Old and in need of repair cars which are dangerous, increasing number of injured and dead in car accidents, intercity transportation out of control - Georgia still does not have any transport policy.
Responsibilities are split between different governmental agencies and control systems are not effective. Risks for thousands of people still increase. There are no measures taken or planned to fulfil terms of EU Association Agreement and accepted obligations.
According to Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia, in the beginning of 2016 there were 1 053 181 cars registered in the country. 90 % from them are older than 11 years.
Technical inspection for motor cars has not been mandatory since 2004. A legislative act said it would begin again in 2013. Later, a new government postponed it for one year, and later changed it again so the “very last deadline” was March, 2015. But a few days before that deadline, the prime minister decided to postpone it for almost 3 years until 2018, after “advice from economical council of government”.
What is “technical inspection” - terms, challenges
The Ministry of Economy clarified that the reason for postponing the mandatory inspection system was that no one was ready for the process. In fact, even one month before the deadline, it was not clear what would be the main rules: how much it would be cost, and in how often should it be done: once a year? every two or five years?
Alan Ross, the team leader of the working group for TRACECA - International Transport Programme involving the European Union and 14 member States of the Eastern European, Caucasian and Central Asian region, - claims that the main obstacle to Georgian transport system transformation is that there exists no one responsible agency in the government who would plan, implement and assess the process of harmonisation of the legislation and inspection system to EU standards, as it is required in the EU-Georgia Association Agreement.
“There is no primary responsibility for the implementation of EU Association terms in the transport system," Ross said. "The country does not have any national approach towards the transition of the transport system to be more sustainable, environmentally friendly and proper for EU standards. You allow high speeds for cars, you don't identify the most risky parts of the roads, or do not monitor the road network system at all. How can you know what you are losing because of that?”
How effective are the measures taken to fulfil the terms of the Association Agreement and will Georgia be able to meet the demands in the given time period? The State Ministry for European & Euro-Atlantic Integration answered that the deadlines are not broken yet, and that the coordination of the different agencies are the responsibility of the Ministry of Economy.
A Deputy Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development of says that a “Transport System Development Policy” is being procreated. According to the head of the “Transport Policy Department” in the ministry, Qetevan Saluqvadze, a transport action plan is also ready, but still needs improvement before it will be published and implemented. But Saluqvadze has no answer about how much it's needed to have one agency responsible for implementation of an EU-standard based transport system
“We have different responsible agencies," she said. "For road safety there is the State Transport Agency, Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ministry of Infrastructure, Ministry of Education, Tbilisi City Hall. I'm not sure if we need one agency to have all functions; we need to research it.” Saluqvadze promises Georgia will be able to meet the deadline for EU Association. But there were no specific answers to questions sent to the Ministry of Economy.
Georgia signed the EU-Georgia Association Agreement in June 2014. The 6th chapter of the agreement concentrates on the transport system and Georgia took the responsibility when signing that document to implement an EU-standard based technical inspection system within 2-6 years. Almost two years have passed.
In December 2015, the former Prime Minister promised in a speech that the government would start the process and present the plan in the “near future”. It was the only statement about that issue during the whole year, after postponing the last deadline.
There was no plan presented to the public. There are not any public drafts for the technical inspection system implementation, any financing system, or information about deadlines or costs.
A report on the 2014 National Action Plan for the implementation of the Association Agreement almost does not mention transport at all. The draft of the regulation policy was not presented to Parliament. Transport is not mentioned in the report of the 2015 National Action Plan for the Implementation of the Association Agreement. The EU Association Agreement directly states the Georgian government is obliged to develop a sustainable transport policy, and to present particular strategies for all possible developments of the transport system.
According to data from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Georgia is among the top ten countries for death rates in car accidents. It is third after Russia and Armenia in Europe. Approximately 16 per 100,000 citizens are dying in car accidents.
In 2015, there were 6,432 automotive accidents recorded - 440 more than in 2014. 602 persons lost their lives, 28 of them children. 160 of the victims were pedestrians, and almost 2,000 pedestrians were injured. The Ministry of Internal Affairs states that the most of the car accidents happen on highways during inter-city travels.
The EU Association Agreement states that one of the top priorities should be control of public transport on intercity roads. Every vehicle which has nine or more passengers should have special meters to monitor their speed. But there are no such regulations in Georgia.
Different agencies present very different approaches to meet EU demands.
Three months ago the Ministry of internal Affairs presented a new road safety program that would implement a “point system” for administrative violation of road safety laws. After more than two months, Parliament had discussed it just once and there are no clear decisions or concerns. The Ministry of Regional Development and Infrastructure has its own plans for transport development. But how the two ministries would compromise is not clear.
Myths and Reality
While different agencies are trying to find the solution, most car owners (90 % of cars are older than 11 years) are concerned about the future. They think that technical inspections will take from them what is sometimes their only source of income - their car. They worry that the standards will be too high. The risk of air pollution from old cars or safety issues are not as important as the risk of losing everyday income from those cars.
Despite that, the interesting fact is that 68 % of people questioned in the summer of 2015 agreed that technical inspection is necessary. 66 % of them are car owners.
German politician and Member of the European Parliament for Alliance '90/The Greens, Rebecca Harms, sees the problems of painful reforms needed to be implemented on the way to EU for countries like Georgia. But she says citizens should not be alone in this process; responsibilities and expenses should be divided between government and citizens.
“During all these transformations, we require not only patience, but people might feel that they are loosing over a period. I saw this in all Eastern European countries, so for instance, in Poland, or Baltic countries, it was worse to go through those years of painful changes,” - answered Harms to our question during public interview held in Lviv, International School of Journalists.
“What I see is a missing frame right now. If only the little people are taking the burdens, I don’t know weather it can be successful and I think for a society its very very difficult to accept the years of lose, lower income, lower pensions, pay more for energy, pay more taxes - to accept all these, while facing that corruption on high level contributes, this whole debate is very important condition for citizens also to accept their burdens.” - says EU Parliamentarian Rebecca Harms.
Regional consultant for TRACECA, Alan Ross also thinks that Georgian government should see this process as an investment and not as an expense.
“You have not even assessed how much costs you have because of those accidents - material expenses," Ross said. "For instance, Great Britain and Sweden are spending 2 billion dollars for transport safety issues every year. That's money you can save on your treatment or car repairing, for instance.”
The head of service agency for the Ministry of internal Affairs, Otar Danelia, claims that the first stage of technical assessment should not be painful for the citizens: “It concerns just elementary safety demands and technical parameters of the cars, such as the brakes, seat belts, mirrors and so on,” says Danelia. But still there are no drafts of strategy and policy for the transformation, and it's still unclear what kind of responsibility the government will take about “not proper” cars that don't meet EU-standards.
Gela Kvashilava, founder of the Foundation of Partnership for Safe Roads, think that misunderstandings lead to improper attitudes towards EU membership and appears to be a barrier for the whole process.
“People think it will cause poverty, that it will cost them too much, that that everything should be implemented immediately. That's not right. The Association process is flexible and there are several deadlines, several steps and stages. We just need to start thinking and planning. The main thing is that none of the measures or particular strategies will work without one agreed-upon transport policy,” says Kvashilava.