Athenians start to leave cars at home

Just under a year from when the tram and suburban railway formed the last pieces in the public transport jigsaw for the Athens Olympics, figures published yesterday indicated that the government’s drive to convince half of the capital’s commuters to leave their cars at home is beginning to bear fruit. Presented by last summer with the combination of 25 kilometers of tram lines, a metro system that covers some 47 kilometers, a suburban railway which runs for 39 kilometers, and 35 kilometers of bus lanes, Athenians are gradually dipping more than just their toes into public transport. Of some 6.6 million journeys that are made each day in the city by commuters, 41 percent of them have been made using public transport so far this year, according to figures from the Athens Urban Transport Organization (OASA). This is an increase of 3.5 percent from last year. The remaining trips are made by taxi, motorcycle or car. Although the figure will encourage Transport Minister Michalis Liapis, plenty of distance still must be covered to meet the government’s target for public transport usage. When presenting his new transport plan for Athens last October, Liapis said the government intented to have one in two Athenians using public transport for their daily commute by 2008. Transport experts say there is still ample room for improvement. «We need to use the infrastructure we inherited from the Olympic Games in a more rational way. There needs to be a more coordinated effort [to convince car owners to use public transport],» the president of the Hellenic Institute of Transport Engineers, Panayiotis Papadakos, told Kathimerini. Meanwhile, the head of OASA, Simos Simopoulos, admitted that while more people have been using the metro this year than last, both tram and suburban railway usage had dropped slightly. Despite several initiatives to encourage passengers onto the tram – a campaign offering free weeklong passes ends on Sunday – the tram network has fallen well short of its targets. Built at a cost of 380 million euros, it carries some 35,000 passengers daily as opposed to the 80,000 that had initially been predicted.

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