CONSTRUCTION AND CARS: THE VIEW FROM TBILISI CITY HALL
Deputy Tbilisi Mayor Irakli Lekvinadze spoke with Investor.ge about City Hall's projects and plans intended to eliminate traffic problems in Tbilisi.
Investment and Infrastructure
Over 410,000 cars are officially registered in Tbilisi, according to the statistics of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
There are too many cars and too many traffic jams in Tbilisi, Deputy Mayor Irakli Lekvinadze told Investor.ge. Regulations and better public transportation are part of the city's new plan to improve the situation, he said.
"We look at statistics and see how fast the number of cars has increased during last ten years. We know that parking and traffic jams are very serious problems here.
The fastest way to solve those problems is through regulations. If we do it, we should have normal public transport to meet people's demands," he said.
"Since Tbilisi's public transport system is not satisfactory right now, we prefer to solve current traffic problems slowly, step by step. We have created a strategic plan called "Strategy of Urban Mobility" with the Asian Development Bank. This plan is focused on five main areas."
The plan includes new roads, and new parking areas, as well as renovation and reconstruction for the city's aging roads and byways.
In addition, the city plans on investing a billion lari in public transportation.
"Currently 500 buses run in Tbilisi, but we need 300 more to have a better public transport scheme.
According to statistics, currently buses carry 105 million passengers per year, the metro is used 110 million times per year, and minibuses (called marshutkas in Georgia) are used 220 million times per year," Lekvinadze said.
There are about 2,000 marshutkas operating in Tbilisi today. Lekvinadze notes that while they are necessary in Tbilisi today, ideally they will not exist after 2023.
"If we say we do not need marshutkas anymore, then we should provide other kinds of transportation to our citizens. For now, the metro and buses are not enough to meet demand. If we will have a well-developed metro and bus system by 2023, competition will eliminate marshutkas from the market itself," he said.
Lekvinadze added that there are plans to revive the city's old tram line, although possibly not before 2025.
In addition, the city is trying to tackle the lack of parking spaces in the city. Lekvinadze said that, currently, there are around 35,000 parking places in the capital today, which is far less than the demand.
He said City Hall plans on supporting private businesses to build five new parking lots-with 3,000 to 5,000 new parking spaces-in 2017.
New construction permits also require that developers allocate space for parking on-site as well.
New Traffic Rules
Lekvinadze noted, however, that better regulation of the roads is necessary to ease the city's traffic problems.
"Before we reshape our infrastructure and public transport system, we should work on new regulations to balance traffic. We banned driving garbage trucks on the roads during rush hours in Tbilisi's central districts. At the same time, we have agreed with businesses that their distribution trucks will not stop on more than twenty central Tbilisi streets during rush hours. At the same time, we support vehicle inspections and would like to ban imports of cars with steering wheels on the right side," he said.
There are also plans to use new technology to improve traffic flow - including an app to inform drivers about congested areas - and to introduce new rules for Tbilisi's many taxis.
It is estimated that there are over 25,000 taxis operating in the capital. Safety regulations and traffic congestion are key areas for City Hall's new taxi regulations, Lekvinadze said.
"Nowadays, the majority of taxis in Tbilisi are not safe for clients from a technical point of view. In addition, drivers are not well-organized and create problems on the roads," he said.
"We do not want to be too tough and start with very hard rules, so we decided to introduce regulations step by step. First, we will inspect drivers' vehicles, check them personally for drugs and alcohol, and gather their personal information to create a database. Based on this information, City Hall will issue permits for taxi drivers for a token price... After five years, we plan to start issuing licenses instead of permits.
We need some time to start this process, but first it needs to be discussed by parliament. We hope everything will conclude by spring 2017."
Pollution and Bike Rides
The city is also planning to develop infrastructure for electric cars: currently there are 50 electric cars operating in Tbilisi, but the Lekvinadze said City Hall "hopes the number will increase." Electric cars are not taxed when they are imported into Georgia - an extra incentive, he said.
In addition, City Hall has closed part of Aghmashenebeli Avenue to cars, and there are plans to close some roads in Old Tbilisi. The city is also studying the Sololaki district to see something similar can be done there.
"We know the circumstances we have right now: we have a lot of buildings, which do not leave space for pedestrians, plus cars parked on the pavement. We asked Tbilisi City Park (the company responsible for organizing the parking system throughout the city) to be more tough with drivers who park cars on the sidewalks," Lekvanidze said.
"We have already canceled 4,000 parking places this year. Plus, City Hall does not give construction permission to projects that burden pedestrian pavement areas."
There are no plans to develop bicycle infrastructure right now, he noted, although Lekvinadze added that the new general plan for Tbilisi - slated to be completed in the spring - includes "information about specific areas where we can develop paths for bikes and proper infrastructure."