Photo essay: Making public transport tempting in car-heavy Sarajevo
The capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina lies in a valley surrounded by the rugged Dinaric Alps, the most prominent mountain the 1,627 m Mount Trebević in the southeast. The city emerged in the eastern end of the Sarajevo valley and, over time, expanded in a westerly direction — its growth in the south and north thwarted by steep hillsides. Sarajevo’s old town is a labyrinth of cobbled streets, historic buildings, and a charming 15-century bazaar, the Baščaršija.
It’s been almost three decades since Sarajevo emerged from the Bosnian War following years of violent fighting and a brutal three-year city siege. Over 100,000 people were killed and around two million displaced, and the war left the country’s infrastructure in shreds. Still today, the country is recovering from the infrastructural damage suffered.
Data suggests that the city’s population growth rate is minimal, at 0.24%, but old and broken infrastructure is the reason for many of the city’s mobility challenges. There is frequent overcrowding on trams, traffic congestion and public parking issues, traffic bottlenecks, and a high accident rate.
Car traffic continues to rise — as a result of increased car ownership. Now, 140,000 vehicles are registered in the Canton (which has a population of 450,000) — that’s roughly one car for every three people. The dispersed population leans towards using private vehicles to get around, and this has made improving road infrastructure a priority for city planners. Various projects are underway to develop better road arteries to reduce congestion in the city centre.
Nonetheless, the government has realised the importance of improving public transport services to try to reduce car use as a whole, noting its negative effects on air pollution, the high numbers of traffic accidents, and high costs of transport for businesses. At present, commuters are discouraged from using public transport due to its notoriously poor service. The government has initiated a Public Transport Project estimated at EUR 35 million to change public transport use for the better.
Sarajevo’s public transport system is made up of trams, trolleybuses, buses and minibuses. The 11 km dual tram line runs from the east, passing through the city’s commercial and administrative centres and heading to the suburb of Ilidza in the west. The 8 km section towards Ilidza hasn’t been remodelled since the tram’s construction half a century ago, and several trams have derailed in recent years due to the poor condition of the tracks and tram carriages.
GRAS, the city owned public transport company responsible for trams, trolleybuses, and some buses, has experienced financial difficulties in recent years. The British Government financed independent analyses with a consulting company via its Good Governance Fund, and GRAS intends to continue working with the consulting company to implement various measures — including the tram track overhaul and buying new trams and trolleybuses.
The main trolleybus line runs from Dobrinja (close to the airport in the southwest) to the old town in the east. Much of this line runs in parallel with the tram lines. 24 trolleybuses are currently in operation — and their average age is 24 years. Sarajevo also has 62 buses in operation, mostly in the suburbs, and 20 minibuses that serve hillside areas. These are mostly run by Centrotrans, a private company.
At present, Sarajevo’s public transport system is a little like taking a step back into the past. Trams haven’t been modernised since Sarajevo hosted the Winter Olympics in 1984. Middle-aged passengers can sit in the same worn seats they sat on as children. But the plan to establish a more modern public transport system in Sarajevo is the first step in encouraging the city’s residents to step away from their cars. Long term, this shift will reduce air pollution, traffic accidents, and time spent commuting.