An increasing number of motorists in Athens are pulling the hand brake and resorting to the capital’s various forms of public transport as higher gasoline prices and the unprecedented economic crisis dent the attraction of private vehicle use. According to Urban Transport Organization (OASA) data, the number of passengers using all forms of public transport in the capital increased by 2 percent in the first three months of the year. The highest increase was recorded by Athens blue buses, which have the advantage of operating on the most extensive network. In the first quarter of this year, approximately 2 million more passengers opted for this form of transport compared to the same period in 2009. Transport experts however have expressed concern that, although the data point to an increase in the number of passengers using public transport, the number of tickets being validated has actually fallen. «It seems that fare evasion is becoming something of a habit, which will not change easily in the near future and is hurting the already heavily burdened transport organizations,» said transport engineer Panos Papadakos. The companies supervised by OASA showed a total deficit of 311.7 million euros last year. The Piraeus-Kifissia urban electric railway (ISAP) had the highest deficit in 2009 among Athens public transport companies, according to OASA data. The general trend away from private vehicle use can also be seen in the sharp reduction of up to 21 percent in the number of motorists passing through tollgates on the national highways and the Attiki Odos ring road. Here, in addition to higher gas prices and the economic recession, it is also likely that recent toll hikes have played a significant role. The number of motorists using Attiki Odos in particular has fallen by an estimated 5 percent on average in recent months. The company that operates the ring road estimates that the reduction in traffic will reach 8 percent by the end of the year.