Yerevan Mayor Suspends Fare Hike Decision

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.

Mayor Margaryan during a meeting with representatives from the transportation sector
Mayor Margaryan during a meeting with representatives from the transportation sector

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.”

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Nanore Barsoumian

Nanore Barsoumian was the editor of the Armenian Weekly from 2014 to 2016. She served as assistant editor of the Armenian Weekly from 2010 to 2014. Her writings focus on human rights, politics, poverty, and environmental and gender issues. She has reported from Armenia, Nagorno-Karabagh, Javakhk and Turkey. She earned her B.A. degree in Political Science and English and her M.A. in Conflict Resolution from the University of Massachusetts (Boston).
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@NanoreB

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13 Comments

  1. This is very good news and it should serve as an impetus to further organize the civil society of Armenia in the face of profit-seeking, conscienceless oligarchs. It is such grass-roots movements that have a chance to bring about the much needed change.

  2. You too, his holiness (Brutus)Karekin? What Jesus says about such enterprising religious leader? I am guessing he will not be very happy.

  3. Armenians, specially Yerevantits need to understand that public transportation is a benefit to the society, normally paid for by public/government funding. In US, even the New York city subway has a fare box recovery ratio of 30 cents to a dollar, and this is the most profitable transit system in US. It is not much different in other countries. This means that the government puts in 70 cents on every dollar from its treasury for new yorkers to have a subway. Where does this money come from? Taxes, the taxes that hard working citizens pay. In Armenia, they system is also sponsored mostly by the government. There is no other formula to provide to provide public tranportation in the world.

  4. There is nothing to celebrate, public transportation is a welfare benefit within any country, not a profitable business. Even in New York City with the hightest ridership in US, the fare box recovery ratio is only 30%, that means the government puts in the remaining 70% for people to have public transport. In Armenia this ratio is probably 10 to 90, meaning the government sponsors 90% of the cost of running a public transport in Yerevan.

  5. Good job for the activists. That’s democracy in action. Now time to push for wider democratic changes. When there is rule of law, it will invite greater investment in the city, which will increase the revenues for the city and decrease the need for price hikes.

    Now, this line in the article caught my attention:
    “The names included His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians”

    What the hell is the Catholicos doing owning a bus route!!! This is why Armenia needs a true separation of the Church and the State. I have always advocated democracy in Armenia modeled after successful democracies such as the United States, and this is yet another key change that needs to be implemented in Armenia.

    The purpose of the separation is to actually save the Armenian church. As long as the Catholicos is paid by the regime, he will be a functionary of the regime and will keep losing the respect of the people. During the whole protocols debacle, when Serzh visited the Diaspora, the picture of the Catholics next to him actually made many Diasporans hate the Catholicos. The church should be supported by donations by the people, not by the state. The non-separation is discrediting the Church. The separation will rejuvinate it and force the Church to actually address the needs of the people. Our Church has survived in the absence of an Armenian state without being paid by an Armenian state, it can surely survive in the Armenian state without being a functionary of the state. And we will not have an embarrassing situation of having His Holiness as one of the oligarchs being associated with the regime.

  6. I understand that money is hard to come by for many citizens of Yerevan, but I’d kill to have bus fairs be between 25-40 cents here in California. It’s around $1.50 here (that’s about…600 dram?)

    • The average Armenian salary is $85/month. I am sure Armenians would kill to pay $1.50 as long as Armenia was like California. Not an unrealistic goal, if Armenia adopts a democracy modeled after the U.S. After all, Ancient Armenia was about the size of California.

  7. In 2013, Armenia’s average monthly salary is approx $340 @ month, not $85.
    http://arka.am/en/news/society/average_monthly_salary_in_armenia_in_february_2013_was_139_331_drams/
    In 2012, Armenia’s average monthly salary was approx $280, not $85.
    http://www.news.am/eng/news/121759.html
    In 2011, it was approx $190, not $85.
    http://news.am/eng/news/134425.html
    More Anti-RoA lies and disinformation from the usual quarters. (…ooohhhh, such a sweet, sweet love story, between Turkish first cousins).
    .
    Minimum wage in Armenia by law is around 45,000 Drams or $100 @ month as of Jul 2013 (up from $85 @ month).
    Or 1,125 Drams @ hour. (40 hour work week).
    http://news.am/eng/news/160180.html
    .
    Minimum wage in California is $8 @ hour.
    Los Angeles area Metro bus fare is $1.50.
    .
    $1.50/$8=0.1875 (or about 19% of hourly min wage) Los Angeles County.
    Drm 150/ Drm 1,125=0.1333 (13% of min wage) Yerevan.
    Drm 100/ Drm 1,125=0.089 (9% of min wage) Yerevan.
    .
    In New York, single ride tickets for local subway or bus rides is $2.50.
    Minimum wage in New York state is $7.25 @ hour.
    So even @ Drm 150 the bus ticket price in Yerevan is reasonable.
    Even at old min wage of Drm 35,000 @ month and new (rescinded) Drm 150 bus fare, the fare is 17% of min hourly wage: less than LA County. Far less than New York.

    • Let’s debunk the false propaganda from the same pro-regime apologist quarters, as always. If minimum wage in Armenia is 45,000 dram per month, it does not translate to $1125 dram/hour, because we divide 45,000 not by 40, but by 40*4.33 (i.e. the number of hours per MONTH). Minimum wage of 45,000 dram per month translates to 260 dram/hour, or 63 cents per hour! At that rate, the 150 dram ticket would be 58% of the hourly minimum wage for the poor Armenian riders. No wonder these poor folks are so angry.

      Regarding the $85, ok, so it’s the minimum monthly wage, not the average wage in Armenia. I picked the number right from the article. Even at $340 average monthly salary, it translates to $1.96 per hour. Again, are we wondering why our brothers and sisters are leaving that country?

      Of course, other factors are relevant whether the public can afford the rates. What percentage of the population is able to receive the average wage? What percentage is even lucky to get the minimum wage? How many are unemployed or in extreme poverty?

      In the end, when it comes to the people’s anger, it is not just about the salary. It is about them being able to change the government and elect people of their choice, people who will be willing to implement policies to lift the population from this abject poverty. In other words, it is about people being denied their god-given right to democracy.

  8. I am not surprised to see the name of Garegin II the Catholicos of All Armenians in the ranks of the bus route owners. The corrupt oligarchic rule in Armenia needs a spititual leader like this man to bless them with their plunder of the country and even set a personal example of how to loot your own people.

  9. What this is really about, is the arbitrariness and lack of transparency of RoA. Even if the 150 dram fare is justified by economics, real and valid reasons, it still does not justify how the RoA disregards its own citizens, ignores their pleas for openness and transparency. This government must find a way to engage and empower its citizenry or go away! Finally, most of these bus lines and routes are owned by well-connected individuals and not the government…

  10. I agree with AE. However, the government will not willingly find a way to engage and empower the citizenry on its own initiative. It must be pressured to, and it must be pressured both by the local forces and the Diasporans. The government must be given the message that if they do not change the system, there will be a revolution, which none of us will be able to control any more.

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