Issue 6, 2015. December-January

   

Tbilisi's 400,000 Cars: How the City is Fighting Traffic

Investor.ge is ending the year the way it began: looking at the capital's congested roads and traffic jams. Maia Edilashvili spoke with the city and NGOs about what is being done and what is needed to ease the commute home.

Maia Edilashvili

Over 400,000 cars, 700 buses and 2,000 minibuses are on Tbilisi streets every day, making the daily commute a nightmare for pedestrians and drivers alike.

The city authorities say they have plans to ease traffic jams and modernize public transportation, but activists warn more work is necessary.

105 Million Bus Rides

Activists like Kakha Mchedlidze believe the city needs to focus on better public transportation and infrastructure.

"At a bus stop after the arrival of three buses, the area remains crowded. Why? Because almost all buses go to Rustaveli Avenue, and there are still not enough of them," Mchedlidze says.

Tbilisi needs at least 900 buses, in his opinion. Currently, there are just over 700 buses, all operated by the city's Tbilisi Transport Company, which also owns the metro and ropeway systems in the capital.

Mchedlidze has been part of the campaign for the return of the Tbilisi tram.

A 2012 study conducted as part of the Tbilisi Tram Project found that 75 percent of the 8,000 Tbilisians questioned use public transport: more than half prefer marshrutka micro buses, while 24 percent opt for the metro, and 22 percent ride the bus.

The study echoed official statistics, which show that public transportation—despite the fact that every third person in Tbilisi owns a car—is still popular: in 2013, there were 105.76 million bus riders; 96.23 million trips by metro; and 1.15 million trips by ropeways - a 24 percent increase across the board compared to 2012, according to Tbilisi Transport's 2013 annual report.

Today the city is working to make sure transportation available is better organized, according to Deputy Tbilisi Mayor Irakli Lekvinadze.

The city government has commissioned a consortium of German and French companies to develop a transportation plan across different modes of travel, he said.

"The plan will show how various routes should be distributed, where troublesome areas are, and what needs to be done to solve the problems," Lekvinadze noted in an e-mail interview.

In addition, the city plans to replace old buses with new, 12-meter-long wheelchair-accessible buses operated by CNG, "which are more efficient both economically and ecologically," Lekvinadze said.

The city plans to purchase as many as 200 buses in 2016, with assistance from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

There are also plans to introduce new regulations for taxis and campaigns to promote public transport.

"In 2016, a number of new projects will be launched, including construction of overpasses for cars on Pushkin Street, a redesign of the May 26 Square and Peking Avenue, and the construction of a road connecting Makhata Mount with the St. Trinity Church, which we see as one of the most important infrastructure projects," Lekvinadze said.

The EBRD is also developing a new route scheme for the city and studying what will be the best option for the Tbilisi Transport Company to develop in the future—whether it should stay subordinated to the municipality or be handed over to a private operator.

33,136 Parking Places

One concrete decision to be made is about parking. Currently, Tbilisi has approximately 33,136 parking spots, of which 1,600 are located on sidewalks. Adding to this problem, drivers keep parking along the streets illegally, blocking traffic.

"We plan to hire a new consulting company soon that will work on a study to identify areas for constructing a multistory parking garage and underground parking garage, as well prepare investment proposals for private operators," Lekvinadze said. But after a decade of lobbying for safer roads, Ekaterine Laliashvili believes "a political decision" to act is necessary. Laliashvili, the Chair of the Board at the Georgian Alliance for Safe Roads, said:"There should be a separate, independent agency with its own budget ,and executive power needs to be created that would put an end to talks and make decisions."