OREANDA-NEWS. May 14, 2008. Kiev Metro’s central stations are cathedrals for the modern commuter. The architecture and design may not be to everyone’s taste, but never fail to impress. References to the communist past are ubiquitous. The stations are kept impeccably clean, cleaners with huge brooms seem to be chasing passengers. Train intervals at peak times are less than two minutes. A signaling board counts down the seconds and – surprise! – the trains run on time. By the second. A ride costs 50 kopeks. That’s a third of the price of a one kilo loaf of the famously tasty and nutritious Ukrainian bread, reported the press-centre of EBRD.

And yet, the citizens of Kiev are far from happy. Here is what Oleksandr Sidorov who works in the city centre has to say: “Public transport in Kiev has become just awful. I live not far from the metro, but when I go to work in the morning, trains are so overcrowded that I cannot even get into a carriage. This causes massive delays. The carriages were built in Soviet times. There are other means of transport, but buses are no alternative because there is no way to get through the early morning traffic congestion. Everything is just clogged.”

As a matter of fact, public transport in Kiev went beyond its capacity long ago. This city of almost three million inhabitants, the seventh largest in Europe, is served by three underground lines, as well as tram, bus and trolleybus routes. The metro alone carries around 600 million passengers annually on its 58.7 network with 45 stations. It is run by Kyiv Metropolitan, whereas a second city-owned company, Kyiv PasTrans, is in charge of overground traffic.

Construction of the Kiev underground began in the aftermath of the Second World War, but it took until 1960 for the Ukrainian capital to become the third city in the Soviet Union (after Moscow and St Petersburg) to get an underground service. Geology and military considerations (the tunnels were designed as shelters in case of another war) meant that half of the stations are very deep underground – indeed the escalators seem to take passengers into the very interior of the earth.

A transport masterplan was adopted in 2003, but implementation is difficult. Running, maintaining and improving public transport are complex and expensive tasks. And there is a downside to prices below cost recovery. It means that the operation is being run at a loss and no revenue is available for investments. Nevertheless, the government has blocked tariff adjustments approved by the Kiev city council, with the result that public transport tariffs in Kiev have not been increased since 2000.

In this complicated situation it is good to have a partner like the EBRD. The Bank is providing loans to Kyiv Metropolitan and Kyiv PasTrans of up to ?40 million and ?60 million respectively to support service upgrades. The funds will be used for service improvements as well as the acquisition of new underground trains, buses and trolleybuses. An increase in rolling stock should be welcome news to commuters like Mr Sidorov.

In addition, the project will provide assistance for the introduction of a new electronic ticketing system in 2008-09. Currently, passengers on the Kiev underground have to buy plastic tokens at ticket offices. Depending on the mood of the (usually female) vendor behind the window, this used to be a more or – in most cases – less charming experience, but also led to long queues and delays in an already overburdened system.

The modernisation of the public transport system could not be more timely. In 2012, Ukraine – together with Poland – will host the European football championship, and Kiev will be one of the main arenas, hosting games at the group stage and the final in the (yet to be) refurbished Olympic Stadium. UEFA’s unexpected decision has given both countries a boost that cannot be overestimated. From the top echelons of political power to the proverbial man on the street, everybody sees the championship as a unique opportunity.

But the challenges and needs are enormous. Kyiv Metropolitan recently announced ambitious expansion plans to accommodate the expected increase in traffic. Over the next five years, the company is planning to invest US\\$ 3 billion in the biggest expansion of its network ever: two new underground lines are being planned with four to five stations being built every year. By comparison, the local metro construction company can presently only build one station a year.

The biggest project will be the construction of a fourth underground line connecting Kiev’s main international railway station Voksalna with the borough of Troyeshchina on the city’s right bank. The project includes 12 new stations and construction of a new bridge over the Dnepr River. In addition, two of the three existing lines will be extended, while the planned fifth line is not expected to be in operation until after 2020. The total costs to put Kiev’s infrastructure in order for the Euro 2012 tournament have been estimated by the city administration at nearly US\\$ 8 billion. Long before the national team of Ukraine will have the opportunity to score its first goal, the people will have won as the beneficiaries of a new and improved infrastructure.