Thousands of activists celebrate victory across the capital
YEREVAN (A.W.)—Yerevan Mayor Taron Margaryan suspended the decision to raise transportation fares in a statement publicized on July 25.
However, Margaryan insisted that the rise in prices was a must to ensure a safe transportation system, something that would be “impossible” to do with the current rate of 100 drams. He emphasized that “there is no alternative.”
The Mayor’s office had announced the decision to increase prices for public transport on June 20, which was followed by protest actions throughout the capital. Commuters saw fares increase by over 50 percent for mini-buses (marshootkas) and buses (from 100 to 150 drams, or 25 to 40 cents). Meanwhile, the fare for trollies doubled, from 50 to 100 drams.
Margaryan said the decision was a difficult one. “From the day I assumed the position of Mayor, I made it one of my priorities to find ways of keeping the fares unchanged while continually modernizing the transportation system,” he said, adding that his office had thus far managed to keep costs down. But since prices in related markets were going up, it was no longer possible to improve the transportation system increasing in commuter fares.
“On the one hand is the issue of transporting people in a safe and dignified way, and on the other is the added financial burden on our citizens in the current socioeconomic reality… Both are very important, and both are a cause of great concern for me,” said Margaryan. “Yes, I made the decision for the 150 dram fare rate with difficulty—the extent of which few know. But I am fully aware that I do not have the right to avoid unpleasant decisions, realizing that the alternative could cost us human lives.”
In an earlier article, Armenian Weekly contributor Samson Martirosyan pointed out the pitifully low minimum monthly wage enforced in the country—35,000 drams, or approximately $85—which, coupled with high unemployment levels, was one of the reasons the Mayor’s decision gave way to a wave of protests.
“The 150 dram fare is the price of solving these issues, which unfortunately we have to pay. We simply do not have an alternative,” Margaryan said.
However, many had rejected the Mayor’s justifications for the fare rises—from an increase in natural gas prices to the high cost of maintaining transport vehicles—summarized in a report published by the Mayor’s office. Instead, an alternative report was created arguing that the cost per passenger had been exaggerated.
In previous days, activists released the names of owners of bus routes, many of whom are connected to the Municipality or the ruling party in Armenia. The names included His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians; Parliament Member Ruben Hayrapetyan, also known as “Nemets Rubo,” owner of Harsnakar restaurant; Republican Party of Armenia parliamentary faction leader Galust Sahakyan, and others. According to a Hetq report, Henrik Navasardyan, head of Yerevan’s Department of Transportation, has financial stakes in the fare hike, since his son Andranik is the owner of the number 18 bus route while another son, Davit, is the owner of Motion Time, a company that sells advertisement spots in public transport vehicles. “That’s a tidy revenue increase for the family business,” offered the article.
A day earlier, Armenian Ombudsman Karen Andreasyan had asked for an explanation from the Mayor regarding the latter’s decision to raise prices. Andreasyan hoped to learn whether the decision came after the transportation companies requested a fare increase from the government; and if so, whether the municipality had opened the field to competitors who would be willing to keep the fares the same. Andreasyan also expressed that such a decision needed greater scrutiny in the form of public debates.
Margaryan has said that his office would now look into ways so that certain groups would not share the financial burden. That is expected to take around one year. In the meantime, the increase in fares would affect pensioners, students, and other vulnerable groups. That is why, he said, he has proposed that a committee be formed comprised of experts and invested parties to review within a few months’ time the decision of raising the fares. In the meantime, Margaryan announced that the decision would be suspended.
Although the decision to suspend the fare hikes is only temporary, it caused many to celebrate “the people’s victory,” as was posted on a popular Facebook page, “Menk chenk vdjarelou 150 dram, incha te varchabede nor Bentley a ouzoum” (“We will not pay 150 drams, just because the Prime Minister wants a new Bentley”) which in a few days had over 9,000 likes on Facebook. Others declared it a mere “ceasefire.”