NEWS

Olympic Games visitors likely to see big public transport shortage

The Company of Thermic Buses (ETHEL) will face the challenge of this summer’s Olympic Games with a serious handicap following the failure of a tender to acquire 600 new vehicles. Already the capital’s old and weary public transportation fleet will be out in full force, but the failure of the tender means that regular routes will be reduced by 20 percent at least, and that scheduled routes servicing Olympic venues will be cut back, in effect producing long delays and queues at bus stops. After two years of negotiations and counter-negotiations, the company was unable to secure the 150-million-euro tender for the acquisition of new vehicles that would buttress its fleet and cover the increased demand for public transport expected during the Games. Of the 600 new buses ETHEL hoped to purchase in the summer of 2002, when the auction was first announced, it is now set to receive a mere 200 12-meter, diesel-engine vehicles from the French company Renault. Another 80 12-meter buses (making 280 in total) are due to arrive in September, while the arrival date of 121 buses running on natural gas (also from Renault) is still pending. As far as the 100 diesel-powered articulated buses (resembling an accordion) and the 100 midi-buses requested by ETHEL are concerned, the original tender was canceled and is expected to be revived in the near future under the new government. Drawn-out disagreements and a lot of scandalous overtures to companies with shaky reputations have meant that precious time has been wasted in the quest to ensure comfortable transportation during the Olympic Games. Despite a statement by ETHEL Managing Director Costas Kokkoris that «nothing has changed in the company’s operational readiness,» the numbers reflect a different picture. According to Kokkoris, ETHEL’s fleet today numbers 1,850 buses, but according to members of an inter-party committee judging the merits of the tender, the company only has a 1,750-strong fleet. Even if 1,850 is the correct number, we must take into account that ETHEL has promised 500 buses to the Athens 2004 organizers to cover 21 Olympic routes servicing some 350,000 journeys daily. Also note that eight of these 500 will be running on a 24-hour basis, while the main arterial routes will be serviced until two to three hours after midnight. Furthermore, another 100 buses have been promised to Athens 2004 to be on standby in case of any emergencies. This means that ETHEL will have 1,450 buses (including the 200 new ones) covering the daily needs of Athenian citizens; and considering that right now there are 1,650 buses in circulation on a daily basis, one wonders whether they will be sufficient. Furthermore, there was talk recently of 110 buses being withdrawn from the ETHEL fleet because of their advanced state of disrepair. According to Kokkoris, «these will not, however, be withdrawn until after the Games. They have been serviced, stocked with all the parts they may need and are ready to go.» However, transport expert and National Metsovo Polytechnic Professor Yiannis Golias said, «The buses remaining in the service of citizens during the crucial period of the Olympic Games are not only insufficient, but they are also old and prone to frequent breakdowns, especially as they will be running more routes than they are capable of.» He adds that «proof of this is that currently and on any given day, 10 percent of the fleet is in the depot for repairs.» The bus shortage may be of little concern to the managing director of ETHEL, but it has unsettled the General Directorate for Transportation of Athens 2004, which is in charge of transportation for visitors and volunteers. According to its director, Panos Protopsaltis, «the locations of the termini will be changed so that the routes are shorter, while the scheduled frequency of every two minutes will be decreased to 2.5-3 minutes.» «If frequency is decreased from every two minutes to 2.5-3 minutes, there will be an enormous waiting problem,» comments Golias, «and the entire plan will fail.» Auction marred by behind-the-scenes dealings An auction for the lowest bidder, announced in July 2002 for 600 buses for a total cost of some 150 million euros, saw a lot of interest from automobile manufacturers, but was also marred by a lot of behind-the-scenes dealings. Eight months later, the evaluating committee put forth an Italian company, Bredamenarini, which not only had never before supplied the Greek State, it was simultaneously facing serious problems at home due to its involvement in a fraud case brought against it by the Italian State. The committee’s preference for this company resulted in an outcry which sent the matter to court, which was then left to decide which companies could respond to the tender. Several months later, the tenders were made public, but, as ETHEL was by then under pressure to have its order filled, some companies are rumored to have overpriced their bids. This left ETHEL in something of a quandary: either to remain without the much-needed buses or to cancel the tender as a whole. An interim solution was reached by ordering 401 buses with the tender for the remaining 200 being annulled and the issue postponed until further consideration under the new Cabinet. Moreover, the 401 buses will not be delivered before the Olympic Games of August, arriving instead in installments with 200 before the Games and the rest before the end of 2004.