August 23, 1997 Vreme News Digest Agency No 307

Special Wars

Bus in Ditch

by Gordana Sormaz

Used buses are on their way. Who will be "taking us for a ride", and with what, come September

The Belgrade transit authority, O.K. But with what, and how? When all of us, happy and eager after having spent our vacations in our living rooms, roll up our sleeves for getting back to work, we will be driven by 708 buses, 113 trolley buses and 138 trams. Those 959 vehicles represent 77% of the GSB vehicle inventory, which includes a total of 1235 vehicles. The average age of those vehicles is 10.5 years (buses 7.5; trams 12.8; trolley buses 11.3). To service us according to international standards, GSB would have to have 1600 buses, trolley buses and trams. Every September! However, we never had that: the capital’s record is an official meeting of obligations amounting to 59% of the city’s needs. What then makes up for the difference? The new city government and its promises that trams are coming from Czechoslovakia, trolley buses from Russia, buses from Stockholm, Berlin and Ikarbus...

It is a fact that the first of the 20 trams — negotiated for by the previous city government — has arrived. Tram specialists from Czechoslovakia also arrived to train the drivers and mechanics who will be maintaining these vehicles.

The directors of GSB were ready to bring in 10 used buses (8 Mercedeses and 2 MAN’s) which Berlin, through Mayor Zoran Djindjic’s intervention, gave to Belgrade. The Federal Trade Ministry prohibited their import, calling on a law which prohibits the import of used vehicles and spare parts. Why don’t they give us new ones, if they like us or Djindjic so much, seems to have been the attitude of the Federal Government. Vojislav Seselj concluded that the 10 buses are so worn out that they are liable to fall apart en route from Berlin to Belgrade. The 35 buses presented to Belgrade by Stockholm should not have this problem: it was agreed that they should begin arriving by boat starting September 1. We hope the name of the boat is not "Titanic".

Ikarbus has completed 17 buses which GSB can have immediately — that is, as soon as it pays for them.

The interests of every city government are clear enough. The two main arteries of every city are its waterworks and its transportation system. The Belgrade Parliament, as the founder of GSB, has a two thirds majority interest in the GSB Executive Council. The remaining third is represented by the GSB General Director, by one lawyer, and one representative of the transit system’s drivers. Every Tuesday they consider, discuss and plan things they will and will not do. There is simply no money. From 1945 to 1982, GSB received 26 million dollars in subsidies, and 40 million from 1982 to 1988. From the following year and on, it has been operating on a loss, with constantly mounting debts. The sum totals are: in 1990 one (1) trolley bus was purchased; in years 1994-1995 zero (0) buses were purchased; in 1996, 33 buses were purchased, while in 1997, 38 were purchased.

Working results are on par with those of 15 years ago; although, if the truth be told, vehicle safety meets international standards: before leaving the garage, all vehicles are checked, especially the brakes, and the steering system. In any case, the series of incidents with malfunctioning brakes and fire hazards involving "functioning" vehicles — which in the first half of last year nearly paralyzed the entire transit system, right up to Covic’s historic arrests of GSB drivers’ union members, coinciding somehow with the elections — are no longer happening. GSB has very qualified people, but no spare parts, nor any means of getting them. On September 19, 1996, 35 million dinars were frozen in GSB’s bank account, of which 14 million are owed to Jugopetrol. In May of this year, without any prior procedure, the debt was transferred to Belgrade’s Parliament which also, it will be remembered, is pennyless.

At present the price of GSB’s systems is the following: expenses — 90 million dinars, revenues — 32 million. This ratio is within international norms; the difference needs to be covered by subventions, subsidies, third party services, etc. City government requested subsidies from the republic. The latter never answered. The politics of GSB financing were essentially never ironed out within the system. Without that, there is no way for public transport to function.

Is there hope? At the beginning of June, GSB got a new General Manager, Pavle Gladovic, Doctor of Traffic Sciences, university professor, an expert in the field, and "a man of challenges". The 95 million debt owed to suppliers that awaited him, had been reduced, in the meantime, to 67 million. The Executive Council accepted Gladovic’s arguments that the hiring of ten young engineers would be a wise investment for GSB: these engineers had all completed their degrees with averages above "A", they all speak foreign languages and are all computer literate. It is expected that the situation in GSB will mend itself within a reasonable length of time — foremost with a stoppage of the mounting debts — and will even look up.

Pavle Gladovic suggests a new concept of measures which would, in part, through cooperation with City Parliament (subsidies for ticket users, change of universal ticket prices, and implementation of an assortment of transit passes — which should ensure 18.9 million), and in greater part through GSB activities (expected revenues of 4.8 million), should all together ensure monthly revenues of 23.7 million dinars. To the question of what type of solution he sees to public transport in Belgrade, Gladovic answered: "Lightweight rail systems. The metro is too expensive: one kilometer costs 120 million dollars, which raises the price of only two ten-kilometer lines to 2.4 billion dollars, which would solve transportation needs of only 15% of transit users". Last week we began receiving bids for work on the line Proletarian Solidarity — Blok 45; the reconstruction on the left side of Roosevelt Street is in progress.

Asked to comment for VREME on the special decision with which the Federal Government approved on August 14 the importation of 10 buses from Berlin, Mayor Zoran Djindjic stated:

"The decision comes as the result of mounting pressures. That, in general, is the theme of the day. We know that there is a crisis headquarters SPS-JUL with a specific objective of obstructing city government. Their work is directed at the waterworks, traffic and heating systems, all with the desire to discredit our labors and to present us to the citizens as lazy and inept. However, too many people are acquainted with their intentions and our problems, with the result that the present decision was made under such pressures. That decision is limited — it only refers to buses from Berlin. They are telling us that all the relevant documents have not been received for the other buses, the ones from Sweden. Of course, that is only their excuse. It is true that there is a missing document about the present ones made by the Swedish Government with a seal from the Swedish Embassy in Belgrade. We procured that document and are expecting to receive those 35 buses, and by the end of the year, also 30 new buses from Paris. Little-by-little, with resolve, and with more experience, we are working, and we believe that we will improve traffic in our city. Admittedly, the budget funds intended for GSB this year have already been spent, but we will ask for a new balancing of the budget. In any case, we are working very seriously and thoroughly, and are telling citizens that there will be results".