Vartazaryan has driven trams for 30 years.
On June 20, Route 7 of the Yerevan tram network
closed, leaving only Route 5 as the survivor among
the capital's dinosaur transportation system.
The system began in 1933 and over the years grew
to four routes. Two routes were discontinued in
Bit by bit, these retro carriages that were in
service for more than 70 years are being taken
out from use because the State can not sustain
them any longer and because passengers are not
guaranteed enough safety to continue traveling
"Why leave them if they are so expensive"
questions Areg Barseghyan, head of the Department
of Transportation, who says there are numerous
factors that make trams a burden for the capital
roads rather than a service.
Since 1998, when the government discontinued
its financial support for electric transportation,
trams were consuming much more than they were
Statistics at the Department of Transportation
show that for 2002, revenues generated by trams
were put at 103.9 million drams (about $179,000),
while expenditures for electricity only were as
high as 151.9 million drams (about $262,000).
In addition to energy costs, maintenance and
salaries make the exotic but expensive transports
impractical. Employees are owed three months overdue
salaries and the overall debt of the system is
38 million drams (about $65,500).
gone, the trams won't return, as rails are
If the system were to be maintained, it would
require a complete overhaul, Barseghyan says.
"Nobody is even counting how much is needed
for renewal because in no case can trams be a
The last serious investment was made 17 years
ago when Yerevan bought new carriages. Since then
only cosmetic repair was performed, and this by
tram drivers themselves.
Aged coaches with ripped chairs, decayed floors
and sometimes no glass in windows cause comfort
and safety problems. And, as automobile and mini-bus
traffic has increased, so, too, has the danger
to tram riders disembarking in the middle of crowded
But in spite of all the difficulties related
to trams, their closure is a tragedy for some.
In addition to the 200 employees who lost jobs
when the first three routes closed, some devoted
passengers are losing a source of cheap (often
For Maro Grigoryan, 40, who is unemployed, trams
were the only possibility to move around Yerevan.
"I feel outraged because trams were cheap
A standard fare for trams is 40 drams (about
7 cents), compared to 100 drams for minibuses.
But 30-year veteran tram driver Husik Vartazaryan
says most of his passengers are military, pensioners,
policemen - who ride for free.
a colorful part of Yerevan traffic, trams
are about to be extinct.
While Route 5 runs out its indefinite future,
authorities have nearly doubled the number of
carriages to 25. The increase is good news for
passengers who now only wait about four to five
minutes rather than twice that long.
But this good news means new trouble for tram
drivers. Daily, they have to accomplish a plan
of collecting 11,000 drams (about $19) from tickets.
The increase of carriages makes it difficult for
each driver to collect his quota.
When Route 5 finally succumbs (and authorities
aren't sure when that will be), the city plans
to add more buses. Recently 13 buses, a gift from
the city of Lyon, began service; another 12 are
to begin operation by the end of this month.
While some drivers still hope that one day there
will be money for restoring the trams, at least
for a route that would serve for tourist purposes,
the mayor's office leaves no chance for it. Along
with withdrawing the trams, rails are being pulled
Authorities have offered to sell the 1,300 tons
of rails at a price of $80 per ton. But because
the rails are so old, no one has yet offered to