Denitsa Nikolova, Head of the Managing Authority of OP Regional Development for Bulgaria, in an interview for Radio Focus’ broadcast This is Bulgaria.
Host: Ms Nikolova, you have signed contracts for integrated urban transport with the cities of Stara Zagora, Varna, Pleven, and Plovdiv over the last couple of weeks. What do these projects include? Denitsa Nikolova: These projects generally aim at making the cities greener, as the integrated urban transport includes the realisation of such components, which would lead to the use of alternative means of transport like trolleybus, tram, and other types of public transport, but also include the construction of cycling lanes. In this regard I would like to say that through these projects we aim at making cities greener and, of course, reducing the carbon dioxide emissions and dust particles, because when we realise such projects, connected to expansion of the trolleybus network, the carbon dioxide emissions are cut directly.
Host: Will the Bulgarian cities manage to modernise their public transport with these projects, and with this financing? Denitsa Nikolova: Each of the projects has different components. Some of the projects include full or partial modernisation of the public transport. They include the vehicles used for public transport – trams, trolleybuses, and buses, depending on the different options and alternatives available in the different cities. Some of the municipalities, however, have more pressing needs like the construction of cycling lanes, modernisation of their overhead contact systems, or introduction of electronic ticketing system. Each municipality has decided to use the resources from this programme period for their most pressing needs, and then to use the bigger financial resources from the next programme for the remaining projects.
Host: When should the implementation of these project start, and when should they be completed? I mean, when should people expect to see improvements in these cities? Denitsa Nikolova: Basically, the projects start immediately after the singing of the contracts. As you already mentioned, we signed four of the five big contracts in the last couple of weeks. I would like to say that with regards to integrated urban transport, people should expect to see real results as early as this autumn, as the municipalities have to organise their public tenders and choose the contractors, so that real work on the projects can start. In addition to the four cities with which we signed contracts, we would also sign a contract with the Ruse Municipality. This contract should be signed over the next month, as the Ruse Municipality will also start fulfilling its plan towards having an integrated urban transport. As you know, Sofia Municipality and Burgas Municipality have already received serious resources – more than BGN 100 million for each of the municipalities, and the projects for modernisation of their public transport there have already started. I think that in the next few months we will see contracts being signed with contractors and the public transport modernisation will start in all of the abovementioned cities.
Host: If I have counted them correctly, there are a total of seven big cities that will take advantage of these finances. Why only there? Denitsa Nikolova: Because the financial resources from the programme were insufficient to be able to fulfil the needs of the entire country, or to focus on the 36 biggest towns and cities. The total value of the seven projects is around BGN 500 million, and the results will be really visible and will have a considerable effect in the transport sphere in these cities. If we had chosen to finance more projects in more municipalities, the results and effects would not have been much smaller, so I think that we made the best available choice. For the next programme period we will naturally aim at providing bigger budget, which would be allotted to more municipalities for their integrated urban transport plans.
Host: How can these projects be upgraded in the next programme period? Denitsa Nikolova: Most of these cities will not be able to modernise their public transport completely, so money from the next programme period will be used for the Pleven, Stara Zagora, and Ruse municipalities, so that they could complete the started modernizations. The Varna Municipality will buy 70 new buses, during the current programme period, and these buses will be used in the so-called fast bus line, which will connect two residential districts. Sofia Municipality and Burgas Municipality also will purchase new buses, trams, and trolleybuses, and although the funds will be insufficient for changing all their vehicles, I can say that in Sofia, for example, more than 90% of the needs of new trolleybuses will be fulfilled within this programme period.
Host: You signed these contracts with the mayors of regional cities. What is their opinion on the financial aid from OP Regional Development? Denitsa Nikolova: I think that, having in mind the financial crisis, the restrictive fiscal budget policy, and the limited access to resources, the support from OP Regional Development is accepted extremely positively by all beneficiaries. I think that these cities have an exceptionally good opportunity to change for the better, and to make the lives of their citizens easier and better, and naturally to move a step closer to our goal – having greener cities.
Host: What is the average percentage of co-financing for these projects? Denitsa Nikolova: The percentage of co-financing varies from project to project, because the co-financing and the contribution of each municipality is based on the so-called social-economic analysis and financial analysis. The social-economic analysis draws a general picture of all revenues and expenses in the project, and on the basis of these revenues and expenses the so-called financial deficit is determined, which is directly related to what the co-financing of the respective municipality will be. I can say that for a municipality like Pleven, the co-financing is BGN 3 million, out of the total BGN 23 million needed for the project. For a municipality like Varna, for instance, the financial resource is considerably bigger – BGN 114 million, out of which BGN 23 million is co-financed by the municipality, i.e. the financial resources for the different projects depend on many criteria and how they reflect on the revenues and expenses of each municipality.