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Are marshutkas on the way out?

By Salome Modebadze
Tuesday, December 7
Tbilisi City Hall announced a tender for minibuses (marshutkas) on December 7. The closed Municipal Transport Commission sitting chaired by Mayor of Tbilisi Gigi Ugulava opened the tender for an appropriate company able to improve the capital’s transport system. The tender, according to Ugulava aims to change the old vehicles with comfortable new ones and ensure the safe transportation of passengers throughout the city.

“The company winning the tender will be responsible for keeping the jobs for [2200] drivers of the minibuses currently running in the capital. Moreover, more than 1000 additional jobs, according to the preliminary information will be created as soon as the company winning the tender starts its activities,” Ugulava said adding that socially vulnerable people using special advantages on metro and buses will now have privileges on mini buses also.

According to Akaki Jokhadze Head of the Municipal Transport Department there will be a special office during the tender process where City Hall consultants will provide answers to enquiries about the tender from interested parties. This will enable the companies interested in offering their services to learn about the details of tender, up until January 14, 2011. All the information about the tender will be published in the press and Tbilisi City Hall’s website.

Appealing to the Transport Department to hold open days for the transport companies Ugulava highlighted the importance of transparency in the process. Opposition members of Tbilisi City Council and members of the Transport Professional Union will participate in the tender commission. Discussing the terms of the newly announced tender, Jaba Samushia, member of the Christian-Democrats faction of Tbilisi City Council spoke about the importance of protecting the existing drivers’ rights throughout the capital.

“It will take us some time to become fully familiar with the issues surrounding the tender and to give our suggestions on the process to City Hall,” Samushia said stressing they would summarise the document for the drivers and Transport Professional Union next week. “It is very important to the Christian-Democrats that Tbilisi’s transport system is regulated but this shouldn’t all be achieved through sacking the drivers,” he added.

Zurab Abashidze of the 'Our Tbilisi' faction, who along with Samushia is a member of the tender commission, welcomed the participation of the opposition in the process for expelling corrupt bargains. Stressing no social privileges have yet been defined by City Hall, Abashidze said that the transport running in the capital will meet appropriate standards.

On Monday, fares increased on municipal transport to 50 tetris. Those with plastic cards have to pay this amount only for their first ticket each day; all other rules remain the same. The project initiated by Tbilisi City Hall only increased the initial fee which means that the second ticket on the same day will still cost just 30 tetris and all the next tickets – 20 tetris, as it was previously. According to information released by Akaki Jokhadze the privileges for the socially vulnerable, school children, students, veterans and pensioners remain unchanged.

Young members of oppositional movement 'We, Ourselves' demanded explanations from City Hall over the fare increase. The Government of Georgia, according to the Chairman of the youth organization, Irakli Barbakadze hasn’t given sufficient reasons for their decision. “Reasons for the increase on municipal transport are rather dubious for the public. The Mayor of Tbilisi along with other high-ranking figures built up pipe dreams among citizens before the local elections on May 31, 2010 but as a matter of a fact most of their promises seem to be left unfulfilled,” Barbakadze stated.

Comparing the services of buses and minibuses, analyst Ramaz Sakvarelidze spoke of the advantages of minibuses for passengers. Minibuses, according to Sakvarelidze are more comfortable and profitable for the clients as they can get to their destinations in less time and stop at the exact place of destination. “Thus I think the minibuses which generally belong to private companies will keep the difference in price to get some profit. There are clear differences between the two services and the owners of transport companies should remain independent in their decisions. I wonder why the Government of Georgia is interfering into their affairs in the framework of the free economy in our country,” he told The Messenger.

Wondering why municipal transport fares have been increased, Sakvarelidze was also curious whether citizens had expressed their discontent towards the bus services and if so, why the Government didn’t publish data reflecting this problem. “If it was a problem of the quality of the service as the Government is claiming, why didn’t they ensure a competitive environment to reveal the real problem?” he said explaining that if citizens choose better quality the issue will finally be closed.