Improving the “Ejmiatsin-Yerevan-Ejmiatsin” Transport Route: Identifying Issues and Providing Solutions
Authors: Hovsep Kanadyan and Heghine Poghosyan
“Is it after 8 pm already, and are you still in Yerevan? That is fine; you cannot go home”. The public transport from Ejmiatsin to Yerevan and vice versa is not working after 8 pm from downtown Yerevan (near to Matenadaran) and 10 pm from Kilikia bus station. Hence in case you missed the last minibus (or bus), you are stuck in Yerevan and have to find an alternative to get home. Usually, the alternative is a taxi line, which is just a group of drivers offering transport services to people. Since people do not have another option, most of the time they are dependent on these taxies. When using these taxis, people are risking their lives since many of these cars are old; they have many defects, and they are not well functioning. Moreover, some of the cars are dirty, uncomfortable, and drivers or some passengers are quite often drunk. Using these cars, people often are putting their lives at high risk. Therefore, well-functioning public transport is essential to protect the life of every individual traveling from Ejmiatsin to Yerevan and vice versa.
Add to the realities mentioned above the fact that these taxis are functioning illegally. It is no secret that in Armenia, many taxi drivers offer services with violation of the law. Violations range from not carrying a logo of “TAXI” or a yellow chess badge to not inserting the license (if they have any) on the front windshield of a car, to lacking a price list. However, there are more serious problems: not having the license at all, and most importantly, driving within a particular route without having a legally sanctioned transportation route. The latter, together with having viable and well-functioning public transport, are intertwined issues. This paper attempts to propose a solution to these problems with concrete recommendations.
To gain factual data, in addition to our personal experience, we have also conducted short interviews (semi-structured) through available subjects with eight citizens who use (or used to) these taxis, and four taxi drivers. The interviewees preferred to be anonymous.
The problem of illegality is currently available in many places, including Yerevan, but the focus of this paper is the “Ejmiatsin-Yerevan-Ejmiatsin” direction. This route is considered interregional (between Armenian marzes), and there are both interregional bus (No. 202) and interregional minibus (No. 203) routes (Ministry of High-Tech Industry of Armenia, 2020). There is no licensed route specified for taxis, leave alone taxi drivers without a license. However, in Ejmiatsin city for years dozens of taxi drivers (before the 2018 Velvet Revolution the number reached more than 60, and the route “belonged” to one of the sons of general lieutenant and former MP Manvel Grigoryan, whose other son was the Mayor of Ejmiatsin) carry out passenger transportation from Ejmiatsin to Yerevan and vice versa. They have even specified locations where they wait for passengers: it is in the vicinity of the Ejmiatsin city park, and in Yerevan, it is the Saryan Street. Moreover, other than taxi drivers who have “owned” the city park’s nearby, there is also the famous bridge near the district called Zvartnots, which also has its “owners” in the form of taxi drivers.
Apart from this taxi line, there are three other ways that citizens of Ejmiatsin can use to reach Yerevan, and there are concrete problems connected to each one. Timing and the general conditions of these transport vehicles stand out. Thus, bus number 202 (previously 111), which has been operating since Soviet times, belongs to “Ejmiatsin Buat” OJSC. The buses are an old production of Russian “PAZ”; they start their journey from the central bus stop in Ejmiatsin and finish their tour at the Kilikia bus station in Yerevan. Since the Kilikia bus stop is far enough to walk to Mashtoc Street – a sort of ‘transportation hub’ because it offers many options to reach various parts of Yerevan – people have to take another (mini)bus to reach there (Mashtoc street). Another issue with these busses is that they are stopping on each stop on the way, and it nearly takes 50-60 minutes to get to Yerevan.
The next transport for Ejmiatsin-Yerevan-Ejmiatsin is No. 203 minibuses (again belongs to “Ejmiatsin Buat” OJSC). Approximately half of the minibuses are operating for quite a long time – the estimated period for operation is nearly 15-20 years. Although the other half is relatively new, they still have some problems connecting to quality – it had happened to one of the authors (Heghine) a couple of times when a minibus broke (probably because of technical issues) on the road, and passengers had to wait until the new one would arrive. The route of the No. 203 minibus is the same as the No. 202 bus with one primary difference: half of the No. 203 minibuses (the new ones) continue their journey to the Matenadaran of Mashtoc street, which is illegal (The Government of the Republic of Armenia, 2007). Two other differences between them are the following: (1) minibuses are a bit faster than the buses, it takes nearly 30-40 minutes to get to the Yerevan Kilikia bus station; (2) the price for a minibus costs 300 AMD, and for the bus, it is 200 AMD. The No. 202 buses and No. 203 minibuses are both operating till 10 pm from the Kilikia bus station and a few numbers of minibuses till 8 pm from Matenadaran – a serious problem for those who, for whatever reason, have to return Ejmiatsin after that time. The third type of transportation is the so-called Usanoghakan, a large bus that is devoted to students, which starts its journey in the morning (around 8 am) from Ejmiatsin and returns from Yerevan at around 2 pm, to a certain extent addressing the needs of students.
Ejmiatsin is the fourth biggest city in Armenia and is situated nearly 20 kilometers from the capital of Armenia, Yerevan. The population of it is approximately 45,000, plus the population of its nearby 15 villages (approximately 30,000) who also come to Ejmiatsin for public transport to go to Yerevan. There are no universities in Ejmiatsin, little or no attractions for youth and also for spending family time, and what is more important the majority of citizens are employed in Yerevan. Besides, people, especially youth, usually spend time in Yerevan and often stay there even after 8 pm. Not only the youth but sometimes people, in general, have business dinners in the evening or any other important tasks that are after 8 pm. Hence, students, employees, and all who might have some things to do in Yerevan, be it shopping, or visiting a friend or a family member, have to travel to Yerevan. Many citizens do not have a car, and therefore they are very much dependent on public transport.
Considering the identified problems connected to the public transport, people are dependent on these illegal taxis since it is quite efficient and the fastest way to get to Yerevan and back to Ejmiatsin. In general, the price for a usual taxi to come to Yerevan from Ejmiatsin is 1,600AMD. Therefore, these illegal taxi drivers require 400AMD to take four passengers (to share 1,600AMD) to Yerevan’s Mashtoc Avenue, which takes nearly 30 minutes. When using the No. 203 minibuses people pay 300AMD and 100AMD for public transport to get to Mashtoc Street, which altogether costs 400AMD. Hence people prefer to pay 400AMD (500AMD in the nighttime) and reach Mashtoc Street faster. The taxis are working from 6:30 in the morning until midnight.
Other than illegality, these drivers’ activities create specific problems connected to tax evasion (they are not registered workers), security, and ethics. Thus, some of the cars in this taxi line are old, they have many operation defects, and they often break on the roads. The drivers are rude, impolite, and cars are mostly not clean. Moreover, it usually happens that some passengers or drivers are drunk. One may argue that drunk people can happen on buses or minibuses too. Probably yes, but not the drivers themselves, as in the case of some of these taxi drivers.
Another issue which, at the same time, has been raised by the people that we have interviewed, is the Opel Zafira cars. The number of the mentioned cars is quite high (more than half) in the taxi line, and they can feat up to seven people. Even though it fits seven people, the back seat is quite narrow. It can be possible to fit three children there comfortably; nevertheless, it is uncomfortable for three adults. However, drivers are “forcing” people to sit there with three, since they do not want to lose money (if somebody does not sit there, they will drive the car with six people, and they will lose 400/500AMD). Sometimes people wait for more than usual (usually it takes 5-15 minutes) until someone sits in the back (in this case, it can take more than 15 minutes). Often people agree to sit on the back since they want to reach home as soon as possible. However, one of the respondents that we have interviewed, specified, “If there is an option either sitting in the back of the car or use the bus or minibus which is taking a long time to get to Yerevan, I will choose the bus or minibus because the back seats of those cars are not comfortable.”
Regarding the drivers’ rudeness, some of the users of these taxies agreed that drivers are impolite. One of the respondents told us the story that once she asked the driver not to smoke while driving, and the driver started to “bully her.” Moreover, this driver stopped the car in the middle of the journey and said, “I am going to smoke, and if you do not like it, you are welcome to leave the car.” This accident was the reason that she avoids using the taxi line. One person also emphasized that sometimes harassment (sexual assault) can happen from passengers (not drivers) sitting next to you. Similarly to the case of drunk people, it can be argued that this type of harassment can happen in every possible place. Nevertheless, the point here is that since these taxis are illegal, there is no company or a person responsible for reporting and tackling the issue, whereas the bus lines usually have their hotlines, and in case of any concerns, people can contact the responsible department and person.
Last but perhaps the most important thing is that the cars are driving very fast. Their income is largely dependent on the quantity of the journeys they make. Hence, they drive too quickly to make as many journeys as possible. Their logic is the following: “The faster I reach Yerevan, the more chances I have to get back with passengers.” When driving fast, sometimes the cars are being involved in car crashes. Unfortunately, there is no data on how many of the car crashes are from that taxi line. Nevertheless, one of the authors (Heghine) was involved in a car crash once and witnessed three car accidents involving this taxi line. Accordingly, while using these taxis, people put their lives under huge risk.
Admittedly, there are also many citizens who, for some reason, prefer these taxis instead of buses or minibuses. Otherwise, these taxis would not have operated to date. Some might argue that people can choose legal and safe taxies such as GG, Yandex, or UTaxi. However, getting from Yerevan to Ejmiatsin and vice versa by using these taxis will cost from 2,500-4,000 AMD (depending on where the journey has started), which is quite a lot when someone uses it every day. In addition to the latter option, when we were talking to some of these taxi drivers, they voiced an opinion that the state could create a legally sanctioned route for them, and they would both register and improve the quality of their service. However, there is a problem with this alternative, which is explained in the following paragraph.
We contacted the Inspectorate of Urban Development, Technical Standards and Fire Safety (a principal controlling body for such kinds of illegal activities). We had a talk (around 25 minutes) with a responsible chief inspector, who told us that the issue has for some time (several years) been under their close attention, and they are trying to solve the problem. The inspector also informed that there is no way to grant taxi drivers a right to carry out passenger transportation within fixed-route since the law does not allow it. On the other hand, the government has a problem with banning these taxi drivers’ illegal activities. Why? Because they cannot prove that these drivers carry out passenger transportation with their cars. The inspectors, when for checking purposes approach these taxis, the latter claim that the vehicles are not taxis, they are for their personal uses, which is partly true since they are not registered and lack a license in addition to not having appropriate taxi furniture. In this regard, the government changed the law for issuing a permit to taxi drivers: now drivers have to register free of charge and simply get a license. In doing so, the government hopes to encourage illegal taxis, including the Ejmiatsin drivers, to register, which will allow coping with the problem more efficiently.
If the connections of Manvel Grigoryan secured his son’s lucrative business during the previous government, things are different after the change of power. However, two years have already passed from the Velvet Revolution, but these illegal activities remain, which allows claiming that authorities have not yet tackled the issue resolutely. Importantly, the inspector with whom we spoke told us that the case of Ejmiatsin drivers is not an exception; there are many places in Yerevan where such kind of taxi drivers are gathering and operating. Because of the problem mentioned above, the inspectors so far are unable to solve the problem.
The following option can be viewed when making changes in the operation of transport. The alternative to the current situation and perhaps the best solution can be that the minibuses operating till 8 pm from Ejmiatsin to Yerevan (Matenadaran) will start to work till midnight, for example, 23:30. If before 8 pm the minibuses travel every 10 minutes, after 8 pm they can operate every 20 or 30 minutes (we consider that the number of people using the bus declines in the evening).
Stakeholders are first of all the taxi drivers themselves; passengers who use their services; the “Ejmiatsin Buat” OJSC company; the municipalities of Ejmiatsin and Yerevan; the ministry of the Territorial Administration and Infrastructure; the State Revenue Committee; and the Inspectorate of Urban Development, Technical Standards and Fire Safety. The municipality of Ejmiatsin and the police do not have the right to interfere; it is the ministry of the Territorial Administration and Infrastructure that gives license to taxi drivers, while the Inspectorate of Urban Development, Technical Standards and Fire Safety controls the illegal business activities.
First of all, the passengers who use these taxis’ services have to know (whoever does not know) that this service is illegal. Importantly, the passengers have alternatives, and they should not risk their security just for the sake of reaching Yerevan 10 or 20 minutes earlier. Why do people prefer these taxis rather than buses or minibuses? As already specified, at least, for two reasons: time (taxis are faster than buses/minibuses, and they operate till midnight) and ticket price (though the difference between the price of taxis and particularly minibuses is not too much: from 100 to 150AMD). If the conditions of bus and minibus routes are matched with the needs of passengers, incentives will be created that more passengers shift from using the illegal taxis to legal transportation. Accordingly, illegal taxi drivers will significantly lose interest in offering service. To this end, we suggest concrete recommendations.
As regards taxi drivers, they acknowledge that their activity is illegal and hence is temporary, and they comprehend that they have to find another job. We are aware of this since all of them are from Ejmiatsin and adjoining villages, and some of them we know personally, which has allowed us to speak with them and have quite open discussions. To the question “Do you know that what you are doing is not legal and one day the government will ban your activities” they replied, “Yes, we know.” To another question, “What will you do when the government forbids you to drive, will you protest?” they responded that they would hardly protest and would try to find other jobs. It is worth mentioning that once the illegal taxis stop operating the “Ejmiatsin Buat” OJSC will get additional incentive to offer service after 8 pm, which will ensure more revenues.
Unfortunately, in this case, as well, there is no exact data that would mention the amount of income these taxi drivers get. The job becomes more laborious, considering the fact that not all the drivers are in the line from morning till the evening. For example, some drivers have a permanent job and drive their car as a taxi a few times when coming home. Hence their income cannot be accounted for accurately. Nevertheless, those who drive regularly make approximately ten journeys in a day (according to the information received by these drivers), which means that during a day they earn about 15,000 to 20,000AMD, minus around 5000AMD for gas and some amount for repair. There is also rumor that they pay some money (although not too much) to the “gits nayogh” (overseer, a person who controls them informally). According to these calculations, we can speculate that they earn between 300,000 and 350,000AMD.
On the other hand, the minibus drivers earn much less than these taxi drivers. A friend of ours (who worked up until last year there) told us that they receive a fixed 120,000AMD, but also he mentioned, without details, that in total their earning is about 180,000AMD. Accordingly, the difference between the taxi and minibus drivers’ incomes is much, and the taxi drivers will hardly work as a minibus driver. However, when minibuses work till midnight, the income will probably be higher (allegedly some 30,000 to 50,000AMD more), and some of the taxi drivers may choose to work there. After all, they should compromise the high earning with a modest but legal work without troubles.
Conclusion and recommendations
Since many citizens of Ejmiatsin are dependent on the illegal taxis, which are the primary type of transport operating after evening, and it puts their lives under massive risk, there is an immediate need to find a solution to ensure citizens with a safe journey. Besides, as the law does not allow these taxi drivers to create a particular route, the state has to interfere decisively to solve this problem; this is not the case that the market can correct itself. In particular, the government has to ban their activities, and the following recommendations may help.
- Since the inspectors claim that because these taxis lack both a license and the required furniture which identifies the car being a taxi, they can sometimes or often use their services and detect that they are transporting passengers as usual taxis.
- The police can help them (the inspectors) with this job. Who are patrolling in Ejmiatsin and Yerevan (particularly in the vicinity of Saryan street), and in the route which connects Yerevan to Ejmiatsin, can be attentive, detect the activities of these taxis and inform the respective inspectors.
- The central government should urge the Yerevan municipality to allow a few minibuses of No. 203 to continue their journey to Mashtoc street, which will be beneficial for students and workers.
- In the meantime, once these taxis stop operating, minibuses can run up till late night from Matenadaran, say 23:30, and they can increase the price to 400AMD after 8 pm (recall that the price for taxis costs 500AMD during nighttime). Not all minibuses have to work during the night time because of the relatively few numbers of passengers.
- Implement six months of a pilot program to identify the weaknesses and strengths of the route in detail and develop it further. During these six months, an independent body should survey with the citizens who are using the line.
- The price for the elderly, i.e., pensioners, can stay the same; hence, the elderly can pay the same 300AMD, as they pay during the day.
- In time the company (“Ejmiatsin Buat” OJSC) of these routes will get more revenues, and it can change its old vehicles with new ones creating more secure and comfortable conditions for passengers.
 For the sake of convenience, in this paper, whenever we use Ejmiatsin we refer to both the city itself and its immediate surrounding villages.
 For convenience we mention the Opel Zafira by referring not only to this model, but also other cars, which also have seven seats.
- Ministry of the High-Tech Industry of the Republic of Armenia. (2020). “Միջմարզային երթուղիներ”. Retrieved on May 11, 2020, from https://hti.am/main.php?lang=1&page_id=711
- The Government of the Republic of Armenia (2007). “30 օգոստոսի 2007 թվականի N 1042-Ն Որոշում”. Retrieved on May 11, 2020, from the ARLIS website https://www.arlis.am/DocumentView.aspx?DocID=39123