What makes bus drivers in Azerbaijan risk lives: their own and those of others?
A car crash took took the lives of five students on March 9 on the Baku-Sumgayit highway when a Ford minibus slammed into the side of a
loaded with bricks sitting on the side of the road.
Preliminary findings presented by the Press Service Spokesman of the Main State Traffic Police Department Kamran Aliyev reported that the accident was due to a ‘violation of traffic regulations’.
Aliyev also noted the driver of the minibuss violated passenger transport laws.
“Taking into account the number of deceased and injured, we can conclude that the driver took on additional, standing passengers – this is considering that the Ford Tranzit is designed for 18 passengers only”, said Aliyev.
In addition to the deaths of five Sumgait State University students, twenty-one passengers received varying injuries: 18 of them were hospitalized. One of those injured, eighteen year-old Lala Nasirzade, died in the hospital on March 11.
The driver of the minibus has been detained and a criminal case opened against him for the “violation of traffic and vehicle operation laws, leading to the death of two or more individuals as a result of reckless negligence.
A Few Extra Passengers. . . A Few Extra Miles. . .
A Few Extra Passengers. . . A Few Extra Miles. . .
As mentioned above, the maximum capacity of the minibus which caused the accident is eighteen people. However, there were at least 27 passengers on the bus.
This is, of course, not uncommon.
Jamal is a former bus driver. According to him, some minibuses are private and work as long-distance transport.
And in order to account for their daily expenses and make a decent salary, drivers are simply forced to pick up extra passengers and exceed the speed limit in order to ‘do more runs’ each day.
“How else are we to get by? We have to pay patrol officers, the inspectors. Everyone asks for money. Don’t we also have to make enough to get by?!”
Regarding extra places in the bus, he says that it’s impossible to make any money on the actual capacity.
“With each trip, you have to pay a manat here, a manat there, and spend some money on lunch. So you have to get some extra passengers so that you have at least five manat left over”.
Making the Quota
A quota-based system for public transportation is unproductive (and dangerous!) for everyone involved.
The Baku Bus project was launched in 2016 to combat this issue.
In contrast to the ‘usual’ drivers, the drivers of these buses receive a fixed wage and make stops exclusively at bus stops. Passengers immediately felt a difference, having grown accustomed to the fact that the drivers of ‘old’ buses exceed the speed limit, often refuse to stop even at official bus stops (especially during traffic jams), and frequently simply change their usual route because they “don’t fit the schedule”; or, on the contrary, they drive slowly and stop literally every step of the way in order to take on extra passengers. The new buses are clean, more comfortable, and most importantly the drivers are more reserved because they don’t need to ‘meet a quota’ at the end of each day.
Whereas, because of a lack of strict oversight, the drivers of the usual buses drink behind the wheel, talk on the phone, smoke cigarettes, and completely ignore dissatisfied passengers’ reactions to all these ‘excesses’. Many drivers work not eight, but sixteen hours straight in order to make more money.
Buses on Quota System Have Accidents More Often Than Others
Expert on issues of road traffic and transport and head of the Həyat (Life) Civic Association told AFN.az in an interview that it is namely busses whose drivers collect their salary based off the number of passengers they pick up that end up in frequent accidents.
“Some bus accidents are connected with road infrastructure. But in the majority of cases, accidents have subjective causes. A driver gets tired after eight or ten hours of work and this can’t fail but to affect the quality of his work”, says the expert.
Allakhveranov believes that in order to prevent such unfortunate incidents in public transport, the following conditions must first be fulfilled:
1. Payment in cash needs to be abolished and drivers should receive a wage;
2. Monitoring instruments should be installed in buses to record violations of traffic laws;
3. State oversight should be effective. Oversight of public transport should be stricter.
Allakhveranov believes that most problems in this sphere were resolved after the creation of the company BakuBus. However, this didn’t solve all the problems. Already five years ago people were speaking of switching to a card system, but the switch was made only in 2016.
Nobody has switched minibus drivers working the Baku Sumgait route to a card system, and clearly nobody intends to in the foreseeable future. Every day they pay a specified amount of money to one or several individuals who monitor this route, says Jamal.
Is There An Alternative?
Along with minibuses, the Baku-Sumgait route is also connected by buses and trains, which are called high-speed, but reach their final destination in 40-45 minutes and which don’t have a consistent schedule. The schedule changes depending on whether it’s a weekday, Sunday or a holiday.
Why Does the Population Use These Minibuses?
The primary reason is that the trip is cheap and fast. Passengers says that when you use other forms of transport you waste more time and money.
Ayten Alekberova says that the bus station, from where buses leave for Sumgait, was built in an inconvenient location, which is a long ways away, beyond the edges of the city, and this is why she uses these minibuses.
“You get tired of it. You can get to the bus station by metro, but in order to get to the bus, you have to walk a long distance by foot. You get to the station, and there find out that the buses are either already not running, or you need to wait for the next one. You waste a minimum of twenty minutes. The train schedule doesn’t work for me. If you stay in Baku until nine in the evening, you can forget about going by train, because they don’t run after nine. I need to get to Baku now. And I need to wait until five in the evening for the train to arrive. Who needs that?!”
The Cost of a Trip on the Baku-Sumgayit Route
A ticket on the Baku-Sumgait train costs one manat (1.60 manat for business class).
The cost of a trip from the Baku to the Sumgait bus stations is 40 qepik. But passengers believe that the buses, first of all, travel slowly (an hour or hour and a half), and that secondly, after arriving in Sumgayit, they have to get on another bus in order to get home. For a minibus, you spend 60 qepik and 30-40 minutes of your time.
The Georgian Answer to the Problem
We don’t have to go far for examples, in neighboring Georgia the situation in this sphere is much better. The transport system works rather well – there is information about the time and location of each bus. Moreover, if you download an application you can coordinate your time with the transport schedule. The buses stop only at bus stops.
There are also marshrutkas, they stop if requested by passengers. But they can’t speed, because law enforcement ensures that the driver does not put his or his passengers’ lives in danger.
Moreover, the taxi service doesn’t have to pay taxes, and prices are very low, so the population happily uses them. Discounts are also provided on all forms of public transport for particular segments of the population.