Kicking the habit

The first couple of days after the end of the Athens Olympics were not very promising with respect to a number of the bad habits we seemed to have kicked during the Summer Games. These are the Athenians’ self-discipline and the remarkable shift toward public means of transport. Almost 90 percent of visitors to the Olympic sites used public transport, simply because car access was forbidden in most cases. Similarly, 50 percent of all transport was carried out by buses, trains and trams – a high percentage compared to the situation before the Games. Traffic on Monday and yesterday showed that the share will drop unless drastic measures are taken. A decisive factor, no doubt, was that the end of the Games coincided with Athenians’ return from their summer vacations – therefore, the size of the population and traffic were restored to pre-Olympics levels. This, however, is no reason for reviving pre-Olympic habits. Barring any subjective factors, there are two objective differences: First, a number of public projects that obstructed smooth traffic flow over the previous months are now open to public use. Second, Attica’s public transport network has been upgraded through the extension of the metro lines, the operation of the suburban railway network and the tram. Athenians are accustomed to bending the rules here and there in order to make our lives easier in a difficult city. This might have helped people on an individual level but has made problems worse on the collective level. Hosting the Games imposed on us what we should have already adopted so as to improve our everyday lives – adapting to a different way of getting around the city, getting accustomed to modes of transport that benefit the community and every one of us individually. The experience of the past two days does not leave much room for optimism. Although the public transport system upgrade constitutes a decent substitute for our private vehicles – which are the main reason for the capital’s traffic woes – such a shift cannot be achieved on a voluntary basis. We must soon take the necessary steps to enforce a new, more efficient and effective metropolitan transport network. In order to put such system into place, we need perfect coordination between the Transport, Public Order and Public Works ministries. Introducing more bus lanes is a welcome move but if trespassers are left unpunished then the common benefit will be fleeting. The new roads are also useful, but tolerating illegal parking will soon result in new traffic jams. Little progress can be made without constant monitoring and prohibitions where necessary.

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