Public transport fares: between necessity, equity and interests, including political ones. IPN debate

A week ago, the Chisinau Municipal Council (CMC) approved the methodology for calculating fares in public transport in the municipality of Chisinau and the local executive later announced an eventual increase in the trolleybus and bus fares from 2 lei and 3 lei, respectively, to 6 lei for both types of transport as from July 1. The decision generated heated discussions inside the municipal authorities and in society given that this is a decision that brings about significant changes in the situation of large sections of the population of the capital city. The experts invited to IPN’s public debate “Public transport fares in the capital city: between necessity, equity and interests, including political ones” discussed how inevitable and correct from economic viewpoint and how equitable from social viewpoint the increase is.

The head of the General Public Transport and Communications Division Vitalie Mihalache said the adjustment of public transport fares is a very topical and broadly discussed subject. The situation was generated also by the fact that the trolleybus and bus fares in Chisinau hadn’t been reviewed since 2009. Initially, the considered increase was lower, but the fare of 6 lei was agreed following the rises in the prices of a number of components that form and influence this fare. The basic idea of the adjustment was yet to promote monthly season tickets that will enable passengers to benefit from considerable discounts.

Vitalie Mihalache said the methodology for calculating fares in public transport in the municipality that was approved by the CMC stipulates the formula for determining the cost and reference values. “From economic viewpoint, the fare should have been higher than 6 lei, but the fare should be also social and the commuters should be able to pay it. Currently, the draft decision (issued by the mayor general) concerning the adjustment of fares is being endorsed and coordinated for being signed and published. It will be published in the near future and the new bus and trolleybus fare of 6 lei will start to be applied in Chisinau and its suburbs on July 1.

The deputy head of the group of the Party “Dignity and Truth Platform” in the CMC Ruslan Verbitski said that there is the possibility that the fare will not be yet raised. The rise could have been avoided if the Government cleared its debts totaling about 460 million lei to the local public administration. This money was to be allocated in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic and the refugee crisis. The maintaining of the subsidies for the Urban Bus Company and the Electric Transport Company by the municipality is another solution. The government could have offered support to the Chisinau City Hall, including by annulling the excise duties on fuel.

“We would ask the citizens to pay higher fares in the last instance. Surely, in the Chisinau Municipal Council, we voted for a methodology, not for an increase in fares. It was normal for the municipality of Chisinau to have a methodology based on which to determine the fares. But it is the mayor who is to take a decision as to the rise in the fares. In the election campaign, not we, but mayor Ceban promised to all those who voted for him that he would not raise the fares, while the PAS majority promised good times. They should keep their word and should deliver on their electoral promises,” stated Ruslan Verbitski.

The head of the group of the Party of Action and Solidarity on the CMC Roman Cojuhari said the public transport in the municipality is the key problem mentioned by locals and this issue should be addressed not only by raising fares. Therefore, the PAS councilors suggested creating a working group for designing a strategy for developing the public transport in the municipality. The CMC also unanimously approved a decision regarding an action plan that the executive (City Hall) was to implement during a period of three years, but this didn’t happen. “The purchase of the 100 buses was the only measure that was fully implemented. But a complex functional and financial audit at the Urban Bus Company and the Electric Transport Company wasn’t conducted by the March 2021 deadline,” he stated.

Roman Cojuhari noted that a plan for reviewing the municipal routes was to be designed. There are now streets on which no public transport units run. “Another measure was to launch the assembly of units of transport at the Urban Bus Company. Another 100 small-capacity units of transport would have been assembled by now. We speak about the quality standards in the field, which are now not met by the executive, but an increase is asked,” stated the PAS councilor.

The head of the group of the Party of Socialists on the CMC Alexandr Odintsov said the Socialists voted not for a rise in fares, but for the methodology for calculating the fares. When the discussions about an eventual rise in fares following the higher prices of energy, fuels began, discussions were also launched with representatives of the two municipal companies and it was clear that the situation was difficult. On the one hand, it is evident that the passengers will be affected by this rise given all the price increases and the small incomes. On the other hand, if the fares are not adjusted, there is a risk that the public transport will not survive owing to the huge losses sustained by the two municipal companies. The municipality of Chisinau is one of the few local public administrations that provide subsidies. But these subsides will rise to over 1 billion lei and other important ongoing projects can be stopped.

Alexandr Odintsov noted that in the created conditions, the local Socialist councilors asked the Socialist MPs to formulate a legislative proposal to annul the excise duties. They also asked the Government and Parliament to work out regulations concerning the companies of social importance. If the parliamentary majority had supported these initiatives, the public transport fares wouldn’t have been raised. “We used up all the ways for preventing a rise in fares. We also took into account the mayor general’s intention to assume full responsibility for the adjustment of fares. Therefore, we voted in favor of the methodology,” stated the Socialist councilor.

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