Improving the Safety and Reliability of Tbilisi’s Metro System
February 24, 2023
Five years since CDIA proposed an investment program to improve the safety and reliability of the Tbilisi Metro in Georgia’s capital, the significant progress made in modernizing the decades-old system is already enhancing the travel experience of its 500,000 daily passengers.
Women, low-income groups, and the majority of Tbilisi’s population of 1.2 million rely on public transport for their mobility needs. However, the increasing car ownership and, with it, the worsening traffic congestion in recent years, have impacted negatively not only on people’s mobility but also the economy and the urban environment.
In 2015, the city government adopted the Tbilisi Sustainable Urban Transport Strategy (2015-2030), which set out the strategies for shifting to a more sustainable form of urban mobility. One of the key actions was the refurbishment of Tbilisi Metro, considered as the backbone of public transport in Tbilisi, yet one of the earliest metro transit systems established under the former Soviet Union.
In 2017, CDIA developed a phased investment program to identify specific rehabilitation works for the metro system to meet modern-day technical, operational, safety, and accessibility standards.
The technical support was undertaken with the objective of developing a coherent vision and optimal plan for upgrading the Tbilisi Metro, improving passenger safety through a comprehensive assessment of risks and issues hampering its operation, enhancing accessibility and intermodal connectivity, introducing energy saving solutions, and optimizing operations through capacity building activities.
“Because such a study was never done before, we did not see the problems comprehensively. Every division [in Tbilisi Transport Company] has their asset inventory. But a comprehensive study and digital database is crucial toward effective strategy and informed decision-making,” said Giorgi Babunashvili from a non-government organization, Urban Lab, on the value of CDIA’s technical assistance
Five years after, CDIA conducted a tracer study to track the project’s progress. Based on observations and discussions with key stakeholders, it was found out that considerable progress has been made in upgrading the Tbilisi Metro, thereby making it more efficient, reliable, safe, and environmentally friendly. At least $50 million has so far been invested in modernizing the system.
One of the emergency repairs outlined in the CDIA study was the replacement of power cables and ventilators. Through a $15-million investment loan from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), 500 km of the existing 23-station metro’s old power cables have been replaced, while 32 modern energy-efficient ventilators have been installed, replacing the non-working ones for the first time since the metro was established in 1966. These measures have effectively removed fire hazards and improved air quality in the stations, making travel experience safer and more comfortable for the passengers.
The city government itself has invested in critical transit infrastructure upgrade, including the renovation of rolling stock, which has, in turn, increased the frequency of trips. It plans to procure 10 new trains and target to replace all rolling stock by 2039. Additionally, it has completed the refurbishment of Gotsiridze and Samgori stations, thereby replacing dilapidated platforms and roof structures, and providing cosmetic renovation.
Moreover, 30 km of tracks have been replaced, with 15 km more being planned. The renovation of 12 escalators to improve access is likewise ongoing, as well as the upgrading of power supply and telecommunication systems supporting the transit system.
With support from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development through a €50 million loan, 12 stations are set to be upgraded with better lighting and ventilation, efficient escalators, improved drainage system, and maintenance management, among others.
ADB, through its Livable Cities Program is also expected to finance the renovation of select metro stations and their surrounding areas, taking on the recommendations of another CDIA-supported study to enhance universal access and enable inclusive mobility for all metro users.
The investments in the metro upgrade have led to multiple benefits, primarily in terms of safety and reliability of the system, environmental improvement and climate resilience, and social inclusion.
The new cables and ventilators, the replacement of rundown structures in some stations, and the maintenance of escalators are critical factors contributing to better safety and reliability of the Metro. The new ventilators have likewise improved air quality in the metro and with further measures to improve energy efficiency, environmental improvement can be expected.
The modernization of Tbilisi Metro has resulted in increased ridership – now comprising 40% of all public transport users, compared to only 19% in 2016. Reduced fuel consumption from passengers shifting from other transport modes to the Metro, coupled with the energy savings from more efficient Metro operation, will result in a significant reduction in carbon emissions thereby mitigating climate change impacts.
Furthermore, all improvements are having a direct positive impact on the mobility of the poor and vulnerable populations who are highly dependent on public transport. The refurbished infrastructure has improved the efficiency of the Metro resulting in significant savings in travel time. With more inclusivity and accessibility features in the pipeline, women, elderly, and people with mobility challenges are set to have improved access to the city’s socio-economic opportunities.
Interviews with key project stakeholders attest to the contribution of CDIA in improving the city’s transport governance particularly on the aspects of project planning, tendering, supervision and monitoring, financial management, and the creation of Transport and Urban Development Agency, a unified unit now responsible for transport and land use planning in the city.
“CDIA’s intervention has played a decisive role in stimulating the metro upgrade process,” the Tracer Study Report states.
“While the CDIA study has enabled the city government and stakeholders to see and recognize the challenges surrounding the metro, it has also presented a realistic implementation plan, which guided the phased implementation of the necessary reforms. The long-term collaboration with the city and its ability to adjust to certain contextual needs has further proven beneficial for Tbilisi in its aspiration to shift to a more sustainable mobility.”
Photo: New power cables that were installed with funding support from ADB.