Commuting to work or just travelling across Bishkek is no longer an ordeal for residents, now able to use the Kyrgyz capital’s new trolleybuses.
With the help of an investment of US$ 10.1 million from the EBRD and US$ 5.5 million of grant funds from the EBRD Shareholder Special Fund (SSF), the Bishkek Trolleybus Company (BTC) has bought 79 new vehicles to replace most of its dated fleet and paid for a partial renewal of the electric infrastructure.
The operation was also integrated with one of the first EBRD gender analysis and action plan projects.
The investment signals a comeback for one of the oldest, most reliable and cleanest forms of transport.
Public transport in the city will also be able to compete with the privately operated minibuses which, despite being dangerously crammed and heavy on carbon emissions, currently dominate the streets.
The rise of the minibuses was the result of the decline of the trolleybus service. The minibuses five-fold increase in the number of passengers over the past two decades, up to 140 million a year, is paralleled by the loss of two thirds of trolleybus users, down to 23 million in 2010.
The reason residents turned their backs on trolleybuses was straightforward enough.
Gulnara Yessentayeva, an EBRD monitoring analyst who lives in Bishkek and worked on the new project, remembers how frequent break-downs would leave people stranded at the bus stop for hours.
“I had to wake up before dawn to make sure I would not miss the 8am University class,” Ms Yessentayeva recalled.
Word on the streets today tells a different story. Women and elderly people are among the customers that are most pleased with the new fleet.
“I like these [new] trolleybuses because they are spacious, clean and good for the environment,” said one passenger on line 12. “Compared to minibuses, the trolleybus is a real pleasure.”
Kyrgyz Republic: promoting gender equality in municipal services
The EBRD and its donors are supporting the revival of the trolleybus service in Bishkek and the municipal company's gender equality plan.
With the support of the Bank, BTC tried a new approach to provide a demand-driven service. Before the purchase of the vehicles, the company surveyed passengers’ needs, with particular attention to more vulnerable categories of trolleybus passengers.
Their requests for easier access have determined the choice of 35 low-level trolleybuses. Now trolleybuses can be reintroduced on two routes that were no longer served for lack of available vehicles.
The municipality’s strong commitment to improving its service is mirrored by its determination to improve its institutional development and fairness in its human resources practices, an effort supported by the Bank’s SSF.
“We’ve now got a Gender Action Plan in place which will help us increase the number of women drivers,” explained Nazgul Shamekova, a municipal trolleybus driver for over 13 years.
She is one of BTC’s 660 employees to benefit from more gender equality in the workplace. According to the newly introduced plan, for example, women from the suburbs of Bishkek will be trained to become professional electricians, which until now has mainly been the preserve of male colleagues.
The investment programme was eagerly backed by the Early Transition Countries Fund, which supported the company with engineering design and implementation, and by the Czech Republic which funded a corporate development programme.
The programme helped BTC prepare a long-term business and marketing plan to increase efficiency, revenues and cost coverage.
In addition, the TaiwanBusiness-EBRD Cooperation Fund has provided technical cooperation funds to prepare the next modernisation move which will introduce for the first time an electronic ticketing system.
This will make Ms Shamekova and fellow drivers’ lives even easier because they will no longer have to collect fares.“This work is different, there are always new people to talk with,” she said, smiling from behind the wheel of her trolleybus. “Basically, it’s abou