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Tajikistan: Public Transport Users In Dushanbe Feel They're Being Taken For A Ride

After three years of unchanged tariffs, those who use public transport in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, now have to pay twice what they used to to get around the city. RFE/RL looks at the reasons behind the move, which is sparking criticism among the capital's population.

Prague, 8 January 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Those who use public transport in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, were surprised to learn this week that fares had unexpectedly doubled for minibuses and buses.

ITAR-TASS reports the increases sparked an avalanche of telephone calls to the local administration.

As one male resident of the capital told RFE/RL, "For poor people, it's too hard. People who work usually use minibuses, and 40 dirams [13 U.S. cents] is too much because our salaries are too low. It's [already] difficult to buy one pack of flour."

The average national income in Tajikistan is $11 a month. Dushanbe's new transport rates are now approximately the same as in Bishkek, the capital of neighboring Kyrgyzstan, where the average monthly salary is $50.

Akbar Khojayev, chairman of the state agency for antimonopoly policy and promotion of entrepreneurship, says the living standard of the population was taken into account in discussions between ministries, transport organizations, Dushanbe's administration, and his own agency.

"We thought that people should be able to pay [the new prices]," Khojayev says. "We determined 40 dirams for a minibus ride. For trolleybuses, the price of 10 dirams remains unchanged. The price for a bus ride was increased to 20 dirams," Khojayev said.

A private minibus driver, who would be expected to benefit from the change, says any extra money he may make because of the price increase will be offset by a likely increase in the price of an operating license, as well as extra bribes to police.

"It's the government's decision. It's not for us. It means it was necessary for the government," he said.

Naim Rahimov, chairman of the transport department in Dushanbe's administration, explains the reasons behind the change.

"Since 2000, the price for a bus ride has been 10 dirams, while prices for oil, fuel, and spare parts were increased several times. The salaries of drivers have increased five times since 2000. Therefore, it was necessary to increase public transport prices in order to make them work better and to buy new vehicles. It's impossible for the state budget to provide transport organizations with new minibuses and trolleybuses," Rahimov said.

Last year, Dushanbe purchased 50 buses and 100 taxi minivans from Russia. Prices for vehicles and spare parts have increased due to higher transportation costs. In addition, ITAR-TASS says Russia and Kazakhstan last year considerably increased the prices of fuel and lubricants imported by Tajikistan.

Ana Walker is an editor at the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit. She says the Tajik government is seeking to partly reduce deficits in the energy sector through the implementation of tariff increases.

"I think [the change] has to be seen mainly in the context of government attempts to raise all fuel prices," she says. "The government is trying to raise its fuel prices to cost-recovery levels. In this context, the transport prices have also risen sharply to partly make up for the shortfall."

Walker notes that prudent macroeconomic policies, improvements in tax collection and greater spending discipline have contributed to a gradual consolidation of Tajikistan's fiscal position in the past two years. However, she points out that such tariff increases greatly affect the population.

"I think wage rises are running slightly ahead of inflation. So there will be some benefit to that. But, of course, there's a danger that the wage rises are eroded by the energy price rises, as well. Any rise in energy prices affects a huge section of the population," Walker said.

Following a presidential decree, the minimum monthly wage in Tajikistan was increased by 60 percent to $2.30 starting 1 January. The decree also ordered a 25 percent increase in public sector wages, pensions, and allowances.

However, the price of gas for household consumers doubled last July. And from the beginning of the new year, electricity tariffs have seen a fivefold increase, based on Asian Development Bank recommendations.

(Sojida Djakhfarova of RFE/RL's Tajik Service contributed to this report.)

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