The FINANCIAL — Art nouveau architecture, lively cafes and legendary hospitality: Tbilisi is rich in rewards. It is no surprise that more and more people are visiting Georgia’s capital and that many are moving there.
However, this welcome surge in tourists and the growth of the local population are straining the city’s ageing infrastructure.
It needs expansion and adequate support with finance and expertise – projects that are right up the street of the EBRD and its partners, including donors and other international institutions.
One of the first sustainable solutions that the EBRD backed for Tbilisi was the municipality’s acquisition of 143 new compressed-natural-gas buses.
The EBRD and the Eastern Europe Energy Efficiency and Environment Partnership (E5P),* a multi-donor fund, provided the financial means and know-how to make this happen, including a €27 million sovereign loan to Georgia for on-lending to the city of Tbilisi, and a €7 million capital grant from the E5P.
Phasing out polluting vehicles
Modern, blue vehicles manufactured by MAN Truck and Bus from Germany are taking the place of the old, yellow buses – polluting vehicles with no air conditioning and unsuited to the needs of passengers who are elderly or disabled.
The fleet has been renewed with low-floor, low-emission buses conforming to high safety standards, on a par with European Union regulations, according to the EBRD.
They run more frequently and reliably, reaching areas in the city that were previously not covered by any bus routes. For example, the new vehicles now connect Tbilisi’s airport with the downtown area.
“I’ve been transporting passengers in the city for a good number of years,” said Gela Modebadze, who has 40 years of bus-driving experience and is a fan of the positive changes.
“I have to say that these new buses have exceeded our expectations. They are so modern and environmentally friendly, too. They are certainly superior to the previous buses.”
What’s at stake
“Eight-five per cent of air pollution is caused by car emissions,” explained Otar Gelashvili, Professor of Transportation Studies at the Georgian Technical University. “For the sake of people’s health as well as the environment, it is crucial to have modern, eco-friendly public transport in Tbilisi.”
The hope is that with efficient public transport, fewer people will flock to cars, appreciating the benefits of clean and efficient modes of urban transport for themselves and for the environment they live in. Easing traffic in the city will help reduce levels of pollution as well as congestion.
“As a mother of two, I find clean air and the environment very important. That is why these new buses that are ‘green’ are very welcome. I use them almost every day,” said Natalia Maziashivili, a resident of Tbilisi.
Down the road
Looking ahead, one can see much more than happy drivers and passengers. Some carefully crafted policies are expected to bring systemic change. Restructuring of bus routes is on the horizon, along with corporate development and stakeholder participation programmes, accompanied by an advisory programme, which will help introduce better human resources practices to offer equal opportunities to all.
Donor funds from the European Union and the EBRD Shareholder Special Fund support the implementation of these measures.
But Tbilisi’s vision is wider than just investment in public transport. The city is also looking into other environmental improvements, in areas such as water and wastewater services, solid waste management, the climate resilience of buildings, and other energy efficiency measures.
These plans have all been shaped under the EBRD’s so-called Green City Action Plan. Georgia’s capital has become the second city to benefit from this programme, which is funded by the Czech Republic, the Slovak Republic and Spain.
Tbilisi’s US$ 412 million work to implement these plans is expected to reduce annual CO2 emissions by around 450,000 tonnes and to save around 55 million m3 of water per year.
“The slogan ‘New modern buses, for new modern Tbilisi’ reflects well the EBRD’s intention of modernising public transport in Tbilisi and in Georgia. This is a pioneering project in many respects, including the use of low-floor adaptation and energy-saving technologies.
Tbilisi has a strong aspiration to become a ‘green city’. The concept of a green city is about combining strategy and policy support, physical investment in infrastructure, and technical assistance for project implementation, capacity-building and public awareness.
The blue buses represent the EBRD’s commitment to helping Tbilisi – ‘the City that loves you’ – to become green, tourist-friendly and more modern,” said Bruno Balvanera, EBRD Director for the Caucasus, Moldova and Belarus.
Georgia’s growing capital is on the fast track, not only to cleaning up its air and averting gridlocks, but also to making the city more pleasant to live in and visit.
*Donors to the E5P are: the European Union (the largest contributor), Armenia, Belarus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovak Republic, Sweden, Switzerland, Taipei China, Ukraine and the United States of America.