Yerevantsis Mobilize Against Price Hikes in Public Transport

YEREVAN, Armenia (A.W.)—The government’s decision to increase prices for public transport entered into force on July 20. Commuters using mini-buses (marshootkas) and buses saw fares increase by over 30 percent, from 100 to 150 drams (25 to 40 cents). Meanwhile, the fare for trollies doubled in price, from 50 to 100 drams. The decision was met with outrage from the public, and the reasons were manifold.

The protests against bus fare hikes in Yerevan gain momentum. "We won't pay 150 drams!" (Photo by Nayiry Ghazarian, The Armenian Weekly)
The protests against bus fare hikes in Yerevan gain momentum. “We won’t pay 150 drams!” (Photo by Nayiry Ghazarian, The Armenian Weekly)

The public is unwilling to accept any increase in prices due to the staggeringly low minimum monthly wage for one person (35,000 drams, or approximately $85), coupled with high levels of unemployment, and other economic concerns.

Second, there is a lack of any apparent justification for the decision. The main reason is said to be the rise in natural gas prices (natural gas is used as fuel for public transportation in Armenia), and the expenses attributed to the technical maintenance of vehicles and the new assessed cost per passenger, published by the Yerevan Mayor’s Office. According to this document, the price for one marshootka passenger is 144.3 drams, and 157.3 dram for buses.

An activist decries those who sheepishly pay 150 drams. (Photo by Nayiry Ghazarian, The Armenian Weekly)
An activist decries those who sheepishly pay 150 drams. (Photo by Nayiry Ghazarian, The Armenian Weekly)

Dissatisfaction with the findings of the report have led to a separate, third-party analysis, which found that the real price for one marshootka passenger is 94.2 drams (including a five percent profit), and 118.5 drams for buses.
On July 19, a group of protesters gathered in front of Yerevan Mayor Taron Margaryan’s Office and, in the presence of numerous policemen who outnumbered the protesters, held an unofficial meeting with the Mayor’s Office representative. The demonstrators attempted to present the results of the alternative report, but the meeting resulted in nothing more than each side reinforcing its own position.

The level of dissent seemed to increase immediately thereafter. Many now believe that the new prices are not the result of natural gas prices or technical maintenance; rather, they say, it is because the transport lines are reportedly co-owned by Mayor Margaryan and other politicians and oligarchs, and that they are the ones who made—and will profit from—the decision.

The situation is getting tense. Yet, there are several reasons why this newly emerging movement in Yerevan has already been beneficial for society:

  1. The protests have drawn mostly young people—students, NGO activists, civil society groups, etc.—who tend to be more determined and, in a positive sense, more aggressive and demanding.
  2. There is also an accompanying sense of community. This has come about through social media websites like Facebook and Twitter. In a very short period of time, several groups and events have been created as tools to bring people together and maximize organizing as a community. The Twitter/Facebook hashtag #չեմվճարելու150դրամ (“I will not pay 150 dram”) is quite popular now.
  3. The activists are committed. Several groups are working to raise awareness by hanging leaflets and posting caricatures of Mayor Margaryan on buses and bus stops. The numbers of such groups is rising. Police have detained a handful of protesters engaged in such actions.
  4. The drivers are not identified as the enemy. Despite initial concerns that drivers would confront passengers unwilling to pay the new prices, it turns out that often they not only object to the old prices, but in some cases even encourage people to pay the old fares. Some drivers have even gone on strike, declaring that they too are against the new prices and do not want any conflicts with passengers.
  5. The protest against the new prices has led to citizens raising other concerns regarding the system of public transportation in Yerevan. They are now demanding that authorities provide more vehicles to reduce the number of overcrowded mini-buses and buses; develop a new payment system; provide discounts for students and other special groups; ensure that people with disabilities can take full advantage of public transport; control the length of driving shifts to avoid drivers being overworked; get rid of the hand-to-hand paying system; take steps toward eliminating private ownership of public transportation; and hold the Mayor’s office responsible.
  6. Almost every Armenian news source has published articles regarding this case, and the level of coverage has been positive overall.

In the current stage, it is difficult to know which of these factors will play the largest role, or whether they will have any impact at all. There is also the possibility that the authorities will not react to these developments, remaining indifferent until the movement exhausts itself. Time will tell how this case develops; what’s most important, however, is that such movements have a cumulative, positive impact in the development of a demanding, self-reliant, and strong civil society.

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Samson Martirosyan

Samson Martirosyan is The Armenian Weekly's correspondent in Gyumri. He received his B.A. in international affairs from the Russian-Armenian (Slavonic) University in Yerevan. A resident of Gyumri, Martirosyan has interned at the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan and has volunteered his time with various organizations. He is currently a Board member of the European Youth Parliament of Armenia.

10 Comments

  1. The increase is %50 which is too high and unnecessary. These oligarchs are treating our people like their slaves. They can not do whatever they want.We need to support the people who are fighting for their rights. I think diaspora is so indifferent about these matters. We need to find a way to help them.

  2. As I member of the diaspora who is in Armenia and is active in the movement against price hikes, the diaspora is not totally indifferent. That said, I encourage the participants of the games to join this movement and unite with their brethren

  3. Since when has Yerevan a blind Mayor ? He mentioned the maintenance of maashrootkas. Maybe these cars where the last time maintained
    years ago,
    while still driving in Russia. Second an overcrowded car like this is
    animal transportation. In ALL European countries vehicles like this would be taken out of service immediately. Three quarter of them are
    totally unsafe. A person risking to use such a car should GET money instead of paying for risking his life!!

  4. The fact that authorities are responding to people’s demands indicates they are open to people’s demands, and dare I say, the system is open and democratic.

    Both the state and the protestors (the citizens) have to learn how to work together. The state has to remain open to reasonable demands of its citizens and modify its ways. And the citizens have to make reasonable, rational demands based on objective reality of economics of running a big city.

    • Dictators make small concessions to the subject people in order to pacify them and keep their power. Responding to people’s demands is not a sign of democracy, people’s ability to change the government is. The fact that the same Serzh-Robert clan and the same party has been ruling Armenia for 15 years is a good sign that there is no democracy. And people know this, as as long as they feel left out, they will not be satisfied with small concessions.

    • The fact that the same Republicrat/Demopublican clan has been ruling United States for decades is a good sign there is no democracy.
      .
      Democracy is 7 candidates running for the office of President in RoA Presidential elections in 2013.
      The same two Republicrat/Demopublican candidates perennially running for the office of POTUS is a good sign there is no democracy.

    • Armenians of Armenia would dream about having a choice between two parties, such as the Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Instead, for the past 15 years, they have had two presidents, the first choosing the second as his successor, both supported by the same Republican party. Obama was not chosen as Bush’s successor, nor did the same party support both. You may find flaws with the two-party system, but Armenians would much rather have that instead.

      In the U.S., one party does not control all branches of government. Democrats control the presidency, Republicans control the House, and Democrats control the Senate. During Bush’s last years, Democrats controlled the Congress, and the Republicans the executive. Armenians would dream to have that kind of separation of powers. Instead, they have had the same party and its supported officials heading the legislature, the government, and the presidency for 13-15 years, with the National Assembly being a toy at the hands of the President. That’s a sign of a semi-authoritarian state, as Armenia is rightfully known. And people feel this, which is why they leave the country.

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