All change for transport

Hundreds of employees are to be transferred, ticket prices will be increased and strict spending guidelines will be introduced, according to a plan for the overhaul of the public transport system approved by the Cabinet yesterday. Urban transportation companies in Athens, which are all publicly owned, lose a total of about 600 million euros a year and are seen as a huge drain on state funds at a time when the government is trying to slash the budget deficit. The European Union and the International Monetary Fund, which are overseeing the cost-cutting process, have been pressuring the Greek government to restructure public transport. According to the draft law presented yesterday by Transport Minister Dimitris Reppas, a series of measures will be designed to reduce spending on the metro, the Kifissia-Piraeus electric railway (ISAP), the tram, trolley buses and buses. To start off with, two public firms will be formed to manage these modes of transport, although their operation will be overseen by the Athens Urban Transport Organization (OASA). Currently, each of the five operates under separate management. The government hopes this will reduce waste and increase efficiency. The public transport bodies owe a combined total of 3.8 billion euros but this will be transferred to the state budget so they start with a clean slate. A financial inspection team will be set up to check on the new firms every three months to ensure that they are sticking to their budgets. However, the amount by which central government can subsidize the public transport system is also limited under the bill. The draft law also foresees the transfer of 1,500 employees to other parts of the broader public sector where there may be shortages. The number of staff retiring over the next few years is expected to ease the pressure on finances. Some 400 workers are due to retire this year and another 500 over the following two years. Meanwhile, ticket prices are due to rise as a result of the overhaul. Two new types of tickets will be in use as of February 1: a 1.20-euro ticket which will allow passengers to use any mode of transport bar the metro for a single journey and a 1.40-euro ticket that will be valid for 90 minutes and can be used for metro journeys as well. There will be a 24-hour strike on all modes of public transport today, apart from the electric railway, which will halt services between noon and 4 p.m.