Rio ferries defy odds to thrive

Despite predictions that the opening of the 770-million-euro Rio-to-Antirio bridge in western Greece in August last year would signal the death knell for the car and passenger ferries working the route, an investigation by Kathimerini has revealed that the operators are actually thriving. As the first cars rolled over the 2,883-meter-long bridge on August 12, many captains who sailed their small ferry boats in its shadow began to search for other routes. The generally held conception was that despite its 9.70-euro toll for car drivers on a one-way trip – compared to the 4.50 euros they would pay for a ferry crossing – one of Greece’s largest-ever engineering feats, boasting the world’s longest cable-stayed suspended deck at 2,256 meters, would provide too much competition. However, in the five months the bridge has been operating, the number of ferries serving the Rio-to-Antirio route has risen from 10 to 21, albeit after an initial drop. The boats have carried 150,000 passengers across the straits during that time, while some 2 million vehicles have crossed the bridge since it opened. Cars using the bridge can cross from Rio to Antirio and vice-versa in less than five minutes, compared to the 25-40 minutes needed to cross by ferry. Although the bridge offers drivers a quicker crossing, it is also more expensive and this appears to be pushing traffic onto the ferries. There are no plans to increase bridge tolls in the immediate future, sources told Kathimerini. However, the construction of the bridge seems to have led to a regeneration of the area and, according to Patras storeowners, attracted shoppers from the surrounding regions to the city, which lies some 10 kilometers southwest of the bridge. It seems that this extra traffic is also helping keep at least 130 sailors in a job.