Athenians are switching, very slowly, to public transport

Nearly a year has passed since Athenians acquired a more integrated public transport system for the Olympic Games (25 kilometers of tram, 46.7km of metro, 39km of suburban rail and 35km of policed bus lanes), and along with it the chance to wean themselves a bit off their chronic dependence on cars. However, of the 6.6 million daily journeys in the city, only 2.6 million are made by public transport; the rest continue to be covered by private car, motorcycle or taxi. The new infrastructure, and promotional efforts to get people to use it, has had some positive effects, but not enough. The goal set last September, when the New Transport Map was announced by Transport Minister Michalis Liapis, was for half of all daily movements to be made by public transport by 2008. So far the increase has been 3.5 percent, from 37.5 percent last year to 41 percent. Small first step Although small, this is seen as a first step in pulling Athenians away from their cars. According to the experts, the city is just starting to acquire a genuine infrastructure base, which now needs to be expanded and be seen to be reliable. An extension of the suburban rail network all the way to Corinth is set to come into operation soon, the tram is to run all the way to Piraeus and the metro lines will soon be extended to Haidari and Hellenikon. Simos Simopoulos, head of the urban transport company OASA, evaluated the benefits and shortcomings of the system. «The metro and the older ISAP [electric railway] line have won over commuters, while there have been minimal losses on bus routes. Initial expectations for the tram and suburban rail have fallen short of our goals, however,» he said. According to OASA figures, there are 1.3 million journeys made on city buses every day, 630,000 on the metro, 450,000 on ISAP, 290,000 on trolley buses, 35,000 on trams and 40,000 on the suburban rail. For the latter there are no comparative data, but the metro appears to have increased its capacity by 9.7 percent with the 8.5km of new lines (not including the joint use of the 20km of suburban rail line to Athens International Airport). The ISAP line has seen an increase of 10 percent after expanding its schedules and refurbishing its stations. The ETHEL bus service lost a small percentage of its passengers since it changed many of its lines into feeder services for metro, suburban rail and tram stations. Smart tickets Another innovation that has helped services and management has been the introduction of a universal ticket. Although organizations (banks, business firms, public corporations) have not taken advantage of a 25 percent discount for buying in bulk for their staff (annual or monthly cards or coupons), commuters have started using the ticket (1 euro for a 90-minute journey), which now accounts for 20 percent of all ticket sales in the center of the city. Bids for the 34.3 million euro contract for «smart» tickets are being examined by an interparliamentary committee. Meanwhile, stricter policing of bus lanes has led to faster bus journeys, typically registering 21-25km per hour compared to slower 7-15kmph attained in previous years. A pilot scheme at bus stops that announced arrival times is being re-evaluated; an OASA team is currently working with the manufacturers to iron out problems with the system’s reliability. Tram and suburban rail Local residents are to decide on an extension of the tramline to Piraeus. The suburban rail has already been extended to Corinth, with services scheduled to begin in September. Local stations will be served by bus routes. Transport hubs at metro stations are due to open soon at Syngrou-Fix, Doukissis Plakentias and Halandri.

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