SOCIETY

Transport system hit by fare dodgers, broken machines

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After wasting three 2-euro coins at the broken ticket-vending machine and with no staff to turn to, the woman at Neo Faliro tram station, south of Athens, asked her fellow waiting passengers if anyone had a spare ticket she could buy. “Why don’t you just get on board? Nobody really ever bothers to get a ticket,” a man told her at the station as two others nodded in agreement.

Unable to find a ticket, the woman made her way home in a taxi, leaving her a total 12 euros out of pocket. As is often the case in Greece, abiding by the rules came at a price.

Fare dodging has for years been a big source of revenue loss for Greece’s public transport. The problem has deteriorated over the past few months, putting the viability of state-run transport services in jeopardy. The government’s decision to abolish the volunteer ticket inspectors unit, following legitimate criticism over improper practices, has reduced controls to near-zero.

Moreover, the government’s decision to allow everyone to travel on public transport for free for three weeks earlier this year in a bid to help commuters feeling the squeeze from capital controls cost the Athens Urban Transport Network (OASA) 10 million euros. But the three weeks of free rides wasn’t the only cost, as it allegedly took some time before commuters, particularly bus passengers, got used to the idea of buying a ticket again.

Meanwhile, it is not always easy to buy a ticket. The number of ticket sales points has gone down to 1,400 from 4,000 in 2011. The reason, according to OASA officials, is that many kiosk owners refuse to buy bulk packs of 50 or 100 tickets. Despite a 4 percent profit margin on every ticket, selling them only makes economic sense to the kiosk owners if they manage to sell a large number of tickets, since they have to pay for them in advance (in fact, they do not purchase them directly from OASA, but from a distributor that gets 0.045 percent on every ticket). OASA has also tried to make tickets available at supermarkets, but stores decided it was not in their interest.

The few remaining vending machines are often out of order. Many tend to eat your money without issuing a ticket. This problem is widespread on the capital’s tram network and, according to representatives of fixed-track operator STASY, the reason is that the self-service machines that issue tram tickets were not designed for outdoor use.

To make matters worse, the lack of security staff means that machines are frequently targeted by vandals. The absence of staff also means that it can take a while before a malfunction is reported to the company, and even then the broken machines are not replaced as OASA plans to install a new automatic fare collection system, with electronic “smart tickets” replacing existing paper ones. However, public transport users in Athens shouldn’t hold their breath: The new system is unlikely to start operating before late 2016.