BY HOVSEP DAGDIGIAN
YEREVAN—The Yerevan city government and the transportation authority recently approved a bus and minibus fare increase from 100 to 150 dram, a 50% increase. With dollar to Armenian dram conversion rates of about 410 dram per dollar to outsiders this may not seem like a large increase, though the percentage increase is 50%. But this is deceiving. Many Armenians work for absurdly low wages even though they may be highly educated. And many people cannot afford to work as transportation to and from work may consume most of their pay. Retirees on meager pensions have difficulties paying for the necessities of heating in the winter, electricity, water, and food. Even an increase in transportation costs of $5/month presents a burden to many.
One justification for the fare increase was the increased price of natural gas and gasoline, both used as fuels for vehicles. Though the busses are owned by companies, the drivers pay for fuel costs, and many of the drivers are against the fare increase. The Yerevan government claims that fare increases are necessary to maintain the safety of the minibus and bus fleet; though such a fare increase is regressive, affecting the poorest and lowest paid segments of society.
When the fare increase took effect, young Armenians positioned themselves at bus stops and urged passengers to pay only 100 dram for bus transportation and asked the drivers to accept 100 dram fares. On occasion, drivers said they would accept 50 dram, and a few said they would let passengers ride for free. Such declarations evoked loud cheers of approval from the demonstrators. Other demonstrators wearing or carrying signs urged rejection of the 150 dram fare and taped signs on the busses urging rejection of higher fares. I witnessed cars, driven by young people, stopping at bus stops offering to drive people to their destination for free. The number of protestors steadily increased with older people in their 50s and 60s joining in. Protesters were accompanied by Armenian flags, drums, and bull horns. Although the demonstrators were noisy, demonstrations remained peaceful. With increased numbers of demonstrators was an increased police presence in the streets, but there were no problems.
On the evening of Thursday, August 25, I was on Abovian Street heading towards Republic Square. A deluge of young protestors marched up Abovian Street from the square carrying flags, beating drums, and chanting “Victory – We Won.” Indeed they did! The government declared that the bus fares for the time being would remain at 100 dram. Later that evening, Republic Square was flooded with jubilant protestors waving flags and cheering so loudly that they could be heard blocks away.
Recent statements by government officials indicate that they may still attempt to raise fares. There were no attempted fare increases in cities other than Yerevan.