Easing traffic

The new measures aimed at easing traffic congestion in Athens and the broader Attica region that the government announced yesterday in effect address a still-escalating problem. Any serious remedial action will have to encompass exhaustive research and a healthy dose of pragmatism, but also a deft approach that incorporates the right combination of incentives and penalties. No traffic plans had been hammered out ahead of the Athens Olympic Games, which means that the government had to start from scratch. Yesterday’s statements confirm that the issue remains high on the government agenda. The new measures will have to be introduced swiftly, so as to exploit the lingering positive impressions left by the transport regulations that ruled the city’s roads during the Games. The latest move signaled that the government is on the right track, both as regards the continuation of night services for public transport and its emphasis on strict yet targeted policing which, one assumes, will focus on relieving bottlenecks rather than randomly issuing penalties for traffic violators in an Athens where restricted parking is the norm. It is not always easy to judge in these cases. Similarly, it is hard to ensure that pay parking remains a viable measure of regulating traffic so that it does not degenerate into a mere source of extra revenue for local authorities. Congestion in the streets of Athens constitutes a daily ordeal for the capital’s inhabitants. Perhaps now, and for the first time, thanks to the extension of the underground network and the creation of several high-speed thoroughfares, we have the necessary infrastructure to improve the situation. All these points presuppose that the new system will seek to strike a balance between incentives and penalties and avoid the radical solutions that are often put forward by traffic experts. A truly effective traffic policy must strive to make use of the most popular means of transport rather than seek ways to make up for lost profits in others (such as the destinations served by the lengthy the tramline). The positive experience of using public transport during the Games should not be allowed to fade out. Attempts to reinforce our Olympic transport habits will only yield fruit if public transport becomes truly convenient. For this to happen, the new measures must be balanced while their implementation must be closely monitored so as to correct any mistakes and recall any measures which end up doing more harm than good.