News & Analysis

Tbilisi metro set for timely upgrade

emerging europe tbilisi metro

There is a lot to like about the Tbilisi metro. For a start, the colourful card used to access to the system (and Tbilisi’s buses) is enormously pleasing on the eye, although some purists regret the loss of the small plastic tokens the card replaced. (As a bonus, the name of the card, მეტრომანის, transliterates as metro money).

Its deep, cavernous stations – though not as ornate as those in Moscow – are also in large part pleasing on the eye, although many are poorly lit and in need of repair. In January 2018, 14 people were injured when a ceiling collapsed at Varketili station.

Tbilisi’s metro is showing its age. Much of the system dates from two major Soviet-era construction projects (from 1966 and 1979) and the rolling stock is old. In recent years, surface-level public transport in the city has seen the bulk of new investment, with the metro somewhat neglected.

That is now set to change, following the announcement last week of a major new programme of investment, worth 75 million euros, in the from of a sovereign loan, with 65 million euros provided by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and 10 million euros by the Green Climate Fund (GCF).

The funds, extended to Georgia and on-lent to the city of Tbilisi for the benefit of the Tbilisi Transport Company, will finance the acquisition of 40 modern metro cars as well as the modernisation of a depot and a tunnel.

The metro upgrade and new rolling stock will improve the reliability, safety and efficiency of public transport and provide commuters with a comfortable and environmentally friendly means of transport. Tbilisi has almost 1.2 million inhabitants and becomes very congested during peak hours. The updated metro will encourage residents to shift from private to public transport, reducing air pollution.

The project also aims to promote gender equality and improve health and safety standards. It will include on-the-job training opportunities promoting the employment of women and addressing equal opportunities in the urban transport sector.

“The EBRD has been supporting Tbilisi’s municipal transport infrastructure for several years now,” says Kakha Kaladze, the mayor of Tbilisi. “We are grateful that despite the difficult economic conditions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the bank’s support for Georgia’s economy and its citizens remains strong.”

The EBRD has launched a Vital Infrastructure Support Programme as part of its response to the coronavirus pandemic to guarantee the operation and development of crucial infrastructure supplies and services. Infrastructure investments are vital for the local economy and create or secure jobs.

“The new financial resources allocated by our partners will be used for one of our most important priorities – municipal transport,” adds Ivane Matchavariani, Georgia’s minister of finance. “The rehabilitation of the Tbilisi subway, as well as the purchase of a new type of modern carriages, are necessary steps to ensure the safe movement of our citizens.”

Catarina Bjorlin Hansen, EBRD director for the Caucasus, adds: “Infrastructure plays a critical role in providing the services we need for our daily lives and for the functioning of the economy. The modernisation of the Tbilisi metro will be a milestone in addressing the city’s key environmental challenges. The demand for quality public transport is high and such projects have an excellent environmental and social impact.”

The Tbilisi metro currently comprises two lines, serving 23 stations. The system’s most recent extension, a station serving Tbilisi State University, was opened in 2017 with financial assistance from the Asian Development Bank. It was the first new station to open in more than 17 years.

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