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05.08.11 - 11.08.11

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Marshrutkas in Tbilisi: Better service, higher price

Price rise entails discontent among low-income commuters

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An increase in the capital’s marshrutkas (minibuses) commuting cost has sparked contrasting reactions in Tbilisi. While some welcome the arrival of comfortable and clean transport, many complain about the rise in price- especially on those minibuses, which only offer increased cost, not improved service.

The commuting cost on minibuses increased in Tbilisi after brand new yellow minibuses appeared in the city on July 15. This fee for ridership increased to 80 tetri, which is 30 tetri more than the previous cost. Up until now, the previous price of 50 tetri had remained unchanged for the past decade.

Following the lead of their colleagues, drivers of old marshrutkas – most of them having cranky chairs, no window regulators, curtains or air-conditioning– also increased their price to 80, 70, or 60 tetri, depending on the length of their route.

The yellow minibuses have been manufactured this year by Ford. They are equipped with air conditioning as well as payment apparatuses. Apart from cash payments, the new marshrutkas also allow commuters to use the passenger cards issued by the municipal government, which have up until now, only been valid on municipal buses.

Many Tbilisi residents with high enough salaries to afford the increased price are happy at the “new” transportation accommodations. “I have traveled to my office in a new yellow minibus paying 80 tetri and I am absolutely happy!” Natia Dzneladze, a PR specialist, commented. “I did not have to take a taxi – my usual transport - and thus saved 3 lari.”

However, for many lower-income people, paying 80 tetri is “too much.”

Pikria Gurashvili, another Tbilisi resident, said that following the price rise, she and her children would need about 5 lari every day for getting around town. This equals to about 150-200 lari per month and Pikria thinks “it’s too high.”

“In summer, people can’t fully feel the burden of the increased price, but after the study period begins at schools and universities, people need transportation regularly and they will not be able to get around,” Gurashvili added.

The new minibuses are managed by Tbilisi Minibuses, a local transport company controlling the operation of those four companies which won the contest announced by Tbilisi City Hall in 2010 to provide marshrutka service in the capital.

Tbilisi Minibuses in particular, have taken on the task of changing all the old minibuses in Tbilisi by January 2012. At the moment 253 mini-buses commuting on the routes - 4, 17, 30, 100 and 135 have appeared. By the beginning of 2012 it is expected that 3,084 new minibuses will be commuting in total in Tbilisi.

Why the increase?

Some Tbilisi residents unhappy with the price increase, created a page entitled ‘Int Protest’ on the social network Facebook to organize rallies demanding the previous commuting cost to be returned its original price. According to this page, if people don’t protest, the price of buses and metros will be increased in September as well, making their lives harder. Currently the travel price for metro and buses is 40 tetri and 50 tetri, respectively, and travel cards offer some discounts.

Tbilisi Minibuses says that discount plastic cards will be available for marshrutkas as well – allowing second travel for 65 tetri.

But it appears that even this price may not be affordable, as many people refused to travel in new yellow minibuses. Some have speculated that city officials and the Tbilisi Minibuses Co. have conspired to force the old marshrutka drivers to increase their travel costs to maintain the number of passengers on the yellow minibuses.

Teona Nioradze, the Head of the Press Office at Tbilisi Minibus Company, has denied such accusations, saying to journalists that “no one has forced the drivers to increase the travel fee.”

The Tbilisi City Hall’s announcement suggested: “City Hall has no authority to interfere with the tariff policy of marshrutkas, as the services is provided by private companies. We are only in charge of creating a competitive environment within the municipal transportation circles.”

Akaki Jokhadze, Head of the Municipal Transport Department, has given his recommendation to representatives of Tbilisi Minibuses to keep the old price.

For their part, the drivers explained that they had to increase the price of minibuses because the fuel costs are so high.

“We need car parts such as wheels etc., in addition to fuel, and parking service fee and 50 tetri can’t cover everything,” Otar Tsigriashvili, driver of minibus # 85 told Georgia Today. According to him, the number of passengers has remained the same since the price increase.

“When we explain to people why we increase the price they understand us,” Tsigriashvili added.

Khatia Kujiashvili, a Tbilisi resident who needs to use two marshrutkas to get to the office, thinks differently, however. “What is the use of comfortable [minibuses] if I am unable to pay,” she asked.

Another commuter, Tamar Iashvili complained “If I get better service, it’s still ok to pay 80 tetri, but every day I have to use the #149 marshrutka which has no movable windows or air conditioning, its seats are damaged and I still pay 80 tetri. So I look forward to seeing a yellow minibus on this route.”

By Nino Gelashvili

4.08.2011

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