The streets of Athens are seeing fewer cars every year that the crisis drags on, according to transportation experts who say that more and more people are being forced to find alternative ways of getting around due to economic factors, as is illustrated by official figures. This means that the time it takes to cover routes that were once heavily congested has been reduced significantly, making getting around the Greek capital easier.
Rising unemployment, household belt-tightening and the high cost of using and maintaining a car are the main factors that have led Athenians to substantially limit their use of private vehicles, meaning that the horrible traffic jams that were once a regular phenomenon are much less frequent.
However, on the downside, frequent protest rallies that close the city center to traffic and public transport strikes regularly force drivers back into their cars and remind them of the not-so-good old days.
According to figures released by the Attica Regional Authority’s traffic management center, average journey times declined by 20 percent in 2012 compared to 2009, while reductions of as much as 60 percent have been recorded during rush hour periods. Minimum speeds have also increased by 6.5 percent on average in downtown Athens during rush hour periods, while the biggest increase in average speeds was noted on the Piraeus-bound part of Kifissos Avenue, which exceeded 20 percent between 2009 and 2012. The route from Athinon Avenue to the city center and that covering the length of Alexandras Avenue also saw speeds increase by 17 percent in the three-year period, while the number of cars heading to the southern coast of Athens has also decreased, meaning that the trip from Poseidonos Avenue to Glyfada is 17 percent faster. Syngrou Avenue, which links central Athens to the southern suburb of Palaio Faliro, has not seen any significant changes, while the average speed on the route from Katehaki Avenue to Mesogeion, Kareas and Stavros in the north went up by 6 percent between 2009 and 2012.
The figures, which were presented at a recent one-day transportation conference, show that the biggest drop in traffic was noted between 2011 and 2012, at 10 percent. Between 2010 and 2011, the reduction in average traveling time dropped by 5 percent, compared to 9 percent for the previous period, 2009-10.
Transport experts insist that while the drop in traffic volume has significantly improved the image of the Greek capital, it should not be seen as a positive development, though there is a slight silver lining in the fact that Athenians are clearly changing their habits and using public transport more frequently.
On the issue of public transport, a survey presented at the conference found that 60 percent of commuters consider fares to be too high and 88 percent see taxis as being too expensive as well.
Many drivers have also traded their cars in for motorcycles, experts heard, while walking is also gaining ground as a preferred way of getting around the city. Fifty-nine percent of respondents also said that if buses ran nighttime routes, they would opt for public transportation instead of taking their cars or a taxi when going out.
Transport experts suggest that one way to further increase the use of public transport would be to introduce a more expensive ticket for infrequent users and cheaper fares for regulars, instead of today’s standard fares.
They also say that increasing the number of ticket inspectors is key to the survival and improvement of Athens’s public transport system, which previous studies have estimated loses some 30 million euros a year to fare dodgers.