Ukraine’s Public Transport Punches Below Its Weight: A Timely Fix

Quality infrastructure is a crucial ingredient for the success of any economy. The movement of people and goods from Point A to Point B is what drives growth.

The ideal scenario is for countries to have good roads and rail networks in place. Some countries achieve this, and some countries don’t.

Ukraine fits in the latter category. This fact is best broken down by a commentary authored by Oksana Bedratenko published by the Atlantic Council titled Ukraine’s Rails, Roads and Ports Throttle Economic Recovery.

Ukraine's public transport infrastructure is in poor shape. {Image Source: CarBuzz}
Ukraine’s public transport infrastructure is in poor shape. {Image Source: CarBuzz}

“Ukraine’s favorable location gives the country immense potential as a regional transit hub. The country’s infrastructure, however, is in such a bad shape that it is not only unable to service international traffic, but has difficulties meeting the economy’s everyday needs,”

COMMENTARY: Ukraine’s Rails, Roads and Ports Throttle Economic Recovery.

How Ukraine’s Poor Infrastructure Stunts Economic Actvity

  • Agriculture and metallurgy, both backbones of Ukraine’s economy are underperforming
  • In 2016 when a bumper crop harvest coincided with falling global prices, farmers incurred losses when moving their products to ports for export.

Corruption, conflict of interest in issuing public transport contracts, and inefficiencies are listed as the biggest challenges that Ukrainian public transport is facing.

More evidence: Dense Network but Poor Services

Another study — a World Bank Development Project report published in March 2020 dubbed Kyiv Urban Mobility also observes that Ukraine’s public transport system is not good enough for an economy of its size.

The World Bank document notes that while Ukraine’s public transport network is dense, the quality of service is underwhelming.

The study notes that the public transport network in Kyiv consists of three metro lines that ferry approximately 1.53 million passengers daily. In the same vein, about 140 public buses, trolleybus and shared taxi “marshrutka” lines ferry 1.5 million passengers daily.

Another 140 lines of private marshrutkas ferry about 1 million passengers daily while about 21 tram lines ferry 500,000 passengers every single day.

There are also two “rapid” tram lines. One of them transports approximately 150,000 passengers daily.

“This dense network contrasts with the poor quality of services reflected by the low accessibility of some areas including the city center – the condition of rolling stock, aggressive driver and driving behavior, low and unreliable frequencies, poor infrastructure for shelters and interchange hubs, poor user information and lack of integrated fare,”

WORLD BANK REPORT: KYIV URBAN MOBILITY
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Bad-roads-in-Ukraine-2-1024x576.jpg
A bad road in Ukraine. The poor state of transport infrastructure in the country is inhibiting trade. {Image Source: TravelBlogEurope}

Besides inefficiencies, public transport in Ukraine, the report notes is not built to accommodate persons living with disabilities.

The report describes the level of access to public transport for persons living with disabilities as “weak.”

For example, only 12 of 52 metro stations are equipped with elevators. Kyiv’s marshrutka fleet lacks any form of disability access. Few buses and trams have low floor features – although some tram stations have boarding and alighting configurations that provide better accessibility,”

WORLD BANK REPORT: KYIV URBAN MOBILITY

This is alarming considering Ukraine ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2009.

Government Concedes

It is good that the Ukrainian government knows the country’s public transport is not where it needs to be. It can start building from there.

In its long-term blueprint titled: National Transport Strategy of Ukraine 2030, the state reckons the transport industry’s low development of transport and logistics technologies and multimodal transhipment facilities hinders its competitiveness and constrains trade.

The Port of Odessa. The Ukrainian government recognizes its transshipment facilities are not up to par with competitors thus hindering trade. {Image Source: Port Today}
The Port of Odessa. The Ukrainian government recognizes its transhipment facilities are not up to par with competitors thus hindering trade. {Image Source: Port Today}

The paper observes
• According to annual competitiveness rankings, Ukraine trails many of its peers and ranks very low for its stature.
• None of Ukraine’s ports feature among the Top 100 largest container ports globally.
• Intermodal and multimodal carriage of goods only form 0.5% of the transport market.

Different Means of Public Transport in Ukraine

We have established during the course of this article that Ukraine has no shortage of public transport means. The country has a good variety too. However, the problems are efficiency and lack of proper infrastructure to service these different means.

The most popular modes of public transport in Ukraine include minibuses (Marshrutkas), buses, trains, metros, trams, and trolleybuses.

Minibuses (Marshrutkas)

Marshrutkas are shared taxis or minivans which originated from the Soviet Union and are still present in the Commonwealth of Independent States like Russia, Ukraine, and Armenia.

They are small vans like the Mercedes Sprinter.

The Ukrainian Marshrutka is a minibus depended on for movement over shorter distances. The minibus' origins can be traced back to the Soviet Union. {Image Source: Wikimedia Commons}
The Ukrainian Marshrutka is a minibus depended on for movement over shorter distances. The minibus’ origins can be traced back to the Soviet Union. {Image Source: Wikimedia Commons}

In Ukraine, the marshrutka is the primary mode of transportation between towns that don’t have railway stations.
They are omnipresent in virtually all Ukrainian cities and towns and travel to all corners of the country. However, they are convenient for shorter distances as trains are better for longer journeys.

To stop the marshrutka, all a commuter needs to do is raise their hand in the driver’s direction.

Tickets are bought at the ticket office, and in the event a commuter boards the marshrutka on the way, they pay the fare directly to the driver themselves, and if they can’t reach him, they pass the fare through the other passengers until the money gets to the driver.

There are no traffic zones in Ukrainian cities which means that all tickets go for the same price.

Conversely, no defined schedule governs urban minibus trips. They depart every 20-40 minutes.


Data Corner

According to a World Bank feature published in August 2017, Kyiv City State Administration initiated plans to start tapping Big Data to organize public transport in the capital after benchmarking South Korea’s impressive public transport system.

“Seoul’s late-night taxi service used to be difficult and expensive to use until 2013 when the city’s government began operating two pilot routes exclusively for an after-midnight service. The number of service routes soon grew to nine as city officials used big data to trace the travel patterns of late-night travelers,”

WORLD BANK FEATURE REPORT: KYIV AIMS TO IMPROVE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION BASED ON SEOUL’S EXPERIENCE IN BIG DATA UTILIZATION

“In collaboration with the Korean telecom company KT Corporation, the city government analyzed data from three billion mobile phone calls to identify the places in the city most frequented by citizens at night. Additionally, taxi operation data from the Korea Smart Card was also analyzed to find travelers’ specific locations of departure and destination,”

WORLD BANK FEATURE REPORT: KYIV AIMS TO IMPROVE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION BASED ON SEOUL’S EXPERIENCE IN BIG DATA UTILIZATION

The premise for benchmarking the Asian nation was based on the idea that Big Data from mobile devices and connected cars can identify Kyiv’s public transport gaps and expansion opportunities.

Buses

Despite Ukraine having a good railway network, buses are the most common mode of intercity travel.
Bus companies also operate routes to other countries such as Germany, Poland, Russia, Italy, and other European nations.

Flixbus is one of the companies that offer intercity bus travel in Ukraine. {Image Source: Kyiv Post}
Flixbus is one of the companies that offer intercity bus travel in Ukraine. {Image Source: Kyiv Post}

Travelling by bus in Ukraine is cheaper compared to any other country in Western Europe. This is attributable to an older fleet and lower salary levels for staff.

Tickets are mainly bought at bus stations, but passengers have warmed up to online booking, especially for long-distance and international routes.

Popular intercity routes include Kyiv-Kharkiv, Kyiv- Dnipro, Kyiv- Odessa, Kyiv to Kryvyi Rih, Kyiv- Dnipro, Kyiv- Mykolaiv, and Kyiv- Donetsk.


Regional Government Buses

These are larger buses that operate routes between major regional centres in Ukraine. They can ferry 40 or more passengers.

While they are not as comfortable as the intercity coaches, they are much better than the marshrutkas

Ukraine regional government buses. They are usually large and ferry up to 40 people. {Image Source: Active Ukraine}
Ukraine regional government buses. They are usually large and ferry up to 40 people. {Image Source: Active Ukraine}

Data Corner

As captured in a USAID report dubbed: The Road to Transparency: Why Ukraine Launched the Interactive Bus Routes Network Map, Ukraine’s Ministry of Infrastructure estimates that bus transport services operate unofficially at least 30-40%.

This means they operate without a license while transporting passengers and do not have permits to operate the routes they do.

Previously, passengers could not be sure that they would be traveling on the same bus listed on their ticket. In the same fashion, they could not be sure that the operator of the bus was licensed.

REPORT: THE ROAD TO TRANSPARENCY: WHY UKRAINE LAUNCED THE INTERACTIVE BUS ROUTES NETWORK MAP

However, the launch of the open data-based Bus Routes Network in 2019 came as a relief to many Ukrainians who can now plan their trips safely while businesses and the government use the same data to draw growth projections.

Through this MI website, Ukrainians can find all of the information they need about official bus routes (regional and international) and licensed carriers in one place.

The Bus Routes Network map was created by the TEXTY data journalism agency, with support from Eurasia Foundation. The map is based on data covering 4,000 regional and international bus routes in or across Ukraine and provides users with an interactive visualization of the country’s passenger transportation sector,”

USAID REPORT: The Road to Transparency: Why Ukraine Launched the Interactive Bus Routes Network Map


Trains

Ukraine has one of the most extensive rail networks in Europe, boasting 20,000 kilometers of track, of which 45% is electrified.

The state manages the rail network.

The rail network handles 80% of the country’s freight and 50% of passengers crisscrossing the country every year.
Ukraine is the 14th largest by carriage volume globally, the 7th largest freight transporter, and the 6th largest rail passenger transporter in the world.

A Ukrainian passenger train. Train services in the country are operated by the state. {Image Source: International Railway Journal}
A Ukrainian passenger train. Train services in the country are operated by the state. {Image Source: International Railway Journal}

The country’s rail network is fully integrated with neighbouring countries, including Romania, Slovakia, Poland, Moldova, Belarus, Hungary, and Russia.

According to UkraineInvest, the current railway system in Ukraine suffers from aging rolling stock and locomotives and depreciated infrastructure that causes traffic challenges at crucial locations.

“The average degree of depreciation of freight cars is almost 90%, passenger cars – 92%. Almost all locomotives and 56% of passenger cars have an average age of more than 40 years,”

UKRAINEINVEST BRIEF POSTED ON ITS WEBSITE

Data Corner

As captured by a Cloudmoyo bulletin dubbed Explore the Top Benefits of Big Data Analytics For Railways, the concept Internet of Trains was developed by German tech firm Siemens — who are big on railroad infrastructure.

The term is used to refer to tapping Big Data, predictive analytics, and sensors to offer guarantees that trains will never be late.

“Railroads manage data from scale-out infrastructure, operational data streams from IoT sensors, unstructured data from social media, and online feedback which combined present a complex, intimidating picture to railroad companies,”

CLOUDMOYO BULLETIN: Explore the Top Benefits of Big Data Analytics For Railways

“The reality is that from routing, sorting, and blocking cars, to scheduling and assigning locomotives, to smaller tasks like remote diagnostics and real-time monitoring of rail yards, every business decision and operation is facilitated by machine learning and data analytics,”

CLOUDMOYO BULLETIN: EXPLORE THE TOP BENEFITS OF BIG DATA ANALYTICS FOR RAILWAYS

This can be used to optimize Ukrainian rail transport.

Metros

Four cities in Ukraine have metros. They include.

• Kyiv Metro
• Kharkiv Metro
• Dnipro Metro
• Kryvyi Rih Metro tram

Kyiv Metro

The Kyiv Metro is the heartbeat of the city’s public transport system.

From a historical point of view, it was the first rapid transit system in the country and the third in the Soviet Union.
It comprises three lines that are 67.56 kilometers in length. It also has 52 stations.

The Kyiv Metro. It was the first rapid transit system in the country. {Image Source: 112 International}
The Kyiv Metro. It was the first rapid transit system in the country. {Image Source: 112 International}

The system ferries an average of 1 million passengers daily and accounts for 46% of Kyiv’s transport load.

The Dnipro Metro

The Dnipro Metro consists of a 7.8-kilometre line and six stations.

The line terminates at the Pokrovska Station in the western part of the city and starts at Vokzalna Station near the central railway station in the East.

The Dnipro Metro. It consists of a 7.8 kilometre line and six stations. {Image Source: Todd Blay via Pinterest}
The Dnipro Metro. It consists of a 7.8 kilometre line and six stations. {Image Source: Todd Blay via Pinterest}

The metro operates from 5:30 a.m to 11:00 p.m.

The Kharkiv Metro

The Kharkiv Metro is the second-largest in Ukraine and was the sixth-largest in the Soviet Union.

The Kharkiv Metro. It is the second-largest metro in Ukraine. {Image Source: Ukranews}
The Kharkiv Metro. It is the second-largest metro in Ukraine. {Image Source: Ukranews}

The metro comprises 3 lines that operate on 38.7 kilometres routes while serving 30 stations. The metro ferried 223 million passengers in 2018, an uptick from 212.85 million in 2017.

The Kryvyi Rih Metro tram

The Kryvyi Rih Metro tram is a rapid transit system that partially runs underground. It serves Kryvyi Rih, the seventh-largest city in Ukraine.

The Kryvyi Rih Metrotram. It runs partially underground. {Image Source: Wikipedia}
The Kryvyi Rih Metro tram. It runs partially underground. {Image Source: Wikipedia}

Despite being classified as a “metro tram” and its deployment of tram cars as rolling stock, the Kryvyi Rih Metro tram is separated from both the city’s conventional tram lines and roads.

Data Corner

A post by ASmag Security & IoT titled How Metro and Rail Use Big Data to Optimize Business helps us understand how metro operators in Ukraine use or could potentially deploy Big Data to their benefit.

“Data collected from train station turnstiles and entrances, for example, can help the operator redeploy or redirect trains. Sensors detecting a change in temperature can trigger air conditioning. These are some of the ways in which data help operators retain customers and generate more revenue,”

REPORT: How Metro and Rail Use Big Data to Optimize Business

Trams and Trolley Buses

Trams and trolleybuses are only available in larger cities like Kyiv, Lviv, and Kharkiv.

They are, however, available everywhere in these cities. They only stop at designated points.

The trams run along narrow lines while trolleybuses are hooked up to electric lines above them, thus limiting their mobility.

A tram gliding through the streets of Lviv in Ukraine. Trams and trolleybuses are mainstays in the larger Ukrainian cities. {Image Source: Omnivagant}
A tram is gliding through the streets of Lviv in Ukraine. Trams and trolleybuses are mainstays in the larger Ukrainian cities. {Image Source: Omnivagant}

More often than not, the connecting rods on trolleybuses get dislodged, forcing the driver to hop out and realign them.

Tickets for the trams and trolleybuses are bought from the tout, driver or kiosks.

Data Corner

As captured in a blog report published by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, Lviv, one of Ukraine’s more prominent cities in 2012 initiated a new route plan to bolster the role of its trams, trolleybuses, and buses.

The plan included the development of a new electronic system and a new traffic control centre. The new traffic control centre was designed to have smart traffic lights, which would serve tram routes 2 & 6 to help ease congestion at intersections by prioritizing public transport vehicles.

Big Data was the backbone of the new plan.

Happily Ever Data

The World Bank feature notes that after benchmarking Seoul, transport authorities in Kyiv strongly felt that Big Data could help them map out transport gaps in the city.

After the learning expedition, one of the options available to the Kyiv City State Administration was to combine the data from the telco operator and bus operators to get insights on how public transport in the city could be improved.

It is safe to say commuters in Kyiv have since benefitted immensely from that decision.

Big Data has helped improve their lives.

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