Sarajevo trams, trolley buses grind to a halt over unpaid bills

Maja Zuvela
Vehicles, including a tram, stop at a traffic junction in Skenderija square in Sarajevo
Vehicles, including a tram, stop at a traffic junction in Skenderija square in Sarajevo April 1, 2012. REUTERS/ Dado Ruvic

By Maja Zuvela

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Sarajevo's trams and trolley buses ground to a halt on Monday after Bosnia's top power utility, EPBiH, cut electricity supplies to the capital's public transport company over unpaid bills.

EPBiH said it was forced to act after the loss-making GRAS transport firm failed to pay a monthly installment of close to 332,000 Bosnian marka ($230,000) from its nearly 3 million marka debt to EPBiH.

The cut off saw more Sarajevans take to their cars, causing long queues. Others walked, braving the rain.

Management difficulties, bloated staff numbers and the effects of an economic slowdown have left GRAS and other public companies in Bosnia in deep financial difficulty for years. GRAS alone owes a total of 100 million marka.

"EPBiH management warned that it would not allow the EPBiH operation to be jeopardized by the negligence and irresponsibility of the Sarajevo cantonal authorities and GRAS management," the power utility's general manager, Elvedin Grabovica, said in a statement.

The utility has struggled to collect bills from ailing public companies, including from Sarajevo's waterworks and sewage company ViK, which was badly damaged during Bosnia's 1992-95 war when the capital was under siege.

ViK won a reprieve on Monday when it paid its monthly debt installment.

Haris Ducic, a spokesman for the cantonal prime minister, said the local government and GRAS were in talks to find a solution but it was unclear if or when public transport would be restored to the city of some 400,000 people.

($1=1.444 Bosnian marka)

(Editing by Matt Robinson)