Fare dodg­ing, in­tended or oth­er­wise, lead­ing to big rev­enue losses for cap­i­tal’s pub­lic trans­port

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY ALEXAN­DRA KASSIMI

Af­ter wast­ing three 2-euro coins at the bro­ken ticket-vend­ing ma­chine and with no staff to turn to, the woman at the tram sta­tion 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.

A pas­sen­ger stares out of an open bus win­dow, as the Par­lia­ment build­ing in cen­tral Athens is re­flected in the glass.

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