Notes From Hairenik
January 19, 2008

In Armenia there is one mode of public transport which is the most popular and in some cases the only one available: travel by minibus. This holds true for Yerevan as well, as there is no escaping them.

A minibus here usually comes in the form of two types of vehicles: the RAF minivan or the GAZelle transport van, which is sturdier and holds more people comfortably. It is also used in Moscow for public transportation. These two vehicles literally crisscross and zigzag throughout the city and can be seen on most thoroughfares. You cannot escape them, especially if you are driving your own car. The drivers often have no clue about how to drive properly and they don’t understand the concept of what rear-view mirrors are for, so it is not rare to see these things roll out into oncoming traffic or randomly switching lanes.

If you are lucky, however, you can find an actual bus approach the bus stop, something I pine to see every morning nowadays while I am shivering, confused as to which of the 100+ minibus routes I should climb aboard. The Isuzu-manufactured buses were purportedly imported second hand from Europe somewhere, painted yellow, and put into service. Compared to the minibuses they are a godsend both in comfort and speed. I have given up driving for now since the Niva doesn’t perform well in zero Celsius weather conditions and there is too much ice on the streets. Not a good combination with all the maniacs cruising along the roads.

The problem with the minibuses is their safety. The RAF minivans, which basically are the Soviet equivalents to the original Chrysler minivan models introduced in the mid-1980s in terms of size and capacity, should have been decommissioned a long time ago—they are decrepit and generally unsound. One look at them will convince you. The GAZelle, being a newer model, is not so bad to be honest. However, it is not uncommon to see both these vehicles carrying more passengers than they should handle—about 10 at the very most, perhaps 8 with the RAF. I have been in these things when people were forced to stand in a hunched-over position since no seats were available. When they are overfilled they move slower and are more than likely prone to tipping over, which is uncommon but I have seen them lying on their side for whatever reason. Frankly I would use the minibuses more often if the drivers would enforce rules about taking on too many passengers. I have had disagreements with drivers in the past about this which led me to boycott traveling in these things altogether. What’s more, sometimes you see these vans being driven in a state where they seem to be leaning on one side, as if a strut gave out. Some vans can barely move uphill for whatever mechanical reason they have. I don’t understand how people get into such vehicles but obviously they don’t care. Many minibuses actually follow the same route more or less, for instance up Tigran Mets street from somewhere in Erebuni, then onto Khanjian, passing through Opera Square, traveling up Baghramian Street then on to Komitas, through Kanaker-Zeitun, then perhaps off to Nor-Nork (a.k.a., Masiv). Why so many people cram into one if another minibus will show up 30 seconds later heading for the same destination remains unclear.

On a positive note, I should mention that most of the road construction projects are now complete, with the noticeable exception of the Khanjian/Tigran Metz intersection near Cinema Russia, where some moronic engineer failed to take into consideration that the metro which travels directly underneath the street would interfere with the construction of a tunnel for motor vehicles that he envisioned. The bridge arching across Paregamutiun Square has been erected and both the Orbeli Street and Khanjian Street tunnels seem to be open. Even in the middle of Friday afternoon traffic was flowing quite nicely along Baghramian and Komidas Streets, so it is comforting to see that all the headaches with the detours and congestion seem to have been worth enduring to some extent. Then again, there seems to be a lot less cars on the road lately most likely due to the doldrums of winter and people being less apt to drive. Plus I am sure car sales will shoot up in the spring when the weather warms up, so we’ll see if all that nonsense really paid off in a few months. I still hate the bridge, but the intent of helping to relieve traffic jams seems to be working.

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