- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 November 7 , 2003 

Deadly Commute: Overcrowded minibus results in six deaths

Six people died in this "marshrutka", the fourth fatal crash on Heratsi street in recent months.

A major traffic accident in Yerevan this week has focused attention on the chronic problem of overloaded public minibuses, traffic congestion and a transportation system that encourages hazardous practice.

On Monday afternoon five people were killed and 13 injured, requiring hospitalization.

Wednesday, the death toll rose to six, as driver David Manukyan, 45, died from injuries sustained when his minibus rolled over, striking four other passenger vehicles. The minibus, serving Route No. 81 which connects Avan with Erebuni was traveling on Heratsi Street when it flipped and struck cars parked on Koryun Street.

Initially, the accident was being blamed on brake failure. After Manukyan's death, however, officials are now saying he simply lost control of the vehicle due to it being overloaded.

Built to hold 14 passengers, the RAF minibus (known locally by their Russian name "marshrutka") was carrying 17 riders. Though police have criticized Manukyan's decision to exceed passenger limits, it is well known that having only three extra passengers is less than the norm for buses on many routes.

Monday's crash is the fourth minibus crash in recent months on the same street, each resulting in fatalities.

The accident that injured 12 involved five vehicles..

Since independence, the number of minibuses operating in the capital has increased from less than 200 to more than 2,000. According to the Municipal Transportation Department, numerous other minibuses operate illegally - meaning they are either not registered and/or the driver does not have a chauffeur's license.

The accident that took six lives involved an illegally operated bus. The bus was not registered, and Manukyan's permit did not include authorization to be driving on that specific route.

Jivan Fidanyan, director of J. Fidanyan Ltd., which owns operation rights to Route 81, has been arrested for violations in connection with the accident.

The accident has caused police to crack down on minibus use. Since Monday's crash, overcrowded buses have been impounded and licenses confiscated.

Drivers of public minivans complain that they must fill their vehicles with as many passengers as possible, in order to cover the costs of operation. State taxes, for example, cost about $50 a month. (Minibus fares are 100 drams - about 16 cents - per ride.)

The streets of Yerevan are overfilled with minibuses.

"The reason is that we want to live more or less normally," says 37 year old driver Karen Serobyan. "In addition to state taxes we pay the rent for cars, plus, we pay the route owner, route controllers and as a result we earn almost nothing. Plus if our vans have defects then we must repair them at our own expense."

Drivers say that enforcement by police since Tuesday is mere formality.

Republic of Armenia Police spokesperson Sayat Shirinyan says that the department is constantly patrolling against overcrowded buses.

Shirinyan also says that, as vehicle traffic overall (including minibuses) has increased, so have the number of multiple-vehicle accidents like Monday's. Part of the reason, he says, is because of recent reconstruction and some re-routing of streets.

"It turns out that streets have been reconstructed to restore normal traffic operations but they turned into something that gave impulse to the increase of accidents," he said, adding that since streets have been repaved, drivers drive faster.

In the first nine months of this year 695 traffic accidents occurred, causing 174 deaths and 884 injuries.


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The blessing of the territory for a new church in Masis took place this week. It will be the first dominical temple in this town (for years it has been populated by Azerbaijanis) and the second biggest after the St. Grigor Lusavorich in Yerevan. The construction is estimated at $1 million and is sponsored by "Vardanyan Family" foundation.



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