Yerevan’s Bus-Ticket Revolution?
A bus boycott entered its third day in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, on July 23, with hundreds protesting against an increase in public and private transportation fees in the wake of a hike in the price of imported Russian natural gas.
Fares have doubled or, at best, increased by 50 percent, depending on the type of transportation. A bus ride now costs 150 drams, which is just 35 cents, but is pinching wallets in this cash-strapped country. And sapping patience among an urban population which has already shown this year how economic hard-knocks can translate into protest power.
One crowd, gathered on July 23 in front of the office of Mayor Taron Margarian, accused the Yerevan mayor of having business interests in private bus companies. Six people were detained by police, but later released. Scuffles with police persisted throughout the day.
Ironically, not a few bus drivers back the boycott, RFE/RL reported. Many Armenian celebrities do, too, taking to the streets and offering ordinary Armenians rides in their cars. The tactic, billed Free Car, is meant to dissuade people from using public transportation and keep the pressure up on the authorities.
Some Armenians feel that they have been duped by officials, who, they claim, delayed the price hike until after the February 18 presidential election, which saw President Serzh Sargsyan re-elected. The government denies any such scheming.