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Monday, February 02, 2009

Public transport shouldn't be a luxury

On Friday I got my monthly ticket for the public transport in Athens. It costs 18 € for students (and other people eligible for reduction) whereas the normal pass costs 35 €. These prices are quite affordable, since they include metropolitan train (green line), subway (red and blue lines), suburban train within the Greater Athens ('Proastiakos'), trams, trolleybuses and buses. The prices are in fact cheaper than those in 2007! (this is the best way to encourage the use of public transport).

For people who don't use very often the public transport, the prices are affordable too. A normal single ticket costs 1 € (it was 80 cents until December) and the reduced one costs 50 cents. Both of them are valid for 90 minutes (which can be extended if the last of the trips starts before reaching the 90 minutes limit), also for all the means of transport. But there is even more: some municipalities (such as Kesariani, where I live) have their own public buses, which are totally free. In the case of Kesariani, connects the main avenue (which crosses the whole suburb) with the closest metro station, located near the National Gardens (quite in the center).

In short, the traffic in Athens may be chaotic during the rush hours, but there are affordable solutions for those who don't want (or can't) take the car. It is a pity that there are only 3 metro lines at the moment, which means that many suburbs don't have direct access to the network, and it's true that some bus frequencies and connections between suburbs could be improved (I think it happens in every big city), but otherwise, the public transportation of Athens offers an acceptable and inexpensive service.

On the other hand, the situation in my hometown, Valladolid, is quite different. There is only one mean of public transportation: bus. Yes, the city is not very big, there is no point on building a metro line, but the size and population would make the tram a perfect solution. The bus ticket costs 1.10 €, this is 10% more than last year. It is also 10% more expensive than in Athens.

Let's compare the services offered by both. In Valladolid, the ticket is valid for a single trip in a single bus line. If you do a 15 min. bus trip, spend another 15 min., let's say, buying something, and then go back in another 15 min. bus trip, you need to spend 2.20 €. In Athens, you would have spent 1 € and you still would have the right to use the public transport for 45 extra minutes (what about taking the metro and going to the center for a coffee?).

And of course, we can't compare the actual distances covered by both networks. With a single ticket it is possible to travel, for instance, from the port of Piraeus to Kifisia by train (26 km) and then you would have about half an hour left to catch another bus and get further away. The longest distance covered by the urban bus lines of Valladolid is about 12 km, but most of the lines are much shorter. It's true that the buses that you can find in Athens are usually a bit older than in Valladolid, but the trolleybuses, trams, and metro wagons are really new (it's a pity that we cannot compare with their non-existent counterparts in Valladolid).

About the prices, I know, probably you think that the salaries in Greece are lower than in Spain, so it's a normal thing that the prices are also lower. Well, it's not exactly like that. Athens is the capital, and the salaries are higher than in the rest of the country, whereas Valladolid is not a place with very high salaries comparing with bigger Spanish cities. According to the disposable income statistics made by Eurostat in 2005, the disposable income in Attiki (the region of Athens) was 14352 € per inhabitant and year. In Castilla y León (the region of Valladolid) was 12499 €. The figures have changed since 2005, but the salary level is still higher in Athens than in Valladolid, for sure.

For me it's difficult to understand. How is it possible that a 4-million city can offer much better and much cheaper public transportation than a 400-thousand one? Why the public transport can be promoted in Athens and not in Valladolid? Why do some people talk of the 'profit' of public services? Aren't traffic-jam-free, non-polluted cities profitable by themselves? Isn't it worth to pay a cleaner air with our taxes?

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