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 (Azatutyun.am). “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.