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Hundreds Hitchhike Daily As Public Transport Reform Fails In Armenia 

After working hours, the last roundabout heading south out of Yerevan is crowded. Workers from the Ararat region gather here across from the Factory metro station to leave the city and return to their rural homes. As  the government’s  grand plan to reform public transport fell apart, hundreds of people have to rely on a different mode of transit: hitchhiking.

This is  not the casual kind with thumbs in the air hitchhiking you see in American movies; it’s more desperate and less glamorous. Hitchhikers here look worn out, not cool; they’re workers, not wanderers.

They awkwardly come into the driveline, sometimes stepping into the roundabout, risking a collision to grab the attention of drivers heading south.

Luxury cars breeze by without a second glance, but a more modest sedan slows down, rolling  down the window to see where the hitchhikers are headed. “Masis,” the driver says, and the crowd around the car disperses with murmurs of disappointment. Too close, they need to go further south on the North-South highway.


30 minutes later another car pulls up. The 19-year-old driver says he’s going to Artashat, 3 quickest hitchhikers jump in. Usually drivers ask for a chip-in for gas, but this driver wanted to take people for free. “I got this car a month ago. I used to be on this roundabout every night, I know how it feels. I don’t do this for the money”,- he said.

The silence settles in again, broken only by occasional directions to the driver for where to pull over. One of my fellow hitchhikers whispers, “Once I found this spot, I could never go back to the bus.”

The transportation system out of Yerevan has always been a mess, but with gentrification pushing more people to commute from rural areas, it’s become untenable. Students, priced out of the rental market by Russian émigrés with deeper pockets, and unskilled workers who can only find jobs in the capital, all need a way to get in and out of Yerevan.

Back in 2021, the government announced a sweeping public transport reform to fix the broken system. But that promise never materialized  in Ararat marz. A contest for a unified transport provider was declared in 2021. The Ministry of transport and infrastructure set higher requirements for the competing transportation providers and in return promised to grant them a monopoly to carry out the transportation in the whole region for 10 consecutive years. A company called Regnum won the contest in Ararat as it pitched to bring brand new buses from Russia and offer the cheapest fare. However, since winning the contest in 2022, the company hasn’t started  rides. In 2022 the company asked for extension of the license invoking the force’s major situation in Russia. It argued the Russian car-manufacturer failed to deliver the promised 78 “PAZ” buses because of the war in Ukraine.

The Ministry of Territorial Administration and Infrastructure can’t wait forever, Ruzanna Ayvazyan, head of the Automobile Policy Department, tells Epress.am. “We’re caught between a rock and a hard place, receiving many complaints from Ararat residents. It’s a tragic situation. The company is irresponsible and has damaged the whole competitive process.”

Another competition will be announced. In the meantime, the line of daily hitchhikers on the Yerevan-Ararat highway isn’t going anywhere.