2015 | Dec
Public transport services in the capital started in 1835. This involved 500 carriages (the so-called “pamforia” or “polyforia”) connecting Athens to Piraeus. They followed the route along Pireos Str. – along the trail of the ancient Long Walls (the users of Pireos Str. had to pay toll). In 1869 the original carriages were replaced by the, initially steam-powered, rail of Athens – Piraeus (RAP).
In 1882, Athens welcomed its first public transport network in the form of a tram system. Nine rail routes for a horse-drawn tram system had been laid by 1901, thirty years after Paris (1852) and fifty years after New York (1832).
The first bus network service started in 1913, composed by a few steam-powered and gasoline-powered vehicles. In 1925 they became 700.
Buses and trams coexisted until the 50s, but it was an unhappy coexistence. It was then that tram rails were dug out , trolleybuses replaced trams and along with buses they monopolised public transport in Athens until the underground railway started its operation in 2000 (lines 2 and 3 with a total length of 37 km). Before 2000 there was still Line 1 of course (“the electric underground rail”), connecting Piraeus to Kifissia with a 25.7 km route. It was the successor of the Athens – Piraeus rail (RAP), which was electrified in 1904 and was extended to Kifissia in 1957, along the route of the old “Beast”. The “Beast” started from Omonia square (Lavrio Sq) and terminated in Kifissia, while its second branch, starting from Heraklion was heading to Lavrio. The line to Lavrio, started from Aghioi Anargyroi and connected to the Athens – Thessaloniki mainline train line. It operated from 1889 until 1962, when operation stopped because the line was cut-off from the new highway.
In 2004 the suburban rail was inaugurated, making use of the Attiki Odos highway expropriation area. This was an absurd solution, since in most cities suburban trains penetrate the urban fabric and pass through its most central points. Instead, the motorway’s route was followed since that was where there was space available, – – however that route is away from the city fabric for environmental and urban composition purposes. Thus the suburban railway connected Messogia with Thriassio, running through the Athens basin. Its route lies away from the major business centres and thus it didn’t manage to attract a considerable number of passengers. Facilitating the access to the stations from nearby settlements involves road works and parking projects that have not been built.
Public transport was the foundation for the development of Athens, when car ownership was limited. But from the 70s onward, when the car market sky-rocketed, the role of public transport began to fade rapidly only to partly recover later, mainly thanks to the new track-based modes (Table 1).
Table 1: Annual use of public transport per person in Athens
The fact that cars received such a warm welcome both in Greece and around the world demonstrates how important it was for the 20th century human to move around with autonomy and independence. Public transport subjects people to slow travel times, specific routes and requires them to share the limited space of vehicles with strangers. Bearing this in mind, public transport could not be an end in the design itself. But nobody can deny that it is a solution. The city needs easy, cheap and pleasant access to all of its activities, wherever these might be. It also needs a transport system that does not adversely affect the environment.
The ageing vehicle fleet and its poor maintenance is a main cause of air and noise pollution in Athens. Moreover, the conditions under which vehicles operate amplify the problem. Traffic jams as a result of narrow streets and unregulated parking, as well as frequent crossroads due to small city blocks (their size is often half of that in a European city) cause a disproportionately high production of pollutants in relation to the mileage travelled. The current economic crisis, which causes a severe shortage of staff and spare parts has resulted in many route cut-backs.
Lack of road space is a major issue and a source of delays and environmental problems. Public transport and collective travelling in general are a very effective solution to this problem. An indication of space savings resulting from the use of e.g. a bus, is that depending on the number of passengers in each vehicle, a bus passenger might potentially occupy only 5% of the road surface that a car passenger does.
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