NEWS

Infrastructure benefits: Transport, tourism, security

Greeks have still not weaned themselves from their cars, despite improvements to public transport that came on line last year, such as metro extensions, the new tram and suburban rail networks, and more bus lanes on main avenues. According to official figures, only 3.5 percent of drivers have responded to calls for them to leave their cars at home. Of the 6.6 million journeys carried out every day in Athens, only 2.6 million are by public transport. «Yet things will change,» said Simos Simopoulos, head of the Athens public transport organization OASA. «Public transport benefited in several ways from the ‘Olympic truce.’ The first was the establishment of a central traffic control center that operates around the clock. Illegally parked cars are also being removed at all hours. A transport expert is on hand around the clock to monitor traffic and intervene whenever a problem occurs anywhere in Attica.» One of the most important benefits has been the improved traffic flow in bus lanes, where increased policing led to speeds of up to 40 kilometers an hour during the Olympics. Buses in these lanes have increased their average speeds by 2 km/hour over last year. However, deficits in the public transport system, according to OASA figures, increased by some 50 percent during 2004, amounting to 111 million euros more than in the previous year. Health system The Games bequeathed state-of-the-art emergency departments, medical equipment and improved ward conditions in major hospitals. The ambulance fleet has been almost completely replaced and there is also now a technologically advanced coordination center, although this was not opened until after the Games. Just over a week ago the Olympic Village polyclinic opened its doors to the public and is a model for primary healthcare. The state drug rehabilitation organization, OKANA, has been able to cut its waiting lists with the addition of prefabricated buildings that were used as first aid stations during the Games. Four of these have been moved to Thessaloniki and one to Patras for OKANA’s use. Perhaps the greatest gain for the country’s health system has been the new Health Sector Coordinating Agency (SOTY) to coordinate all bodies responsible for dealing with crisis situations and public health issues. One of its most recent tangible effects has been better coordination of duty rosters at hospitals, greatly reducing the number of gurneys in hospital corridors. After a four-year crisis, things are looking up this year, with a 10-30 percent increase in tourist arrivals – including Americans – at hotels, on cruise ships and at yacht charterers. According to the Institute for Tourism Research and Forecasts, this is due both to the Olympics and the five-fold increase in funds allocated by the Tourism Development Ministry for an advertising campaign abroad, which was promoted in timely fashion this year. Over the past two weeks, large hotels and even smaller ones have been booked solid – something that has not happened for at least five years – although this has been helped by the impressive increase in Greek holidaymakers as well. The forecast is for a continuation of this positive trend into next year, but it will depend on whether substantial investments are made in improving hotels outside Athens. Greece lags behind France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Turkey and many other competing destinations in investments aimed at the upper end of the market. Security Security remains another concern, particularly after the recent terrorist attacks in other countries. After the terrorist attack on New York’s Twin Towers, the security budget for the Athens Olympics rose from an originally budgeted 200 million euros to 600 million, and eventually climbed to over 1.5 billion euros, the largest amount ever spent on Olympics security. Luckily, no major incidents occurred – apart from the incident in which a defrocked Irish priest obstructed the lead runner near the end of the marathon race. Even so, a year later, the electronic surveillance system C4I has still not been delivered; the Greek police committee responsible for negotiating with the manufacturer refused to take delivery of the system after a malfunction was discovered. Meanwhile most of the 1,000 surveillance cameras that were in operation during the Games are now inactive; only 293 were retained for traffic control. The Personal Data Protection Authority recently rejected a second application by the police to reactivate them. The new Security Research Center (KEMEA) is to export know-how to countries staging similar large-scale events such as soccer’s World Cup in Germany next year. An InterBalkan and Mediterranean Security Research Center will train officers from neighboring countries. As of September, Greek police cadets are to be trained in systems developed for the Games.