Q&A with the experts – Radostina Petrova (Bulgaria)

Mar 12, 2022

What is the situation with transport in Bulgaria? Is cycling safe in Sofia? What common issue do we share and what are the real solutions to them? Answers to these questions, for our Q&A session, sent us Radostina Pavlova, our transport expert from Bike Evolution Association, Sofia.

  1. Can you please describe the connection between air pollution and transport in Bulgaria, specifically in Sofia?

Sofia is among the European cities with worst air quality in terms of fine particles and nitrous gases. Official research data showed that automobile traffic is directly contributing with 9% emissions with fine particles and indirectly with another 25% resuspension of dust on the streets which cars are spreading in the air. This makes the transport sector in the capital responsible for at least 34% of the pollution with dust and fine particles, while the other part is from combustion for heating and industry. The situation is quite similar in other big cities around the country as more and more people count on their personal automobiles for daily commute due to the poor public transport services. There is also a distinguishable decline of railway services in the last decade, so more and more people choose automobiles for intercity travel.                                 

  1. What is the situation with the road safety and how safe is to be a pedestrian, cyclist in your city?

Road safety is not something Sofia is proud of. Data shows that the road accidents are around 200-300 each day and pedestrians are getting injured even on signalized pedestrian crosswalks. The percentage of injured cyclists is quite low mainly due to the low modal share of cycling – just 1.9% cycling trips. Recent questionnaires studies show that people’s attitude remain in favor of walking and cycling, but the perception of danger combined with poor public services is what makes them choosing cars instead. The conditions for walking and cycling are improving but quite slow. Sofia has just around 60 km cycling infrastructure scattered around without being connected in a network. Bicycle crossings at junctions are poorly solved with quite some dangerous spots where the markings for space and position for cyclists are unclear or just missing. It still requires special skills and bravery to be a cyclist in Sofia.

  1. How is the non-motorized transportation developing? What is the condition of the railway system?

There is an increasing trend of people shifting from car driving to electric scooters  and my personal observation is that soon such people will realize bicycles are more convenient. These modern e-trends bring more and more people from different ages to active travel and engage groups that were not triggered by the low-tech bicycles before. Of course they soon realize the situation with the quality of cycling infrastructure where they are now obliged to move, so we have more people raising voices for the need of supporting policies. The process is driven by the several e-scooters sharing businesses and the continuous lack of a bike-sharing scheme in Sofia.
Our capital has a tram network which has been quite neglected in the past decade – railways removed, tram-lines cut and schedules reduced, etc., while significant financial sources have been put for building the metro network with three main lines and expanding. Still remaining issue is the integration between public transport and the national railway stations in Sofia, where also a joint ticketing system is discussed, but still not implemented.

  1. What is your position regarding the electrification of transportation?

Recently Sofia municipality invested in electric buses and trolleybuses with ultracapacitors. However activists were able to show that the e-charging infrastructure is not fully developed which has lead to some of the buses being charged with diesel generators. So let’s say electric public transport developments are welcome, but more efforts are still needed for proper infrastructure.
In terms of e-cars we also welcome the e-car sharing business initiatives, one such successfully running in Sofia. The replacement of individual fossil fueled cars with the same numbers of individual e-cars would not solve the air-quality problems Sofia has. The car ownership in Sofia is estimated as nearly 700 cars per 1000 inhabitants which is quite high. Without supporting policies to reduce the overall usage of automobiles and replace them with adequate public services, the e-cars will just continue to cause the same problems with lack of parking spaces, congestion and resuspension of dust particles in the air.

  1. Please share positive examples, initiative and activities in your country.

In Bike Evolution Association we are quite happy with participation in and successful amendment of national regulations requirements for bicycle infrastructure planning and design. Our experts are now engaged in the development of a National Cycling Plan under the Interreg funded Danube Cycle Plans project. We hope these will serve as a full-fledged basis for cycling developments in the near future.