One by one, the main streets of Athens are starting to look like they did a couple of decades ago, with cars parked illegally on both sides, obstructing pedestrians and traffic.
“What with the crisis and the absence of controls, motorists park wherever they want. No fines have been issued for months, so why pay for a parking garage when you can park for free in the street?” says the owner of a store on Patriarchou Ioakeim Street in the upmarket neighborhood of Kolonaki. “Until spring, they’d leave on their hazard lights as though they would be back in a couple of minutes. Now they just park without reservation and we can’t even unload our products.”
On Solonos Street, cars are parked on both sides despite the signs warning that it is illegal and on Ippocratous they are often double-parked, choking the busy thoroughfare. The righthand side of Academias leading to Syntagma Square is closed to regular traffic by parked cars. Even the city’s sidewalks have become unpassable for pedestrians because of illegally parked motorcycles. The situation has deteriorated since the imposition of capital controls in the summer, as the traffic police reduced the frequency of organized crackdowns and the Municipality of Athens has issued only a small number of fines.
“On the one hand, after the disbandment of the municipal police [in the summer of 2013] there is only a very small of municipal employees who are issuing fines. On the other, it is as though some informal order was given sometime before the summer to cut back on fines,” says a municipal employee who declined to be named.
Come Monday, October 26, though, the municipal police (or at least 391 officers from the 1,050 serving on the force before its disbandment) will be out on the streets of Athens again.
“The municipal police has already resumed its duties [it was reinstated in May] but will be ready for active duty on the 26th,” says Athens Deputy Mayor Antonis Kafetzopoulos. “We shouldn’t expect things to change overnight, for everything to be put in order. But right now the situation is such a mess that even a few improvement will help.”
Kafetzopoulos explains that the municipal police force’s task is to ensure that public spaces are not encroached upon, which means by motorists or businesses that have tables and chairs, and to crack down on illegal street trade.
“The first order of business is to empty public spaces of all impediments, so that motorists are not using sidewalks to park and public benches are not used as seating by cafes,” he says. “The emphasis will be on prevention, not on imposing fines. We will try to convince citizens to comply and if they don’t, then we will impose fines. We want to give people the sense that they are being supervised. As far as revenues are concerned, I will be happy if the municipal police manages to cover its own costs and there’s something left over for municipal coffers.”