Driven to distraction

A Kypseli resident recently declared himself ready to accept the Olympic gold medal for despair. It takes Nikos Pantoparaschakis about 45 minutes every day to find a parking space near his home, and despite his attempt to view the situation in a humorous light, he says his nerves have been shattered by the daily effort. The root of the problem lies in the fact that Attica’s roads were designed for a population of 400,000. Today there are over 2.2 million people living in the metropolitan area and as the continual expansion of the road network feeds people’s dependency on their cars, the lack of provision for the problem of where to put all these vehicles has exacerbated the situation. «The problem arises from too much use of cars, not too much ownership,» explained Giorgos Yiannopoulos, professor of transport engineering at Thessaloniki University and director of the National Transport Institute. «We are experiencing the effects of a lack of planning and strategy,» he added. «After car parks are designed and built – something which should not be postponed every time there is a change of government or of ministers – they also have to be policed.» The authorities are not serious enough about this problem, which Yiannopoulos believes is the most serious of all. «So many mayors and government ministers have dealt with this issue, but not systematically,» he said. «The problem of parking, of course, is spreading outside the center, mainly because of the growth of commercial activity and entertainment centers, but without any provisions for parking space, which is of course unacceptable.» The Municipality of Athens has embarked on a campaign to remove all abandoned cars from the city streets, which has created a number of new parking spots. «Over the past three years, since this campaign began, we have collected 35,000 cars and 4,000 motorbikes. Every day, the site owned by the Organization for the Management of Public Property (ODDY), where the cars are collected, receives 25-40 cars,» said Deputy Mayor Aris Stathakis. Following a change in the law three years ago, and after cooperation between the City of Athens and the Public Order Ministry, no vehicle may be left parked on the streets if it does not have license plates. The municipality posts a warning on the car and if the owner does not remove it, it is towed away to ODDY. «Strangely enough, even though there is a specific number of registered abandoned vehicles, more and more are appearing all the time, so probably cars are being brought in from other municipalities and dumped by their owners, knowing there is a procedure here to dispose of them.» Stathakis also said that the disposal of these vehicles has freed enough kerbside parking spaces to fill 70 garages of 500 spaces each. Of course, this has not solved the problem for Athenian drivers who have to resort to one of the open-air or indoor car parks after a long and fruitless search for a place on the street, where there is always the danger of losing one’s license plates or even the car itself to the increasingly ubiquitous traffic police if one happens to have parked in the wrong place. Car park owners have been exploiting car owners’ frustration to raise fees to often exorbitant levels. Dimitris Spyrakis, president of the Association of Car Park Owners, cites rising costs. «We have to pay exorbitant municipal fees of almost 25 percent, taxation is heavy since we are taxed as a service, and about half of all indoor garages are insured, which is expensive,» he said. During next year’s Olympic Games, when the number of legal parking spaces will be even more limited, and the streets even more strictly policed, the only solution for many drivers will be simply to have plenty of patience.