About eight months ago, I wrote here about how well the Athens metro system generally functioned but that investment in the city’s bus system couldn’t come soon enough. Specifically, new buses are needed as the current fleet seems to date largely back to the early years of the new millennium – when the city hosted the 2004 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
If Greece hopes to continue attracting and retaining the visitors so crucial to rebuilding its economy, an improved bus system is imperative. Equally, such improvements would better serve Athenians – the taxpayers who contribute to funding the system.
Making improvements to the bus system in Greece’s largest city is about more than simply purchasing new buses. It includes some lower-cost fixes that would benefit visitors and local riders alike.
A major improvement would be bus schedules that better reflect reality. For example, the X97 direct route to the airport offers a good service at a reasonable price. However, its arrival and departure times are unpredictable at best, which makes relying on it somewhat risky for riders planning a time-sensitive journey.
Having current bus schedules at bus stops would be a major benefit so riders would have some sense of bus departure and arrival times. While there is the OASA app, the fact is that not all riders will have app-friendly mobile phones (including many seniors) and visitors to Athens may not have liberal data plans.
It would be nice if the stops were all serviceable too as some are in extremely poor condition. Not only does this reflect badly on Greece, but more importantly on the impressions it may leave with visitors, who, in turn, will share those impressions with their friends and families at home. Understandably, rehabilitating bus stops invariably calls for more infrastructure spending.
Adding more buses to select popular routes could also ease the strain on the system. With the summer months coming and tourists and locals set to flock to the beaches of the Athens Riviera in droves, more 122 and 171 buses would undoubtedly be welcomed by all riders.
Based on recent experience, the buses practically groaned each time they took on new passengers and were often so full the doors had trouble closing – leaving angry riders behind and evoking images of a system well beyond Europe’s borders.
Having returned to Greece last month after being away since late October, the lack of new ticketing machines to serve the system remains an issue that should be promptly addressed – particularly given that ticket issuing offices have closed in certain locations and some officers have been relegated to shorter working hours.
One thing that does seem to have improved in the intervening months is that more local riders seem to be paying their fares. That is encouraging, as ideally those ridership revenues are finding their way back into funding the transit system overall. In Vancouver, we’ve had similar issues with what is termed “fare evasion” but those have been largely curbed through various means including more frequent “stings” – where a group of uniformed transit officers board buses, check tickets and issue fines.
As Greece looks forward, and in an election year, additional funding coupled with timely action on numerous fronts could help give Athens the better bus system the city and its riders deserve.
Andrew Tzembelicos is a Greek-Canadian writer, editor and communications consultant currently based in Athens.