Traffic surveillance cameras are often inoperative for lack of maintenance

Extending bus lanes and policing them more intensively so as to keep them free of private cars has been a mainstay of transport specialists’ proposals for getting Athenians out of their cars and onto public transport. The system of using surveillance cameras installed on existing bus lanes to record traffic violations proved extremely effective. According to traffic police data, during the early stages of implementation the number of traffic violations fell by about 60 percent. The objective of keeping the bus lanes free so that buses and trolley buses could move faster was achieved to a large extent. Yet this effective and much-lauded system has been rendered useless by a series of drawbacks. Red tape, lack of coordination among services, the absence of a central management body, a lack of maintenance and failure to repair faults in the system are the main culprits. Out of film A total of 10 traffic surveillance cameras have been installed, eight analog and two digital. The use of analog cameras has been problematic, because they use film which can store 800 photographs. Given the rate of infringements, it had been calculated that each film would last only about three days. The cameras were bought by the traffic authorities, presumably under pressure, because nobody wanted to undertake the cost. Then the management of the system was passed on to the traffic police, which is responsible for processing the films and sending summonses to offending drivers together with a photograph as proof of the violation. A bureaucratic battle ensued among all the services involved, since nobody wants to pay for the films, the cost of developing them and the special thermal paper on which they are printed. So the analog cameras are out of action or not fully operative, as they are not regularly resupplied with film. The two digital cameras are still in operation. They have a digital disk which can store 5,000 photographs and is reusable. Even without a digital disk, they can store about 100,000 photographs on the hard disk, which can later be downloaded onto the digital disk for further processing. Not all traffic police offices are equipped with a system for processing the photographs, which means the cameras under their jurisdiction are inactive. The traffic police are short-staffed, so even when traffic violations are recorded it is difficult to process them. If the system was in normal operation, it is estimated that some 1,000-1,500 violations would be documented. Each traffic police official can deal with 20-30 of them per shift, as there is a cumbersome bureaucratic procedure of identifying data, locating the offender and issuing the ticket. It takes several days to process the infringements committed on a single day. To make the system work at optimal efficiency, some 50 pillars were erected so that cameras could be shifted from one to another and drivers would not know where they were. All the pillars are equipped with a flash that is activated whenever a violation is detected, giving the impression that a camera has taken a photo. However, not even that system is in full operation. Two years after their installment, some pillars have still not been hooked up to the electricity supply. The system was also damaged by extensiveroad works for the Olympic Games. At many points that were excavated so cables would be laid, the sensors that the cameras use to detect violations were destroyed, and that damage has not been repaired. In Piraeus, the surveillance cameras have not been put into operation due to strenuous opposition of the local authorities. A similar situation has occurred in Thessaloniki, where taxi drivers objected vehemently to a decision to use surveillance cameras on bus lanes. In fact, there has been talk of allowing taxis to use bus lanes there at certain times of day. That would render the cameras useless, as they are all analog and can record 800 traffic violations, of which most shots would be of taxis, even if they were only allowed to enter bus lanes at certain times. All this has made the authorities wonder, not without reason, whether they should install such a system on the highways, when it may prove unusable in practice – although properly used it could drastically reduce the number of traffic infringements and accidents. There are plans to install 400 pillars on which 75 cameras will be placed. All the pillars are to have flashes, so drivers cannot see which have cameras. Ten cameras will be installed in the notoriously accident-prone Maliakos Gulf stretch of the Athens-Thessaloniki highway.