$4 for Yerevan-Gyumri travel on a wooden chair

Hand-made wooden chair in Yerevan-Gyumri minibus (c) Artur Papyan, The Armenian Observer blog, January 2009

My last trip from Yerevan to Gyumri was quite an experience.  The car was slow and dirty, the driver kept stopping with 15 passengers inside first to load the little free space left in the minibus with some boxes and a large stack of flowers, tied in bundles, which he obviously was going to deliver to some flower service in Gyumri and get extra money for it. He than stopped to pick up one more passenger and handed him a hand-made wooden chair (we call those with Russian word ‘taburetka’) for the latter to sit on while travelling the 2 hour long trip. To crown it all – the driver, who never stopped smoking for a minute and kept the driver’s window open for the smoke to go out in freezing winter weather, decided to stop for a natural gas refill station in Mastara (a  place half-ways between Gyumri and Yerevan). 

Along with the 14 + 1 ‘wooden chair’ passengers I had to stand outside in freezing cold waiting for the compressed natural gas for the minibus to be refilled. With the type of technology they are using at Armenia’s natural gas refill/compression stations, the process takes 20-25 minutes. In our case, with the freezing wind coming from the mountains and the place itself high up at about 1400 m above see-level, that was enough to be frozen to bones.

The good news is – this was actually the worst trip on a minibus that I have been on over the past couple of years. Usually the drivers don’t stop anywhere on the road, don’t pack the car with extra deliveries, don’t take extra passengers on a wooden chair. Nearly all of them smoke like old chimneys, however, although there is a law in Armenia which bans smoking in public transport. At any rate, I’ve remembered the driver’s face and photographed the car, so I never repeat the same mistake of travelling with that idiot again.

Hand-made wooden chair in Yerevan-Gyumri minibus (c) Artur Papyan, The Armenian Observer blog, January 2009

Over 50 minibuses, 20 taxies, 3 buses and one train carry passengers from Gyumri to Yerevan (the distance is 120 kilometers) and back.

The train runs once a day. The ticket costs a little over $1 US (400 AMD). It takes 4-6 hours… quite unpredictable.

The three busses do one round trip each. They are slow (take 3 hours or more)  and dirty. The ticket costs $ 2.25 (700 AMD).

Taxis take 1 hour 20 minutes, but they are expensive. To occupy the whole taxi alone you’ll be asked to pay from $ 30 – $50 ( 8,000 – 14,000 AMD). Some taxies will pick up 4 passengers and ask them to pay $ 6.5- $ 10 (2000 – 3000 AMD).

Thus, minibuses have become the main means for travel between Gyumri and Yerevan. They are fast enough (take 2 hours), affordable enough (cost $ 4, i.e. 1200 AMD) and there’s a well organized business built around them. In fact, minibuses are the main type of transportation carrying passengers on local routes in Armenia. 

The first minibus from Gyumri starts at 6:30 – 7 AM, the last one from Gyumri usually departs at 6 PM, while from Yerevan one can find minibuses waiting for passengers as long as 7:30 PM.

The minibuses, which are Russian made GAZELs, are quite uncomfortable cars and are modified in a way to fit 15 passengers, although the car was originally designed for 12-13 people. Even people with average height like mighself find it hard to fit their legs between the tight rows of chairs.

There is of course, a state licensing process for cars which are intended to be used for public transport, but either the standards used in the licensing are sub-standard, or the state officials inspecting the cars take bribes and turn a blind eye. Moreover, the the ‘horror’ minibus in which I rode to Gyumri during the trip described above had an expired license… so, looks like nobody checks the quality of service and the situation in public transport in general.

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4 thoughts on “$4 for Yerevan-Gyumri travel on a wooden chair

  1. Pingback: Global Voices Online » Armenia: Public Transport

  2. That is like it ‘used’ to be back in ’03 – ’04. So much change since then. Once night, I road up to Gegharkunik with 21 people in a marshutka. Two were 17 year old soldiers who stood on either side of the person on the stool. When I asked where the boys were going to sit, the driver responded, ‘They aren’t!”.

    It certainly adds to the flavour of public travel in Armenia but then again, you went 200 km for $4. That is pretty reasonable.

  3. $4 for 120 kilometers – is not bad, indeed, Henry, but the average salary in this country was 80,000 AMD last year, which roughly equals to $260 US, so that trip makes 1.5% of average salary in Armenia!!!

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