The Marshrutka project’s summer workshop was held in Branderburg – Meseberg and Gransee – throughout July 6-8. The team enjoyed the idyllic environment at Schlosswirt Meseberg, intense discussions over the dissertation progress of five doctoral candidates, and two insightful keynote speeches. Florian Mühlfried presented on “Sharing and Not-Sharing Beyond Public Transportation – A Perspective from Social Anthropology”, while Martin Randelhoff talked on “The organisation and financial structures of the German public transport sector”.
A real highlight of the workshop was the excursion together with representatives of BürgerBusVerein Gransee e.V. – a citizen’s association operating a minibus on a voluntary basis to complement existing public transport in the municipality. The marshrutka team met Bürgerbus representatives in Gransee on Saturday afternoon and had the opportunity to take a ride along usual Bürgerbus route taking about 90 minutes. Then the team was hosted at the association’s office in Dannenberg, where the association members offered coffee, beverages and homemade cakes alongside a presentation on history, role and functions of the citizen bus in Gransee and surrounding villages.
Association members and drivers explained that number of interrelated processes such as urbanization, outmigration of the young population and loss of job opportunities have affected regional development in Brandenburg in the past two decades. Given that the lack of regular transportation is one of the main challenges of the region, a couple of individuals decided to set up a small association to run citizen buses to compensate for the gaps in existing public transport offers, and connect number of villages to Gransee. Since the Gransee association’s establishment in 2006, four more associations were founded in other parts of the Brandenburg.
The Gransee association runs only one vehicle, capable of transporting up to 10 passengers. The service is integrated into regular transport schedules and fare structures, and is provided four times a day. It mainly serves pensioners, school children and recently also refugees. Driving and other related tasks are performed by association members voluntarily without any compensation. Public authorities provided support for vehicle purchase and also provide yearly operating cost coverage of 15.000€, spent mostly on vehicle maintenance, fuel and other running costs.
Despite the similarity in vehicle types, the Bürgerbus bus cannot directly be compared with the main topic of the research project – marshrutkas. In contrast to the voluntary operation of citizen buses, marshrutka is a commercial endeavour, drivers as well as operating companies are private entrepreneurs, aim for profit making, and in many cases depend on earned income for sustaining their livelihoods. Marshrutkas at one point also started up as ‘gap fillers’ in post-Soviet cities, but with the fast decay of Soviet inherited public transport, they quite quickly became (one of) the main public transport offers in many cities. In some cities however they transform back to ‘gap fillers’ due to renewed reinvestment in mass public transport in recent years. What does make citizen bus somewhat similar to marshrutkas is the social role and the social embeddedness of both mobility offers. Citizen bus drivers, like marshrutka drivers know personally and closely interact with their regular passengers, they provide additional help and even sometimes alter their routes to address passenger’s needs.
Yet another thing that potentially can further unite the two mobility offers is perhaps the solidarity they show to each other. The citizen bus association was extremely generous in hosting young marshutkologists and their supervisors, and invited everyone for their summer festival, offering grilled sausages, salads and beverages after the presentation and discussion session. Still to be seen how this gesture can be reciprocated.