Congestion charge mulled again

Travel on all forms of public transport will be free this coming Monday as part of the latest drive to get Athenians onto trains, trams and buses and off dependence on their cars, as was revealed yesterday along with a plan to reconsider introducing a congestion charge. Speaking at an event to promote European Mobility Week, Transport Minister Costis Hatzidakis said that he would not shy away from bringing in some form of system that would force drivers to pay to enter the city center if it meant solving Athens's traffic problem. «There is no policy that could be more unpopular than allowing traffic to grind to a halt.» Despite low-key efforts to convince Athenians to use public transport, the number of people using the network is only growing at approximately 5 percent per year. In contrast, some 50,000 new cars roll onto the city's streets each year but the number of old cars, which have high emissions, is also growing and currently stands at about 1.5 million. Hatzidakis said yesterday that his department, along with the Public Works and Environment and Economy and Finance ministries are examining the idea of offering cash incentives for people to trade in their old cars for newer ones. Of these 1.5 million vehicles, 23.5 percent are more than 18 years old and do not have a catalytic converter, which reduces air pollution. Some 10 percent of the cars are aged between 15 and 18 years and have a first-generation catalytic converter, which is much less effective in filtering harmful emissions than the current versions. The average age of cars in Greece is 12 years. Trucks have an average of 17 years, and are responsible for 60 percent of the pollution produced by vehicles. According to statistics released by the Athens Urban Transport Organization (OASA) the rise in the number of daily journeys conducted by car has outstripped those made by public transport. Of some 7 million journeys made every day, about 2.6 million involve public transport. Over the last 10 years, the number of cars in Athens has risen from 245 per thousand inhabitants to 371 per thousand.