New bid to secure cheaper, better Athens transport

Following weeks of deliberations, the government yesterday unveiled a set of measures intended to improve the capital’s lumbering public transport network, in a bid to reduce Athenians’ dependence on their cars in the congested city of some 4 million people. Billed by Transport Minister Michalis Liapis as the «New Athens public transport map,» the measures include reforms to ticketing policy, extended operating hours, enhanced right-of-way for the much-criticized new tram network and the reintroduction of a parking-meter system in the center of town. Many of the reforms will come into effect from next Monday, November 8. «The reforms announced today are the result of a systematic effort,» Liapis said. «I would like to think that Athenians will embrace the new measures, as they did during the Olympic Games.» The minister said that his long-term target was for one in two Athenians to be relying on public transport on a daily basis by 2008. While existing tickets will remain in effect – 70 cents for the metro, 60 for the electric railway and the tram and 45 for blue buses and trolley buses – two new integrated tickets will be introduced allowing access to several, or all, the capital’s disparate systems. For 1 euro, passengers will be able to use all forms of Athens public transport, with the exception of the suburban and metro trains to the Spata airport, for up to an hour and a half. Furthermore, there will be a 70-cent ticket on offer that will provide access to buses, trolleys, the tram and the electric railway, again for up to an hour and a half. These tickets are expected to first go on sale around mid-December. As of next Monday, the metro and suburban railway fare to and from the airport will be reduced from 8 to 6 euros, in a bid to revive flagging passenger interest in the suburban railway, completed just ahead of the August Olympics, and which has been widely criticised as too expensive. Both forms of rail transport still have to compete with the airport buses, which cost 2.90 euros. Furthermore, the suburban railway fare for the route between the Larissa and Doukissis Plakentias stations will be cut to 70 cents. Other measures that are to come into effect on Monday are the operation of eight blue buses and one trolley bus line on a 24-hour basis, a series of new express buses, as well as routes that will link major metro, tram and suburban rail stations with other transport hubs. And police are due to step up surveillance of the city’s bus lane network – which is to be extended from the current 38 kilometers to reach 50. The traffic camera system will also be upgraded. Service schedules are also to change. The metro will operate from 5.30 a.m. to 1 a.m. on weekdays and Sundays, and until 1.30 a.m. on Saturdays. The electric railway will follow the same time schedule, starting half an hour earlier. The tram will run from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m. from Sunday to Thursday, and 24 hours on Fridays and Saturdays. The suburban railway will function from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on a daily basis. Meanwhile, by July 2005, ministry and municipal officials will set up a system of 4,000 parking meters in the center, as well as 2,000 designated spaces for motorbikes.