Urban transport policy: how to make Georgian cities livable

Streets overloaded by cars, shrinking space and obstructed walking paths are like a visit card of Georgian towns.

Between April-June 2016, by order of Tbilisi’s Mayor and financed by the Asian Development Bank, the French company SYSTRA together with local partners carried out a mobility survey of Tbilisi households. The main purpose of the survey was to create a database of existing mobility rates to be used in the future Tbilisi Transport Model. Mobility in Tbilisi is defined by the average number of trips made per day per person, which was 1.55. This is noteworthy given that the rate has remained stable since 2011, and falls below the international benchmark. For instance, the mobility indicator in Sarajevo amounts to 2.0, while in Tallinn it is 2.4. As a rule, these numbers are much higher in developed countries, like the USA (3.75) and Paris (4.1). In total, 35% of people in Tbilisi do not travel at all! According to the survey, mobility through the use of private cars in Tbilisi increased compared with 2011, reaching 0.51 per family; this data in 2011 was 0.40.

The average age of motor vehicles is 14 years, which points to the fact that the population of Tbilisi buys second-hand cars, which is actually also the most popular means of transport. Two factors can explain the low indicator rate of Tbilisi’s population mobility: low income and distribution by age. 

The correlation of income and mobility is well known to everyone: the higher the income, the more people move. The conclusion of the survey as carried-out is therefore not favorable, as the great part of Tbilisi population moves little and a significant part of this mobility is with private automobiles.

Such surveys have not been conducted in other towns in Georgia, but it can easily be assumed that this indicator is also probably low, as the level of public transport development and service is even lower here than in Tbilisi. The deserted streets, squares and public gathering places in towns after 6pm prove this view. In some areas of Georgian towns, the public transport schedule is made up according to the trade market timetable and so at the end of the working day, public transport stops working as well. 

Such a low indicator of mobility in Georgian towns and Tbilisi, along with above-mentioned factors relates to the absence of an urban transport policy in the country, and local municipalities have neither short nor long-term plans. 

At a national level, there is no cohesive policy document that would form an urban transport development strategy. Subsequently, investment in transport infrastructure and human resources largely depend on support from donors and foreign organisations. There are also important flaws in legislation that pose an additional barrier to local municipalities to realise transport activities. 

The transport system in Georgian towns is chaotic. Most minibuses and buses are out of order or old. Although there are planning schemes in some parts of Georgian towns and management of transport, efforts to introduce modern technologies and approaches in managing transport systems are mainly only present in Tbilisi and Batumi. 

In some towns, private operators provide public transport but regulation is weak, which has an overall negative impact on transport quality and safety. Today we can say that the development of public transport, dealing with parking issues, encouraging walking and cycling, ensuring safety on the roads, and decreasing air pollution have become one of the main challenges in all towns. 

The most popular mode of public transport in Georgian towns are minibuses and private taxis, but considering the level of income in the region this is a luxury for the majority of people. In Georgian towns, public transport and bus stops simultaneously perform the function of parking sites, and most drivers of minibuses and taxis do not stop in their designated areas, which is why bus stops do not fulfil their function. Moreover, the drivers often stop their vehicles in the middle of the road, obstructing the flow of traffic. 

In the near future, the importance of creating a national urban transport policy will be necessary to tackle the alarming air pollution rates in Georgian towns. For instance, according to an analysis carried out by Sustainable Development Centre in 2014, the share of the total energy consumption by the commercial transport sector was 96%, with a similar share of total emissions (96.5%). Land autotransport is one of the main sources of air pollution in Georgian towns, with a growing share of total energy consumption and emissions. 

There are some families in Tbilisi whose monthly income is 300 GEL and only 15% have got at least one car in a family. The proportion reaches 46% for families with a monthly income of between 600 and 900 GEL. Annually, 63% of vehicles operating costs come to less than 500 GEL, while approximately a quarter of annual operating costs amounts to more than 900 GEL.

According to the information published in February by the National Statistics Office of Georgia (GeoStat), transport price changes have an important influence over transport use as costs have increased by 10.8%. Price increases were recorded for the operation of private transport vehicles (10.1%) and for purchasing private transport vehicles (4.9%). According to the survey, using public transport and its service will also be getting more expensive in the near future. It is therefore important for local authorities to put more resources into public transport development in towns and develop cycling and walking systems. 

In the regions of Georgia where economic activity is weaker, these figures are far lower, and the mobility demands of the population for different types of transport such as cycling and walking are even higher.  

Moving forward, firstly, it is important to survey the transport problem in Georgian towns, to define current needs in local municipalities, study the attitude of the local authorities, and assess the exiting human and material resources. Based on the above mentioned, the development of a general urban strategy and documents of policy should be worked out along with the central government. The Green Towns projects serve this purpose, and are currently carried out with the support of the UNDP and GEF in cooperation with Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources Protection. The purpose of these projects are to promote sustainable and integrated municipal transport systems in the Adjara region, as well as to establish a sustainable transport policy on a national scale. 

The vitality of Georgian towns and their economic development are directly related to modern, sustainable urban transport policy development. Local staff training and traffic management models, along with the development of well-integrated public transport systems, including bicycle lanes, walking nets, and traffic infrastructure development as well as the optimization of traffic organization, ensuring traffic safety, creating a cohesive parking strategy and most importantly a long and short-term plan of action in the transport field are priorities. 

It is impossible to provide citizens with high-quality transport options without adequate resources, and today the resources available to Georgian cities are not sufficient. Addressing the above mentioned issues will be impossible without strong support from the central authorities, a national plan of action in the urban transport field and improvements in the current legislation and institutional set-up. 

Read more: Sustainable Urban Transport for Georgia

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