NEWS

Still too many vehicles on the streets of Athens

Athenian drivers spend endless hours in their cars, and then more time looking for a parking place, a daily trial that wears on the nerves, costs money and is bad for the health. Traffic is responsible for most atmospheric pollution and affects people’s psychological state and performance at work. Traffic jams increase fuel consumption by 17 percent and sales of spare parts by 8 percent, according to a survey by the Athens University of Economics and Business, presented recently at a conference titled «Attica: A City Addicted to Pollution» and held by the Center for Political Research and Communication and the Center for Modern Policy and Ecocity. It found that nearly half (44 percent) of Athenian families have two cars; 17 percent have three. Just over half of all cars have engines of between 1,400 and 1,799 cubic centimeters, and 32 percent between 1,000 and 1,399cc. Around 15 percent are even over 1,800cc. It is encouraging that 89 percent of vehicles have catalytic converters, although the number of vehicles that circulates in Attica has risen dramatically since the ’70s, from 170,000 to 2 million. Just 37 percent of people say they only use their cars for fairly long distances, but slightly more say they use them even for short distances. Most use their cars to go to work (65 percent) and 44 percent to go out.. Most trips by car are within Athens (70 percent); in fact 65 percent say they never use their cars to travel outside the city. Over half of all cars circulate with just a single occupant (the driver), something that is not encountered in other countries. A fifth of all drivers spend from two to five hours at the wheel daily; the remainder less than two hours. Most of their complaints have to do with traffic jams and difficulty in finding parking places, roadwork and the bad behavior of fellow-drivers as well as the various obstacles encountered on the road surface. Nearly half of all drivers park wherever they can, many of them illegally. Meanwhile, very few drivers who damage parked cars ever leave a note for the unfortunate owner of the other vehicle. It takes about 20 minutes for drivers to find a parking spot, according to nearly a quarter of drivers questioned. Less than a third said it took them less than 10 minutes. Very few pay to park their cars privately, while just over a third have access to privately owned garages or parking bays. However when they get home, over half of all drivers park their cars on the street wherever there is space. The cost to public health from the emissions from those 2 million cars is not negligible. According to a survey by the Institute for Environmental Research and Sustainable Growth at the Athens Observatory, presented by its director, Michalis Petrakis, the first measures after the discovery of high concentrations of pollutants in the atmosphere, chiefly emergency measures to restrict the movement of vehicles in the city, meant that smog has been limited to outside the boundaries of the inner traffic ring, which only half of all vehicles may enter every day according to the final digit of their number plates (odds and evens). The smog has moved out from the center of the city. At the end of the 1980s, the use of unleaded petrol reduced the concentration of lead in the atmosphere but increased the amount of benzene. The amount of «smoke» in the atmosphere is mostly (68 percent) due to traffic, 18 percent to industry and 14 percent from heating fuel. Over three-quarters of hydrocarbons come from traffic, 17 percent from heating and 6 percent from industry. Vehicles are solely responsible for carbon monoxide emissions, and three-quarters of sulfur dioxide. New public works, such as the Attiki Odos and the metro, have eased the problem, but new pollutants such as benzene and airborne particles are a major threat to public health. Every year another 200,000 cars go on the roads. According to Petrakis, more fast routes are needed in the city, extensions to the metro and decentralization.