ECONOMY

Older ways of getting around gaining fans

An elderly lady slips a small tip into the pocket of a KTEL intercity bus driver to thank him for helping her load a parcel with food items destined for her grandchild in Athens. He politely returns the money. A student zigzags between the cars on the street on his bicycle. A deck hand leans over the bow of the packed Rio-Antirio car ferry as it comes in to dock.

Such scenes are evidence that the crisis has made many people turn back to older ways of doing things, especially when it comes to transportation.

On the Rio-Antirio crossing, which connects mainland Greece to the Peloponnese, it?s been years since the workers on the flotilla of small ferries that service the route have felt so secure about their jobs. It was not so long ago that theirs was an almost-defunct trade as the opening in 2004 of a multi-span cable-stayed bridge took away most of their business. However, as one regular commuter noted, ?the bridge may be impressive, but the boat is impressively cheaper.? The toll charges on the Rio-Antirio bridge have reached 12.90 euros for regular cars and 19.90 euros for small trucks, one-way, while the ferry crossing costs just 6 euros. As a result, the number of people using the ferry on a daily basis today has exceeded 400, compared to an average of just 50 in the first years of the bridge?s operation. Meanwhile, many people who live on one side of the strait and work on the other have organized carpools in order to push the cost of the commute down even further.

The KTEL intercity bus company has also noted a significant rise in passenger numbers, even though until recently only people who didn?t have a car or couldn?t catch a ride with someone else would use the buses, which had something of a dodgy reputation. But the quality of service has improved dramatically over the past few years, and, coupled with the rising cost of petrol and toll charges, the humble bus is making a comeback. According to the figures for just one line, the Volos-Athens route, the number of travelers in the first two months of 2011 was 21,470, compared to 150,869 for the whole of 2010 and 145,254 in 2009.

However, the recent 5-10 percent hike in ticket prices will likely curb further expansion.

Within the country?s cities there has also been a marked change in commuter trends as rising petrol prices (now averaging 1.70 euros a liter for regular unleaded gas) have made many city dwellers rethink their lifestyles. Angeliki, aged 32, like many other Athenians her age, could not have imagined just a couple of years ago that she would think twice about taking her car or hailing a cab while on a night out. ?I sat down and did the math and realized that the numbers just didn?t add up,? said the chef. ?A good bicycle costs around 200 to 300 euros. With today?s gas prices, you can write off the cost in a few months and that?s not even taking into consideration the benefits to my health.? Owning a bicycle, it seems, is no longer a privilege reserved for the residents of the leafy suburbs, but a commuter choice for many people in the city center, as bicycle sales in Attica alone have increased by 50 percent in just one year.