ASTANA -- Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are taking steps to integrate transportation and strengthen bilateral relations with the launch of a regular, cross-border bus service.
The Kazakhstani lower and upper chambers of parliament passed a bill approving the service September 20 and October 12, respectively, according to Kazakhstani media.
The bus line is expected to open by the end of 2017.
The first bus route will operate between Shymkent, Kazakhstan, and Tashkent, capital of Uzbekistan. It will take about an hour and run along a six-lane highway, according to Kazakhstani Minister of Investments and Development Zhenis Kasymbek.
Buses will depart as often as every hour, according to Kasymbek. Both Kazakhstani and Uzbekistani bus companies will operate the route, and an equal number of companies from both sides will receive five-year contracts, he said.
The Kazakhstani side was expected in September to finish rebuilding the section of highway between Shymkent and the Uzbekistani border, Tengri News reported that month.
Thaw takes hold
This decision is long-awaited progress that signals a thaw in the two neighbours' relations.
Officials in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan previously made no effort to establish passenger bus connections despite a 2,150km-long shared border and daily trips by citizens in both directions.
Buses reached only the border on each side. Passengers had to cross check-points on foot and board waiting buses on the other side.
The news was most heartening for citizens of border provinces.
Yergali Akhunbekov, 28, of Shymkent, said he travels often to Tashkent on business.
"We have long waited for our governments to launch a direct route so that we can just board a bus and travel to Tashkent," he told Caravanserai.
"Due to politicians' ambitions, ordinary people were constantly encumbered by difficulties when travelling to a city practically next door," he said. "Many of us have relatives in [Tashkent] whom we can now visit more often."