OPINION

Bottleneck

Until a few years ago, traffic jams in Athens were rather unusual; they were the exception. Traffic jams were only caused during protests and peak hours. The exception, however, has gradually become the rule, as circulation on the streets of the capital is becoming more and more problematic. And had it not been for the launch of the Metro, the situation would have been much worse. The fact that thousands of new cars arrive to join the street battle every year makes future prospects appear extremely dim. Under the present circumstances, the overwhelming majority of workers in Athens needs an extra one to two hours for their transport every day than they did in the recent past. This is, no doubt, an unacceptable waste of time and, at the same time, an unacceptable slide in living standards. The traffic restriction zone in downtown Athens is no longer a solution. The ongoing projects will only slow down the pace at which the situation is deteriorating. Calls for citizens to avoid taking their cars to the city center are of no avail. The government has to take courageous administrative measures. Experts have hammered out specific proposals, but one does not need to be a transport expert to understand that the only solution is to radically reduce the circulation to within a broader zone than the existing one that will also include the center of Athens. There is a way to replace the current regulation, which is based on the even-odd number dichotomy, with a new regulation that would allow the circulation on a daily basis of 20 percent rather than 50 percent of the total number of cars. Combining such regulation with strict policing would help relieve congestion and break the present vicious cycle. The average speed of buses and trolley-buses would considerably increase, and there would be more, perhaps even new, services. Overall, the means of transport would become more effective and, therefore, more appealing. Despite all these, the government hesitates to move in that direction, even if ordinary problems lie at the center of its rhetoric. The government obviously fears the political cost and prefers to allow the present situation to perpetuate. But even the fact that Athenians have got used to the poison will be overshadowed by the approaching completion of the bottleneck.