OASA in drive for faster trams and new bus routes

Many improvements are in store for the public transport system of Athens in 2005, public transportation authority OASA has promised. Stricter, more effective policing of bus lanes, the towing away of illegally parked vehicles, new regulations for store delivery hours, the appointment of more trolley bus drivers, extensions to the tramway and funding for major research into redesigning all the bus routes in Athens are some of the plans OASA has in the pipeline. It will be a landmark year for public transportation, where the challenge is to solve the traffic problem, a challenge set by Transport and Communications Minister Michalis Liapis with his announcement a month ago of the new transport map of Athens. OASA is inspecting the balance sheet as it attempts to coordinate all the new means of transportation Athens acquired during the Olympic Games. It is looking at gains and losses, pinpointing mistakes and shortages, but also announcing timetables for action that needs to be taken to make the operation functional and reliable. Tough target The target that Liapis announced, of getting «one in two citizens on public transportation in four years’ time» is a tough one that demands daring measures and changes. «Twenty traffic police officers on bikes and 12 on foot have been made available by the Public Order Ministry to police bus lanes to keep out private cars, taxis and vans.» That was the announcement, but was it implemented? Sources say it was, but only partially. The rigor of policing fluctuated on arterial roads such as Vassilissis Sofias, Alexandra, Kifissias and Mesogeion avenues, with noticeable effects on traffic. The average speed of public transportation on lightly policed roads was 13-15 kph compared to 17-21 kph on strictly policed roads. The 25 traffic police cameras were in operation, and a daring decision was made to issue fines to state-owned and diplomatic vehicles involved in traffic code violations. Two more tow trucks have been bought to boost the number of shifts from 15 to 60, and keep the whole squad on the road until at least 10 in the evening. It has also been decided to keep six tow trucks on standby until midnight, and 24 hours a day at weekends. «An additional 65 trolley bus drivers will be employed in 2005 to make up for shortages,» OASA President Simos Simopoulos told Kathimerini, «and by late 2006 another 700 buses will have been bought. That will radically upgrade the fleet as no bus will be more than 10 years old.» In January, the tram will at last acquire the long desired «green wave» along the Neos Cosmos-Syntagma portion of its route. «This will shorten the trip by 10 minutes,» said Simopoulos.» The next step after that will be to see if it is possible with the existing rolling stock to further increase the speed of the tram. The tramway will definitely be extended as far as Voula, while another extension to Piraeus is under discussion. All bus routes in town are due to change. A new plan will reroute buses to feed trains and trams and reduce the number of buses downtown; terminuses will be relocated. This project is the subject of a study for which tenders will be called in 2005. Completion of the work is expected in one-and-a-half years. On January 1, the following bus routes will go into operation: 411 Halandri – Sismanogleio – Doukissis Plakentias Metro Station; 750 Aghios Antonios Metro Station – Aegaleo – Nikaia; 835 local Aghia Varvara route; 860 Palaio Faliron – Nikaia General State Hospital – Schisto Keratsini. After pressure was brought to bear, Polytechneioupoli acquired a bus service to Katehaki, but Panepistimioupoli is still waiting for adequate public transport. The university community has been requesting action on this for years, but so far the issue has not been addressed. Also unresolved is the issue of deliveries to stores. No decision has yet been reached on the times during rush hour at which delivery vehicles will be forbidden to circulate. The system in operation during the Olympic Games – allowing deliveries only a night – proved to be very effective. A decision will be made in 2005, following discussion between the authorities and commercial associations.