EPIVATIS aims to transform Athens into a livable city

A few weeks ago, the Brotherhood of Wheeled Vehicle Employees of Piraeus – as the HLPAP trolley driver’s union is still called – took the first trolley bus ever used in Greece out for a spin. The vehicle, a Fiat, arrived in Greece in 1938, but it went into use a decade later, inaugurating the Piraeus-Castella route. Nobody at that time could have guessed what an intractable problem traffic would become for Athens. The metro, opened in 2000, has brought only a brief respite, because it was not accompanied by additional measures above ground. The gap left by car drivers who switched to the subway was soon filled by other road vehicles. Nor has the new tram contributed noticeably to relieving traffic congestion. Two million automobiles still circulate in Athens every day (with 40,000 of them illegally parked) A recent Greek survey found that in parts of Athens with heavy traffic, the concentration of pollutants is double the level permitted by EU regulations. While the average concentration of carbon dioxide is no more than 35 mg/m3 (the limit being 40 mg/m3), in downtown Athens it goes up to 80 mg/m3. EPIVATIS means passenger, and is also an acronym formed from the Greek words for the Promotion, Strengthening, Improvement and Upgrade of Public Transport. It was founded by transport experts and other specialists who plan to play a leading role in traffic-related developments. «The idea came into being 20 years ago,» Giorgos Nathenas told Kathimerini. Nathenas is a transport specialist at the Athens Organization. «We noticed there were associations for every other subject, but not for the one that concerns us all, getting around.» «We saw that projects were forever being constructed,» said transport specialist Nasos Kokkinos, «but nobody ever asked the elderly woman waiting at the bus stop what measures suited her.» Thanos Vlastos, a transport specialist and city planner who teaches at the National Technical University of Athens, told Kathimerini that EPIVATIS aims to promote measures that will create a city based on public transport, a city for pedestrians and bicycles. «Athens is saturated and it will really function only with public transport as a basis. But that means we have to take another look at the structure of the city. For example, land uses that encourage many trips should be located near stations so that they are made to depend on public transport.» «The reverse occurs,» explained Kokkinos. «What we see now is paradoxical, with major roads blocked and the suburban train empty. I live very close to the Ethniki Amyna metro station and I’d willingly ride my bicycle there, but there’s nowhere to leave it. There is no access to public transport. The metro tells people to use their cars.» The founders of EPIVATIS say the public transport sector is at a standstill. «When the metro was constructed, the authorities abdicated any responsibility for making the city livable,» noted Vlastos. Surveys for the creation of pedestrian zones have remained on paper, waiting for action from the authorities. «This happens because to get something done in this field you have to take on the everyday routine of the public. But you make this omelet without breaking eggs.» The most recent measure to ease traffic congestion in the city was the traffic ring, which restricts entry to the city center on alternate days, according to the final digit of the license plate. «The ring favors public transport but it has been allowed to die. Thousands of exemption permits were issued and all of us have more than one car now, so in fact we do go in and out of the ring every day,» observed Kokkinos. But there are ways of pepping up the measure: «Instead of license plates, we could use identity cards.» To achieve its goals, EPIVATIS needs support, so it is issuing an open invitation – to expert and lay people – to become members. «We have to understand that public transport is something to fight for,» said Vlastos. «That we can demand that the bus comes on time and that we have access to it.» And we must understand that we have the right to walk in our city. «Because we are pedestrians first of all, then passengers, then all the rest.» Information, membership: Tel. 210.331.6516