A new reform has been launched in Tver, a Russian city to northwest of Moscow, between Moscow and St Petersburg. It is aimed at replacing the shuttle vans, known as marshrutkas in Russian, with comfortable buses. This should improve the public transport system, address the issue of passengers who enjoy discounted fares and allow people with reduced mobility to freely move around the city.
However, the idea looked good only on paper. In fact, it became a complete disaster. In keeping with Russia’s tradition, it was decided to implement the changes as of Monday which turned out to be a bad idea. It would have been more rational to go over to it on a weekend or a holiday, when the flow of passengers decreases. However, the morning of a weekday was chosen. Anyone who has ever commuted to the place of work or study at this time of the day knows that this is a rush hour with peak loads.
Tver residents are already used to being pushed in public transport. But they were not used to the total absence of busses. On that day, there were about a hundred vehicles on the line, operating on 39 routes. However, their number was clearly not enough. Instead of the promised intervals of 3-5 minutes, people waited for an hour at the bus stops. At the same time, commercial carriers did not work in a show of protest. In addition, private taxi companies instantly raised prices for their services.
What kind of reform is it that has paralyzed traffic in the city?
Public transport in Tver has really long needed to be brought into order. In recent years, it has mainly consisted of shuttle vans that were the object of numerous complaints from the residents. The technical condition of these buses is far from perfect. Moreover, their drivers often don't speak Russian well enough and have an aggressive and reckless way of driving, as they cut their competitors off on the road. There is also a municipal transport system which consists mostly of the same busses. The tramway services stopped operating in November 2018. The trolleybus service is also in its final days.
It was decided to solve all the above-mentioned issues at one stroke. Now, the Verkhnevolzhskoye vehicle fleet operator will be a new contractor in charge of public transport. The company was established on August 26, 2019. Its authorized capital is only 10,000 rubles ($156.89). However, it was entrusted with organizing the transport system for the city with half a million residents. The VEB.RF State Corporation allocated 3.03 billion rubles ($47,109,943) to purchase 438 vehicles. The company has already got the first batch the under the leasing agreement.
When the reform is fully implemented, 110 high-capacity busses (for 105 people), 314 medium-capacity busses (for 73 people) and 14 small ones (for 20 people) will shuttle not only in the streets of Tver, but also in the Kalininsky district that surrounds Tver. This fact has already caused some inconveniences in paying the fares.
The problem is that from now on the passengers will have to pay the fares by attaching the card to the validator, instead of giving the money to a driver, as it was before. It will be necessary to do this twice -- both when get on and off the bus. The standard fare is 25 rubles. As bus leaves the city’s territory, each kilometer of the ride will cost 3 rubles. If you forget to attach a card getting on the bus, the system will withdraw the maximum amount, even if you have passed only one stop.
Passengers, who are not used to this procedure, have already overpaid 5 to 10 rubles due to the new system. The sum of money is quite small but unfair. In addition, some people complained that due to technology failures they were charged for several trips at a time. The city administration is aware of this problem and it continues to improve the software.
Dmitry Vinogradov, a political scientist and expert at the Stepan Sulakshin Center for Political Ideas, told wek.ru:
"From the very beginning, I was against this reform because it is impossible to make bus lanes, as in Moscow. And we have to understand that it is unlikely that a person who has his own private car will switch to a bus, both private – a shuttle van -- and public. I am against it also because I have not seen state enterprises in Russia that would be profitable. Moreover, an OOO, a Russian company with limited liability whose charter capital is split into shares, with the authorized capital of 10,000 rubles can be hardly considered a backbone enterprise of the city and the Kalininsky district".
When will the situation with transport get better?
The next day the city’s authorities managed to get more vehicles on the lines and persuade some of the drivers to work until the new system gets fully operational. Therefore, the waiting time at bus stops was reduced. However, it's still far from ideal.
Alexey Polukhin, a popular blogger and reporter from Tver, writes that it is unclear how the company is going to recruit the necessary number of employees in such a short time. Anatoly Rumyantsev, the CEO of Verkhnevolzhskoye motor transportation company, stated that at present 220 drivers have been employed. Obviously, this will not be enough to service all 438 cars. Taking into account that each driver needs a co-driver, then 656 more people will have to be hired. Plus mechanics.
Perhaps they are planning to hire some of those who used to work on private shuttles. But, given how many complaints those drivers caused, this may be far from the best option. In addition, to hire almost a thousand people by the end of February is a task that is technically impossible. Therefore, Tver residents will be facing transport difficulties for several more months.
"As far as I understand, this (reform) was lobbied by Igor Rudenya, the governor of the region,” said Vinogradov. “He signed an agreement with the VEB.RF state corporation, which provided a loan for this infrastructure project. I am afraid that until all the promised buses are put on the routes, the situation will not change, and as far as I understand it, this will be almost in mid-March.
Some private drivers did not turn up for work on Day One to protest against what they viewed as a raider seizure of the routes. However, the task was different. After all, Trevgortrans (PATP-1), in fact, had been taken away from the city. In addition, the municipal bus drivers are offered a salary of only 900 rubles ($14.15) per day, which does not correspond to the responsibility that is imposed on them when they transport passengers."
It is noteworthy that the officials even took offense at private carriers, who defiantly refused to work on the first day of the transport reform. The city administration believes that the drivers could have worked until the situation with the new busses got stable. Though it is unlikely that commercial firms had at least some motivation to make advances to officials, after all they were simply driven out the city and lost their job.
The monopoly, which was actually granted to the Verkhnevolzhskoye motor transportation company, gives rise to concerns, too. After all, today, nothing prevents the company’s management from issuing an ultimatum in the conflict with the city authorities and threatening to paralyze the public traffic.
Will Tver cope with these difficulties and establish a reliable system of public transport? In a few months, which can be considered a transitional period, an answer will be received. However, one thing is already obvious, namely, that there have been numerous miscalculations, and the process of their elimination will affect the residents’ comfort.