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The Serbian Transportation Saga – Waiting for the Metro

The Serbian Transportation Saga – Waiting for the Metro

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The crossroads upon which Serbia finds itself has always been a coveted trading route, and the cause of many conflicts throughout history. Being located at such an important junction, it is of the utmost importance to invest into a transportation network, to seek constant improvements in this field, and to keep up with modern European growth. The General Master Plan for Transport in Serbia was adopted in 2009. However, the original period the plan was designed to cover – until 2027 – has now been extended and divided into three phases: short term (2021), medium term (2027), and long term (2033). The General Master Plan still serves as the platform for both major future and ongoing transportation and transportation-related projects.

The COVID-19 pandemic caught the world off-guard, and tested humankind in way we have not been tested before. In Serbia, the impact of the pandemic has been felt the most by the health system and the economy, including the transportation sector.

A State of Emergency was declared in Serbia on March 15, 2020 and it remained in force until May 6, 2020. The State of Emergency had a huge effect on air traffic as commercial flights from Nikola Tesla Airport in Belgrade and Constantine the Great in Nis were cancelled. Road transportation was also heavily impacted as public transportation and intercity transportation were stopped as well, as both were identified as posing a high risk for potential contagion. Water (river) transport also saw a significant drop compared to the previous year.

According to data provided by the Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia for the first six months of 2020 regarding the transportation of passengers and goods, there was a significant drop of transported passengers – in total 43%, with 42.1% in domestic transport and 56.4% in international transport compared to the same period of the previous year. Interestingly, the transport of goods in the first half of 2020 actually increased by 1.2%. Air, railway, and water (river) transport of goods all declined, while road and pipeline traffic saw growth.

Road transport of passengers was lower in 2020 than it was in the first half of 2019, with a drop in workload of 40%. Transport of goods by road increased by 6.2%.

Air transport saw a drop in the number of passengers, down by 57.3%, and the realized passenger kilometers dropped by 56.6%. The transport of goods showed a decrease in quantity of 29.8%.

The drop in the number of passengers transported by rail in the first half of 2020 was 45.3%. There was a decrease in the number of transported passengers in domestic traffic of 44.0%, while in international traffic the decrease was 74.7%. In the same period, the transport of goods decreased by 7.6%. Inland water traffic recorded a decrease in the quantity of transported goods of 15.7%.

Another high-profile topic when it comes to transportation and infrastructure in Belgrade is the long-planned and long-delayed construction of a metro system in the Serbian capital. Due to the decades of misfortune and dysfunction, the project has been humorously referred to as “Waiting for Metro,” which in Serbian rhymes with the title of Samuel Beckett’s play “Waiting for Godot,” in which the title character actually never arrives.

On January 22, 2021, the Serbian government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with representatives of Alstom and Egis, France, and PowerChina, to support the construction of a EUR 4.4 billion Belgrade Metro, work on which is due to begin later this year.

So far three subway lines have been announced. The first line should have 21 stations, be 21.3 kilometers long, and connect Mirijevo and Zeleznik. The second line should have 20 stops, be 19.2 kilometers long, and connect Mirijevo and Zemun, and the third line should connect the parts of Belgrade not previously connected by lines one and two with already-existing Belgrade railroad traffic.

With the construction of the Belgrade Waterfront underway, which will bring with it many residential and commercial buildings, the need for a subway has never been greater, as traffic jams and lack of parking spaces have a negative impact on the everyday life of Serbians. When it comes to Belgrade, the city infrastructure needs serious improvement, which we hope that the authorities will deliver.

By Igor Zivkovski, Partner, Zivkovic Samardzic Law Office

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