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Minibus changes in Tbilisi anger drivers and passengers alike

By Salome Modebadze
Tuesday, July 26
Akaki Jokhadze, Head of the Tbilisi City Transport Service, said Tbilisi City Hall would give recommendations to the drivers of old and new minibuses (marshrutkas) to decrease the transport fees. Opposing the new 80-tetri fare, Giorgi Lagidze leader of Future Georgia met with Jokhadze on Monday. As Lagidze told The Messenger Jokhadze promised to negotiate with the marshrutka owners concerning the transport fee. “The increased fee on mini-buses remains among the most burning social problems for our citizens and if the Government won’t consider their needs they won’t have the moral right to be in governance,” Lagidze said forecasting large-scale rallies in the capital.

Explaining that not all the minibuses [from 180 lines] have faced the changes, Bacho Dolidze, the City Hall spoksman explained that the only thing the Mayor’s Office can do is to offer the citizens municipal transport (metro and buses) at a fixed price. “Neither City Hall nor City Council can regulate the minibus market but our first obligation is to create a competitive environment for marshrutkas with the municipal transport,” he added.

At a press conference Zaza Gabulia Deputy Chair of Human Rights and Public Relations Commission of City Assembly offered Gigi Ugulava, the Tbilisi Mayor, a chance to start consultations about the increased transport fee. Recollecting the promise the Christian-Democrats received from Ugulava in November 2010, Gabunia emphasized that the cost of minibuses shouldn’t have been increased.

“The City Hall has to do something against the monopolist company [Tbilisi Minibus] which has willfully increased the cost of marshrutkas and find a way out of the situation,” Gabunia said before suggesting the holding of a new tender or returning to the initial tariff. But Nino Tevdoradze, Chairwoman of Legal Issues Commission, didn’t approve the suggestion. “A tender on minibuses has already been held and none of our opponents had then expressed their discontent,” she said explaining that the introduction of tariffs on marshrutkas is part of the “unregulated market economy” and not subject to the authority of City Hall or City Council.

Opposing the “monopolization” of transport Merab Janiashvili President of the Association of Young Financiers and Businessmen and his friend Beka Kemularia organized a protest rally on Sunday. Demanding that less pressure be put on drivers the organizers demanded Tbilisi Minibus Company to follow the contract regulations and keep the old tariffs. As Kemularia explained to The Messenger, new marshrutkas with an increased fee made people use the minibuses which still cost 50 tetris thus the drivers of old marshrutkas and their owners have been threatened that they must increase their tariffs too.

In a resolution addressed to the President Mikheil Saakashvili, Tbilisi City Hall and Tbilisi City council on Monday, the protesters discouraging the officials from supporting the “monopolist” company. Waiting for an answer by the end of the week, they would wish to decrease the transport fee to 50 tetris [as it was before] or restore the old bus lines so that people could pay a single transport fee for their journey rather than having to pay double.