Skopje, currently one of Europe’s most polluted cities, will become the first city in the Western Balkans to introduce a Bus Rapid Transit system, which makes Skopje citizens’ 40-year-old dream of having a tram service “come true, modernized,” Skopje Mayor Petre Shilegov told a press conference Wednesday.
According to plans, the BRT system should significantly contribute to improved public transit and local air quality, reducing emissions of carbon monoxide by more than 95 percent, particulate matter by approximately 90 percent and both nitrogen oxide and carbon dioxide by at least 25 percent.
The construction of a BRT corridor on two dedicated lanes, the acquisition of a new low-carbon emissions tram-bus fleet, and the construction of a new depot in Skopje will be financed by a loan of EUR 70 million from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).
Introducing the BRT system is not only a success for the city but a success for the entire country, according to Mayor Shilegov. “We are getting fast, safe and sustainable public transport, which will be attractive and facilitate a reduction in traffic jams and air pollution,” he said at the signing of the loan agreement.
Finance Minister Fatmir Besimi said that the government is focused on investing in “projects that will contribute towards protecting the environment, alleviating transport congestion, saving time and energy resources, enabling investments and new jobs and facilitating growth as well as improving our citizens’ quality of life.”
“I support the green transition. Current and future generations should and must have a possibility to breathe cleaner air and travel faster and safer,” Besimi added.
Andi Aranitasi, EBRD Head of North Macedonia, said that improvements in public transport will help increase ridership and reduce the use of private cars.
“Tackling air pollution in Skopje is a priority and we welcome the authorities’ commitment to decisive and swift action, which the EBRD stands ready to fully support as demonstrated by today’s signing,” Aranitasi pointed out.
According to Blagoj Bochvarski, Minister of Transport and Communication, the environmentally friendly buses will indeed lower air pollution and provide fast, safe and quality transport. “Our role is to provide modern infrastructure and services through which this concept of rapid transport will improve our citizens’ quality of life,” he said.
The BRT system will be based on two routes. The 12.81 km Line 1 (east-west) will connect the municipalities of Gjorche Petrov and Novo Lisiche, stopping at 21 BRT stations. The 10.4 km Line 2 (north-south), will begin at the railway station on “BiH” Boulevard and end at “Boris Trajkovski” Boulevard, stopping at 20 BRT stations. The two routes will cross in the Centar Municipality.
The City of Skopje’s initial estimates predict that Line 1 will cut down on travel time by 50 percent and around 65,000 passengers will use the BRT service daily.
According to the EBRD, the project will be implemented in two phases and comprises of two tranches: Tranche 1 of up to EUR 40 million to finance BRT Line 1 to be committed at signing, and Tranche 2 of up to EUR 30 million to finance BRT Line 2 to be committed upon completion of separate due diligence.