Leaving cars home

The Ministry of Transport, the media reported recently, is mulling a new set of measures to curb the number of cars circulating in Athens, particularly in the center of the heavily congested capital. No reasonable person could object to that. Even those who insist on driving into the city center, stubbornly snubbing public transport (because of that extra few minutes in the bus or walking to the bus stop), admit that the situation in Athens has come to a head. The odd-even regulation system (in which half of registered cars can circulate each day) that has been in place for many years has failed to make a difference. In fact, it made things worse as the vast majority responded by buying a second car so that they can enter the restricted zone on all days. Truth is, most means of public transport (buses, trolley buses, metro) have greatly improved the quality of their services, with one exception: the Athens-Piraeus electric railway, which still lacks air conditioning despite politicians’ repeated pledges to have it installed. The only thing that has not improved is speed. Despite the extension of bus lanes and the introduction of many reverse-direction bus routes (meant to curb violations), in most cases, especially during peak traffic hours, one can travel faster on foot than by bus. The best solution, it seems, is to extend the metro network. The state is taking steps in that direction despite numerous challenges. New technologies can provide solutions to complex town planning and construction snags while huge costs can be met by self-financing schemes that have proved successful so far.

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