Yerevan administration had ordered before the pandemic.
Despite the challenges, Yerevan’s current Mayor Hrachya Sargsyan promises that by the end of 2023, the reforms will be 70 percent complete and by 2025, Yerevan will have a fully updated public transport system. In addition to modernizing the bus fleet, the municipality also plans to update trolleybuses as well. A contract has already been signed to buy 15 trolleybuses and soon a tender will be announced to acquire another 15, making 30 of the current 51 trolleybuses brand new.
Along with acquiring approximately 850 new buses, the reform package also entails the introduction of a central electronic payment system for bus fares (to be installed in the new buses and minibuses), which will allow passengers to pay by transportation passes, bank cards including a special app, “if no major events like a global pandemic or a war like the 2020 Artsakh war do not hinder the reform process,” says Hayk Sargsyan, acting head of the Yerevan Municipality’s transportation department. The electronic payment system will be introduced within the coming 2-3 months. The system will first be piloted on a limited number of routes to check its functionality after which it will be introduced on all routes.
In 2019-2020, 100 Russian-made minibuses were purchased and in 2021 the first batch of 8 meter-long buses were ordered from a factory in China; 211 of these new buses arrived in Yerevan at the end of 2021 and by the end of January 2022 were already servicing Yerevan commuters. The reform package also entails the purchase of 18 meter-long buses.
Of those 211 buses, 206 comprise part of the main fleet and the remaining five will be added to the fleet on different routes based on need. Unlike with the previous system, drivers of the new buses will receive a fixed salary and will have health insurance and other benefits. A major change from the old system is that the bus fare will not be directly paid to the driver––the buses are equipped with bus fare boxes. The fare boxes placed in the buses accept only 100 dram coins––100 dram being the fare for one ride. Mayor Sargsyan said that the Central Bank of Armenia had informed them that there are enough 100 drams coins in circulation to allow passengers to pay their fares through this new payment system. The problem is that people often don’t have exactly 100 drams on them and they thus pay the driver directly with larger coins or banknotes. To solve this problem it was decided that the drivers will have a certain amount of petty cash to be able to give change.
While there are cameras in buses that monitor the intake of money, there have still been violations. As of August 2, 2022, 34 drivers (out 349) have been dismissed for appropriating money and 15 others have received a warning. According to Hayk Sargsyan, when the buses went into operation earlier this year they should have been equipped with electronic payment machines as well as fare boxes, however, the war in Ukraine and the pandemic delayed their introduction.
In any case, Sargsyan says that “the reforms are progressing smoothly and the process is still ongoing,” adding that tenders have already been announced to purchase another 150 8 meter-long buses and 80 12-meter long buses which are German made and will be in operation by the end of the year.
Currently, most passengers do not need to change buses for their commute, but with the new routes they will need to change buses at least once. Despite this extra step, the reforms will still shorten travel times. International best practice shows that an effective route network can be achieved with frequent changes of buses/transportation by passengers. The new network of buses is planned to have 845 instead of 1922 vehicles; 15 percent of those 845 buses will be back up vehicles, thus the network will be serviced by 733 buses. In addition to reducing the size of the fleet, the total network length will also be reduced from the current 3,961 km to 1,134 km as a result of excluding overlapping lanes. Although the total length of the network’s routes will be reduced, the number of bus stops are set to increase and as the buses will run according to a fixed schedule, there will not be a slowdown of traffic.
Another improvement in the public transport infrastructure will be the introduction of electronic timetables at bus stops. In 2013, electronic timetables were installed at 19 Yerevan bus stops and GPS systems installed in over 200 buses, but the system never functioned properly and went out of use after a short period. According to Hayk Sargsyan, the old timetables will probably be used, if the new software for the timetables can be incorporated into them.
The GPS tracking system will also help monitor delays in bus arrivals and will also monitor why buses are delayed and if there is a need to change the traffic flow on certain routes. There will also be cameras to monitor if buses stop at the designated bus stop or further in traffic in the next lane. All this will allow for a better understanding of what needs to be done to avoid delays.
The reform package also entails designating a separate bus lane where possible, mostly on main arteries such as Arshakunyants or Sebastia avenues. Currently the municipality is cooperating with the police on separate bus lane plans.
Yerevan’s public transportation will be monitored from a central administrative center which is currently being constructed. According to Mayor Sargsyan, this center, the electronic payment and GPS systems will be introduced together as a package. The buses also need service centers, the construction of which will begin in September 2022.
Mayor Sargsyan also says that currently there are no plans to increase the bus fare, even as there was speculation about this when the reforms package was being initiated and adds that it may still happen in the future, as the system cannot be sustained at 100 dram per ride.
The increasing reliance on private cars has also slowed the introduction of a reformed transportation system. The world is moving towards reducing the number of cars to make cities more livable and reduce the impact of climate change. In some cities this is being done by imposing high parking fees (in the Netherlands the annual residential parking cost can reach 1,000 euros), others apply congestion charges (in London the daily cost of driving through a Congestion Charge zone is 15 pounds, about $18 US). In Armenia, the annual parking fee for designated parking areas in the city is AMD 12,000, or less than $30 a year. Yerevan authorities hope that by providing a modern and efficient public transportation system, the number of passenger cars will be reduced in Yerevan. Sargsyan says “we are aware of international models designed for reducing car numbers in cities, but we decided that if we offer a good public transport system, our residents will leave their cars at home for everyday commute.”
There are no laws regulating bicycle and scooter traffic and they have no designated lanes. There have been over 40 scooter accidents as of June this year alone. Sargsyan says that the municipality and police are currently in talks to address this, but he did not confirm whether there will be separate lanes. He did say that a solution will be provided. The police has already prepared a draft bill regulating bicycles, scooter and other small electric or mechanical vehicles, which lays out regulations for minimum age requirements, as well as designating special lanes. The draft bill also entails a 5,000 dram fine for violating these regulations. The bill must be adopted by the government of Armenia and the parliament before it can be enforced.
At this stage it seems like the only part of the reform package that has been completed was the purchase of the over 300 buses; so far there is no universal electronic payment system, no oversight and service centers and no timetables announcing the arrival of the buses. While these are the priority issues that the municipality intends to solve in the coming 2-3 years, adding a separate lane for the buses will take longer. I
Gössling, Stefan. 2020. “Why Cities Need to Take Road Space from Cars – and How this Could Be Done” Journal of Urban Design, 443-448.
The first in a series of articles about the challenges facing Armenia’s capital city, Yerevan, examines the issues of urban planning and development.Read more
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