10 tips on how to improve Yerevan, from Albert Manukyan - founder of YerevanRide - Move2Armenia

10 tips on how to improve Yerevan, from Albert Manukyan - founder of YerevanRide

10 tips on how to improve Yerevan, from Albert Manukyan - founder of YerevanRide

Deya Yengibaryan, Move2Armenia Community Manager, collected the most pressing questions of relocators about the state of public transport in Yerevan and other equally important urban issues, and talked to Albert Manukyan, co-founder of kicksharing services YerevanRide and Velvioo, founder Foundation for the Development and Support of Armenian Studies ANIV.

The city is clearly ripe for a collapse with ground public transport. The condition of most minibuses is frightening, and the congestion of buses signals the need for improvements. Should we expect any positive changes in this direction?

In the past two years, the government has managed to purchase about 300 buses. If we talk about minibuses, it is difficult to say whether they will be replaced with new ones. I believe that radical positive changes should not be expected in the foreseeable future, because the way the municipality works is this: they try to solve problems with available resources. But it is impossible to solve them without involving the private sector. For example, one could ask all car sharing companies to organize a couple of roads with minibuses that meet the requirements of the municipality and let them manage routes around the city. Such strategies could make a difference.

There is a big problem in Yerevan with the lack of a single unified navigation system. It even comes to the point that there are simply no signs at the bus stop or there is no sign with bus route numbers. What's the best way to do it here?

An original solution is to hang a qr-code at the bus stops, by scanning which you can quickly find out the bus schedule and the level of traffic congestion through the application. Or equip stops with free Wi-Fi and the same qr-code. This is a very convenient system that I have observed in US cities.

Again, this is a niche for the private sector. For example, I know that Sharm Holding put up beautiful stops with ornaments in the center of Yerevan. This is how the holding helped the city and creatively showed the character of Yerevan. I think this is another good example of how the private sector is making a difference.

One gets the feeling that the city as a whole lacks a single transport map, which would combine all types of transport - from the cable car to the metro - and mark all the stops. Are you aware of any progress in this direction?

I am sure that the municipality has a public card, but I have not seen a public card of this type that you are talking about - with flights of the same minibuses, for example. And by the way, the implementation of such an initiative does not require a lot of resources. It's elementary - to place a qr-code with a map at the bus stop. I am disappointed when I hear any excuses. It would be great to distribute such a card at the airport and in hotels, so that it would be easier for people to navigate the city. And this applies not only to transport.

Do you think if the infrastructure is improved by increasing the cost of travel, will such a move run into resistance from local residents?

I would have done it differently: of course, segmentation is needed - if you pay more, you get a better service, respectively, if you pay less, you get a worse service. But I would not liquidate the existing system until there is a new one. For example, if you buy 300 new buses, you do not need to remove 300 old minibuses. It is better to leave them running with the previous price of 100 drams, but travel in new, more comfortable buses with Wi-Fi and air conditioning should cost 150 drams. It is more reasonable to implement such a soft transition than to increase the cost sharply and without alternative. Of course, it is important to consider some benefits for low-income families. But in general, alas, people are very sensitive to this topic. Therefore, smooth innovations have a good chance of being accepted more calmly. 

Now in Armenia, only children under 7 years old travel for free. Is it planned to introduce free travel for pensioners and schoolchildren? 

I don’t know if it is planned or not, you need to ask the mayor this question. But I don't think the municipality is going to.

From a systems point of view, the problem here is that it's hard to implement unless the process is automated. If you give benefits on coupons, then chaos will happen. It would be possible to start with at least ten coupons per month, but lack of qualifications does not yet allow this process to be established. 

How could relocants help Yerevan? Is there any way to influence the situation from below, or does it all depend on the state?

Yes! An effective initiative from below would be if activists or people generally not indifferent to the urban environment united and collectively raised urban problems. It could be a group both online and a live association. In this way, much could be achieved, and I, in turn, would be happy to be part of such an organization. In recent years, it has become clear that it is possible to influence the decisions of the Armenian government through social networks. A very good way to reach out to officials and convey to them the existing problems.

How it works?

It's not feedback, it's a kind of pressure. And, suppose, if a lot of posts on Facebook are devoted to one problem and it is initiated by a group of caring people, then officials begin to listen and treat the matter with greater responsibility. This does not guarantee rapid and phenomenal progress, but the process starts and cannot be stopped. After publicly identifying the problem, officials begin to more openly and actively look for ways to solve it.

There is already one such initiative in Armenia –  'Gituzh'. Their focus is on scientific issues and organization of conferences in Armenia, they invite people from the government and raise important issues. Thanks to 'Gituzh', science funding has increased by 2% this year compared to last year. At first, they regularly published posts on social networks, later they spoke at the National Assembly and conveyed the problems of science. This turned out to be a very effective method.

Albert, does the government listen to knowledgeable people like you?

This is a very painful moment. I met with our previous mayor several times, and I know the current one very well. But here the question is not personal, but global. The mayor should have an understanding of how they want to see Yerevan in 5-10 years. I think that not only the city does not have an understanding of how we see ourselves in the future, but also our country.

Now many people come from Russia, including from Moscow, and they sometimes look for things they are used to in Yerevan. If you ask me if I want to see Moscow as an example for Yerevan, no. Despite the fact that many changes have taken place there, with car sharing, for example, the city still has not solved many problems. Warsaw or Amsterdam would be a more relevant example for Yerevan. 

Yerevan needs to understand what is more convenient for it, reveal its specifics and formulate a clear idea of the future. If you want to walk around the city, where there are few cars and clean air, then you need to move in this direction.

If we compare today's Yerevan with what it was five years ago, then the situation with traffic jams and air pollution has worsened at times. Now ten, if not twenty times more traffic.

If I were the mayor of a city and I had to set 3 priority tasks:

  1. Air pollution
  2. Traffic jams
  3. All the rest

It doesn't matter to me how many new buildings will be built in the city center, but if the first two points are not resolved, everything else does not interest me. I am not saying that I am against new buildings, but as far as possible, construction should not create the first two problems. For example, buildings are being built in the center of Yerevan, some of the tallest in the city, they stand nearby, on Pushkin-Teryan. The workers were sanding its surfaces, and I witnessed terrible pollution because they did not insulate the building in order to somehow contain the spread of dust and dirt in the city. There is no country in Europe or America where it would be allowed to grind such a building without a canopy and a fence. Without such simple, standard regulations, this developer is currently building 250 buildings in Yerevan at the same time.

The vision of the city can be long-term and short-term. If you are solving problems now, and in the future people will not want to live in your city, this is a wrong vision.

Solving a problem without creating new ones is a difficult task. This requires a bold and creative approach.

I want to point out the blunder of the city, the absurd fact that cars still drive in our center. I don’t understand why the central streets are not closed to cars that are not needed there at all.

What about cheap parking?

Absolutely a good question. It is not clear why you can park in the center for the whole day? Let there be two-hour restrictions, not on the busiest streets, but at least on free ones like Byuzand or Arami. It is not difficult and does not require a large budget. And the driver will think several times whether he needs to go to the center by car today, given the lack of parking spaces and the time limit. These methods can make the city more comfortable and convenient.

I own Yerevan Ride - it's a micro transport - and I know that scooters and bicycles can unload the roads. Yes, at the moment this transport is already in operation, but it constantly encounters obstacles. We have no infrastructure, there is not a single street with a bike path. This suggests that the city does not have a goal to solve problems with traffic congestion. Buying 1000 buses does not solve the problem, they will be stuck in traffic. The number of people using bicycles and scooters will increase many times over as soon as the appropriate infrastructure is in place. Our clients in the comments say that they are afraid to ride bicycles because of the bad situation on the roads. They fear for their safety.

Will Yerevan be able to accommodate more people, and will the center rise if the capital expands? 

The center is already up. Over the past ten years, I have seen the situation worsen. I see two ways:

  1. A city with terrible traffic jams and huge difficulties for residents in order to get anywhere;, 
  2. The city center has been surgically freed from cars. 

It seems to me that we will go through the first path in order to then come to the second.

I give an example of Prague, they call this part of the city Stare Mesto, it is fenced with barriers and cars do not eat there. Not a few streets, but the whole center.

When I close my eyes and imagine my ideal Yerevan, I imagine walking along the calm Abovyan street, without cars. It depends on the citizens.

Take, for example, the street. If the mayor of the city proposes to close one half of it for pedestrians and the bike path, then half of the people will be happy, while others will be upset. Half will be for, half against. The question is with which half of the townspeople the mayor relates himself. There is no correct answer here.

The question is what kind of street the mayor wants to see.

This society and all. 

Is it true that with the money that will be spent on the construction of a new metro station, it would be possible to purchase buses and replace all the old minibuses?

The construction of the Ajapnyak metro began in the days of the USSR, then the process stopped. I know that earlier the budget for the metro was much larger than it is now, and officials tried to distribute it to the private sector as well. The Mall is now being built there by private owners, in which the station will be located. I think this is a very important project. Given the flow of people, it would be possible to place a parking lot there, where people would leave their cars, go down to the subway and reach the center. Such a decision, firstly, would increase the passenger flow in the metro, and, secondly, unload the bu motorways on Baghramyan and Komitas avenues. 

Arguments that it would be possible to use the amount spent on the construction of a new station for the purchase of new buses does not seem relevant to me in this case. It seems to me that this will not solve the problems of the city, because we do not have rubber streets. New buses are a temporary solution. And the subway is a very reliable alternative.

Interview author - Deya Yengibaryan.

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10 tips on how to improve Yerevan, from Albert Manukyan - founder of YerevanRide
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