Patras – The Rio-Antirio ferry boats have survived competition with the bridge which has carried millions of vehicles since it opened in September 2004, the Patras market has gained new customers from Aitoloacarnania, and the latter has seen an increase in visitors and pleasure-trippers. Since the bridge coupled Rio and Antirio on either side of the gulf dividing western and northern Greece from the Peloponnese, the city of Nafpaktos and the coast of southern Aitoloacarnania have become the Peloponnesian city of Patras’s outer suburbs. One noteworthy development in the five months since the bridge opened is the amount of traffic on the wharf. Initially, no more than 10 ferries plied the 45-minute crossing, but eventually ferry owners realized they could not handle all the traffic and within a few weeks, ships that had moved to other lines or were out of commission returned to the quay. In five months, ferries have already transported 150,000 vehicles. Now there are 21 ferries doing the crossing every 15 minutes during the day, and every half hour late at night till early in the morning. This development saved about 130 sailors from unemployment. In fact, it is likely that the number of ferries doing the nearby run from Aigion to Aghios Nikolaos will increase. «We made sacrifices to keep this line going,» the Rio-Antirio seamen’s union president told Kathimerini, «but the shipowners, too, have to do something about a consortium so that no problems arise.» The data indicate that truckdrivers opt for the ferry crossing because the fare is cheap, only half the price of the bridge toll. Lately, however, car drivers who are not in a hurry have also been choosing to travel by water for financial reasons and because it offers a break from driving. Besides, the discrepancy between the cost of a ticket and the toll is considerable: 4.50 euros to travel by ferry, and 9.70 euros for the toll. The difference is also great for coaches and trucks. Bridge tolls range from 15 to 44 euros for trucks (according to the number of axles) and from 23.50 to 50 euros for coaches, according to the number of seats. Around 2,010,000 vehicles have crossed the bridge since it was opened five months ago. Sources say that the company which operates it does not intend to increase tolls, even though its contract entitles it to do so. It has also implemented a policy of cheaper tolls for those who use the bridge frequently. Soon it will introduce an e-pass that is compatible with tolls on the Attiki Odos. The bridge has boosted commercial and other activity in the prefectures of Achaia (on the Peloponnesian side) and Aitoloacarnania, so far to the advantage of the former. «We don’t have precise figures, but there was heightened commercial activity mainly during the festive season, with shoppers coming from Aitoloacarnania,» Patras Commercial Association President Christos Gotsopoulos told Kathimerini. Patras traders observe that shoppers head for the Peloponnese’s largest city because Patras has a large shopping center and chain stores. Recently, an electrical appliance store in the city offered customers the equivalent of the bridge toll in an attempt to attract customers from the other side of the bridge. At the same time, Patras merchants believe they are losing custom from the neighboring prefecture due to traffic congestion and the lack of parking spaces, while the growing number of department stores gain customers.