Athenians switching to public transport

Many of the capital’s car-bound residents switched to public transport yesterday, the first weekday during which special traffic measures ahead of the Olympic Games were implemented. Transport Ministry officials said that the number of passengers using public transport (bus, trolley, metro, tram) rose between 7 and 12 percent yesterday. Ministry Secretary-General Yiannis Golias said the number of passengers on public transport lines was especially high, given that there is usually a 10-15 percent drop in use during the first week of August. «Finally, Athenians got into the spirit of Olympic preparations,» said Transport Minister Michalis Liapis. Whether it was the campaign or the fear of the stiff fine – 156 euros – those who did use their cars stayed clear of either the designated bus lanes, on the right extremity of major avenues, or the Olympic lanes on the left, used exclusively by athletes and officials. The few drivers who strayed into the Olympic lanes got out immediately as they spotted one of the many policemen on guard along the way. The only spot where major traffic problems were observed was at the start of the Athens-Thessaloniki national highway, where returning weekend vacationers got stuck in the middle lanes. It was there that most violations of the Olympic lanes were committed, mostly by truck drivers. Police authorities were pleased by the overall level of compliance and said tougher measures laid down in a special law voted recently will probably not be necessary. «We are very satisfied with the operation of the Olympic lanes. I want to thank the citizens of Athens for their understanding. Indeed, their contribution was very important. We are ready for the Olympic Games,» said Public Order Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis. Sixteen of the 21 special express bus lines connecting Olympic venues also began operating yesterday, at intervals of 15 to 30 minutes. From the start of the Games, on August 13, they will run every five minutes. Along the Piraeus-Kifissia urban railway, workers were putting the finishing touches to two stations, Ano Patissia and the new station at Neratziotissa, close to the main Olympic complex. Both stations are expected to open by the end of the week. Beginning Sunday, the line will run round the clock. Travel across the metro system was heavy, but no exact number of passengers was given. The metro system will run until 2 a.m. from Sunday. About 10,000 passengers used the suburban railway yesterday, the first day of its full operation. On Sunday, when the ride was free, 25,000 people used it.

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