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31 Jan 12

Ecosovo: Getting Bus Busy in Pristina

Elizabeth Gowing

It wasn’t the incessant questions (where do you work? How much rent do you pay? Are you married? Why don’t you have children?) that got me in the end.

Nor even the sense of my city clogging up around me in the taxi; it was when I saw the bus go by, carrying 40 people to its one exhaust pipe, while I sat all alone in my cab burning up those fossil fuels just for me. I knew I needed to use Pristina’s buses more – they’re cheap (40 cents) and frequent and efficient.

But how to find out which bus to take me where? Everyone seems to have learned one route (I knew the number and the stops between my house and Germia) but that’s no good as you navigate the city on journeys to multiple destinations, jumping in and out of your own car or of a cab.

So thank goodness for the online map, launched this week at prishtinabuses.info.

How many bus routes are there in your city? I bet you didn’t know there are 16, marked on the interactive map in colour, giving Pristina the beginnings of what could become an iconic image for the city’s identity like the London Underground. It was produced on Open Street Map (the online ‘collaborative project to create a free editable map of the world’. Oh, we’d all love to edit the world; It’s just the collaboration that’s hard…).

The website and map, available in English and Albanian, was produced by a team of volunteers with 500 euros funding from the Unicef Innovations Lab. Their website throws down a challenge now to other municipalities to produce a similar user-friendly map, to encourage residents and visitors to use buses and thus to reduce the impact on the environment in travels around the city.

Every resident (oh, and believe me, every taxi driver – I seem to have taken quite a survey) in Pristina has their own view on what can be done to solve Pristina’s growing traffic problem. It’s a problem for the already grim air quality (next time someone complains to you about the city’s pollution, ask them when was the last time they took a bus) and for the frustration caused by snarled-up traffic (one of the things I used to love about Pristina was that when you heard frantic honking of horns and looked round to see what fight was about to break out between drivers, you usually discovered it was either a wedding or two guys grinning at each other through their windscreens gesturing ‘haven’t seen you in ages. How are you doing? Say hi to your family’. That is not always true now).

Of course it’s also a problem for the carbon being unnecessarily used up in all those car journeys with single occupants – and proportionally more fuel is used in stop-start city driving, when cars are less efficient. The big international offices contribute to the problem with their policies on official car use which mean that transport by car is a free option (and no support or requirement for carpooling – I’d love to hear of an office in Kosovo doing something systematic about that alternative for their staff).

My personal preference, as Pristina’s taxi drivers well know, is for a park-and-ride system set up at the city’s boundaries. It would be far cheaper and more practical than building new or wider roads. I am eying the edges of the prishtinabuses.info map and hoping that one day a new coloured strip can be inked on there showing the park and ride route. That’s how I’d edit the world – anyone up for collaboration?

 

Elizabeth Gowing is a founder of The Ideas Partnership, a Kosovan NGO working on educational, cultural and environmental projects. She is also the author of the recently-published, Travels in Blood and Honey; becoming a beekeeper in Kosovo. She can be reached at theideaspartnership@gmail.com

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