While the promises of the Municipality of Tirana regarding the quality of public transportation have been approaching European standards over the years, the reality of the service is still far from what is claimed. With significant delays, overcrowding of buses, and a fragmented service using outdated vehicles, passengers complain about a disconnect between reality and the claims of the institution’s management.
Author: Marina Zela
Due to the continuous traffic congestion, unreliable schedules, and overcrowded busses, the public transportation system in Tirana faces a range of challenges, leaving passengers frustrated and in great need of solutions to these issues.
It’s Monday. The clock is about to strike 9:00. Ardita Reshiti is waiting at the Kombinat-Kinostudio bus station to catch the first of the two urban buses she takes to go to work every day.
“They never have a schedule,” she says in response to our question about when the bus is coming. “Depending on the traffic, the route I take with the Kombinat-Kinostudio line takes 15-20 minutes. After getting off the first bus, I have to walk for 5-7 minutes to reach the ‘Green Line’ station where I usually wait for 5 to 10 minutes, and in the worst-case scenario, 15 minutes,” Ms. Reshiti expresses.
For Ardita, using urban buses to commute to work every day poses a challenge. She lists several reasons that make her daily journey challenging, starting with the high number of people, uncomfortable conditions, and inevitable delays, especially in the afternoons. “I would add to this list the absurdity that, in addition to the ticket inspector, someone else comes from general control to check the ticket and the passengers in line to see if we have paid or not,” she reveals.
Similar issues arise in the daily routine of Sierra Bulku, a medical faculty student, who has to travel first with the Jordan Misja- Qyteti Studenti line and then take the Green Line to attend lectures every day. The problems with this line are even more pronounced. Delays exceeding one hour, overcrowding, and the lack of buses during evening hours are among the main concerns.
Nadire shares the same concerns, as she needs to take the Selitë- Allias line to go to university.
“Every day I have to wait for over 1 hour at the station and almost another hour to reach my destination. During the summer, the situation worsens because the air conditioners are never turned on.”
Ersida Teliti, the executive director of the “Albanian Consumer” center, a non-profit organization aiming to protect and represent the lawful interests of consumers, explains that issues regarding the quality of service are among the most addressed by citizens.
“The frequency, placement of stations, the lack of vertical and horizontal signage for these stations, and if we look into the contracts they have with the municipality, it is evident that voice announcements, travel maps, and often the invoices are required to be shouted.”
“Promises that were not kept”
In the past decade, the only promises that never seem to be fulfilled are those made regarding public transportation in Tirana. If every promise made in relation to this sector had been kept, Tirana would have dedicated lanes, electric lines, buses arriving every 3 minutes, electronic ticketing, and high-quality service conditions.
The Mayor of Tirana, Erion Veliaj, promised dedicated lanes in 2015. On December 18, 2016, he promised electronic tickets within a year. Later, on August 26, 2017, he promised the start of testing electric buses, and after 4 years, on July 24, 2021, he presented the first 20 Go Green buses, some of which were hybrids (diesel/natural gas). These are just a few of the promises made over almost a decade, none of which have been fully fulfilled, and most of them have been forgotten.
When officially asked about these promises, the Municipality of Tirana states that they are in the process of implementing electric buses. The same response is given regarding dedicated lanes, expressing that they are part of the BRT study, which will be made available at the appropriate time with the completion of the final details of the process.
“As for the schedules of urban transportation vehicles, we inform you that the approved schedules for the lines are currently being implemented,” says the Municipality of Tirana, implying that none of the employees working in the public transportation sector of this institution have gone into the field to see the actual situation.
Urban transport experts blame the municipality.
The blame for this urban transport situation is directed towards the municipality by interest groups and field experts.
Dashnor Memaj, the head of the Urban and Interurban Transport Association, expresses concerns that public transport has long raised concerns about service delivery.
“The concern remains the improvement of infrastructure, the removal of some fuel taxes, lowering the VAT threshold on sales, reimbursement for free travel categories, and the impact on sector wage increases due to massive employee departures,” he says, listing a series of issues. He states that cooperation with the Municipality of Tirana has been a relationship of demands and promises.
“There has never been a definitive solution for a better service, better vehicles, higher speed of movement,” he concludes. When asked about the frequency of vehicles on the routes, Mr. Memaj says that it is not in the hands of operators as buses move on the roads alongside private cars, and due to traffic congestion, there is a very low speed.
On the other hand, expert Rixhin Qoshja states that private operators should not be seen as the source of the problems but as the source of the solution.
“It is natural that each of them is in this business to make a profit, and they will try to achieve their profits in every possible way, even at the expense of service quality. Therefore, a financial framework needs to be changed, such as compensation from institutions for categories that benefit from this service for free,” he says, adding that there are successful examples in the Balkans and beyond.
“Tirana is fortunate to have had German assistance from GIZ for over two years to improve the public transport service,” he says, adding that it is the duty of transport specialists in the Municipality of Tirana to accurately implement the acquired experience.
For Mr. Qoshja, public transport is the “backbone” of a city, having a significant impact on traffic relief and consequently air pollution. “All this is achieved when this service can compete with personal vehicles in expanding service coverage and increasing commercial speed,” he emphasizes, stressing that Tirana still has uncovered areas without public transport service, which should be provided as quickly as possible.
Ersida Teliti, Executive Director of the “Albanian Consumer Center”, lists a series of deficiencies in the urban and interurban transportation system, ranging from the lack of signage at stations to the placement of stations in unsuitable locations such as roundabouts.
“It has been observed that maps, voice stations, movement maps, and other information are missing, and often the ticket inspectors are forced to shout,” she says, adding that they have complained many times to the Consumer Protection Agency in the Municipality of Tirana, but despite a positive attitude, there hasn’t been much change in the field. Another issue highlighted by Ms. Teliti is the age of the buses used, as they do not match what was envisaged by the parties in the contract.
The situation on the field is characterized by delays, lack of air conditioning, and overcrowding.
Based on the promises made, and interviews with experts and stakeholders in public transportation, we decided to spend a day traveling by bus on several routes in the capital city.
On line number 15, Kinostudio-Kombinat, the most mentioned problems are related to confusion between this line and Tufina. There are cases where the bus displays Kinostudio but actually goes to Tufina, and other times it displays Tufina but goes to Kinostudio.
“With all the fatigue I have from work, I have to stress about whether the bus will take me to the right station or leave me in the middle of the road,” says one commuter, who adds that this often leads to conflicts with the fare collector. On the other hand, in specific areas such as Spitalet, Selvia, or the 21 Dhjetori Intersection, there is overcrowding at the stations.
Waiting time is another issue that citizens face all the time.
In the best-case scenario, the wait is 10 to 15 minutes, but there are cases where the wait can go up to 40 minutes, especially during evening hours. And while temperatures are rising every day, the non-use and malfunctioning of air conditioning continue to be problematic. In most cases, air conditioners are not used due to higher fuel consumption, as some drivers and fare collectors say “off the record,” but there are also cases where they don’t work or, worse, they leak water inside the bus.
The promises made over almost a decade are numerous, and often the social media profiles of the leaders of the Municipality of Tirana depict a situation that is far from reality. It is unclear whether anyone from this institution has ever used public transportation, which they promote at every public appearance.