Backpedaling on bus lanes

One of the biggest complaints leveled against opposition party PASOK – and which it paid for dearly in the 2004 elections – was its introduction of bus lanes on main thoroughfares. As with any new measure aimed at modernization, this one also met with dissatisfaction from many. The first to react were taxi drivers, who responded by staging a protest that brought gridlock to central Athens, arguing that the bus lanes were depriving them of customers. Next came motorists, who felt robbed of that one extra lane. More rational parties said that the measure fell short of the city’s real needs. Eventually, the measure was embraced and the transport experts vindicated. The speed at which buses travel doubled from 7 kilometers per hour on average in the city center to 15 km/h. The original aim was 23 km/h and this was used by ruling New Democracy as part of its platform in 2004. Then again, the measure was new and, reactions aside, it required some time for all the kinks to be ironed out, time that the ruling party has had plenty of by now. Yet the truth is that these kinks have not been smoothed out, due mainly to a lack of policing and, even worse, the entire measure is starting to be pulled apart. The first bus lanes to be eradicated were in Thessaloniki, where taxis were allowed to pull in to pick up or drop off fares – bus speeds in Thessaloniki immediately declined by 50 percent. Earlier this week, the transport minister also decided to allow taxis into bus lanes in Athens. One aspect of the argument in favor of separate bus lanes is that they allow workers faster service and a bit of respite in their day-to-day toils. The prime minister knows this and said so in a speech in the Athenian suburb of Peristeri in 2003, during which he made a point of stressing that the average Athenian spends approximately 1.5 hours commuting. Is there any reason why workers are being asked to waste their time today simply to satisfy some union’s demands?

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