Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

A protester holds a sign, "We won't pay 150 drams!" (Photo by Nayiry
Ghazarian, The Armenian Weekly)

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)-Youth activists challenging Yerevan's municipal
administration pledged on Wednesday to launch a new campaign of
protests against what they see as government plans to significantly
raise the cost of public transport in the Armenian capital.

More than 60 private firms operating bus and minibus routes in the
city demanded such a price hike in a joint appeal to the Mayor's
Office earlier this week. They said they will continue incurring
serious losses unless the existing fares are raised from 100 drams
(24 U.S. cents) to 150-200 drams per ride.

The municipality already raised transport fees by over 50 percent
in July. But it failed to enforce the unpopular decision due
to unprecedented protests organized by hundreds of mostly young
activists. The latter succeeded in convincing many commuters not to
pay higher fees. The fare hike was suspended as a result.

Yerevan Mayor Taron Markarian last month did not rule out the
possibility of making another attempt to raise the fares. Markarian
said his final decision will be based on the recommendations of an
ad hoc commission on transport set up by him.

Sevak Mamian, one of the leaders of the vocal youth movement,
described the joint appeal by the transport firms as a prelude to
a renewed surge in bus fares. He said the activists are therefore
gearing up for fresh street protests.

"I think that the protests will be bigger than the previous ones
because our citizens saw that their struggle can produce results,"
Mamian told RFE/RL's Armenian service ( "For instance,
among my acquaintances there are many people who didn't participate in
our last demonstrations but will now definitely take to the streets."

The municipality said in July that one of the factors behind its
intention to raise the fares is a recent 50 percent rise in the price
of Russian natural gas delivered to Armenia. Virtually all buses and
minibuses in the country run on liquefied or pressurized gas.

The protesting youths and other government critics dismiss this
explanation, saying that Yerevan's municipal transport system is
inherently flawed because of government corruption. They say that
many of the lucrative bus routes have long been controlled by senior
officials, including Mayor Markarian, and their relatives.