NEWS

Balkan-style chaos at the main intercity coach terminal in Athens

The dogs sleep on, undisturbed by buses arriving and leaving and swarms of people. That’s not the strangest sight at the intercity coach station on Kifissou Avenue. While half of Athens gets about on the shiny metro system, the other half waits with their bags at seedy coach terminals. It’s shocking and depressing. It’s not just the grubby walls and the pollution-smeared signs; that’s pretty much standard at a bus station. It’s the suffocating odor of the 80s that disheartens. Surly employees in the ticket office, greasy booths sporting handwritten signs: «Closed, next window,» the jumble of obsolete fonts in the destination notice board and the total absence of information in translation for foreign travelers. Then there are the stores, festooned with dusty plastic toys, chocolates, clothes, trinkets and outdated souvenirs; the cafes with their plastic chairs and the betting shops full of suckers and smoke. The embarkation area is untended, the walls covered with graffiti and a jumble of seats bolted to the ground. The revamp that the terminal received in 2004 only affected the roof, which acquired better insulation and ventilation. No more money was spent because KTEL was scheduled to move to Elaionas shortly thereafter. Six years down the line, nobody knows when or if that vaunted move will take place. A study completed by a team from the National Technical University of Athens in 2003 foresaw a Central Interurban Bus Station (KSYL) at Elaionas. An extension of the Attiko Metro company, it would be close to Iera Odos, right next to the Elaionas metro station. According to the study, it would incorporate 32 terminals transferred from the Kifissou KTEL and 11 from Liosion KTEL. It would cater to an estimated 35,000 passengers a day. From the outset, the project, budgeted at more than 50 million euros, attracted the interest of major construction firms. The planned station would cover an area of 2.2 hectares, with another 2.3 hectares allocated for commercial use (such as a hotel, banks and supermarkets), on 40-year leases. To get off the ground, the project needed an amendment related to the use of the site from the Environment and Public Works Ministry, which was never issued, even though the revised Athens city plan foresees the creation of KSYL at Elaionas. Attiko Metro sources told Kathimerini that matters are not so straightforward. Although the new Elaionas station has been constructed on metro Line 3 in such a way that part of its roof is able to support the KSYL, completion of the project requires the appropriation of another 2 hectares. Given that KTEL is a private organization, it is unclear how it can achieve that, say those sources. Officially and unofficially, however, the project is in process, albeit very slowly. In October, immediately after the new government took over, KTEL owners met with the new transport minister to request a full briefing on the progress of the transfer. «It’s 2010, and we still don’t have an answer, « Sophocles Fatsios, president of the Panhellenic Federation of Intercity Transport Drivers, told Kathimerini. «I visited Turkey and when I saw the Istanbul bus terminal I was ashamed,» Fatsios added. New location sought The intercity bus stations on Kifissou and Liosion avenues in western Athens see an average of 30,000 passengers arrive and depart each day. «That means that if we move to Elaionas, the metro will carry an additional 30,000 passengers a day,» Sophocles Fatsios, the president of the Panhellenic Federation of Intercity Transport Drivers, told Kathimerini. Shifting the KTEL terminals to Elaionas will obviously decongest traffic on Kifissou and Liosion but the news is not so good for Elaionas. It comes as no surprise that there is talk of the Transport and Environment ministries already exploring some alternative sites for the new station, possibly out of town. This possible option has arisen due to fears that the draw of the commercial enterprises, which are in the pipeline for the areas of Votanikos and Elaionas, are very likely to cause traffic congestion that a busy intercity bus station would only make worse.