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Greece Mulls Tolls for Athens Center to Ease Traffic Congestion

tolls Athens
The Greek government says an option to impose tolls for the Athens center is “on the table”. Credit: AMNA

Greece is considering imposing tolls for vehicles in the center of Athens to combat traffic congestion, a government minister revealed on Monday.

Authorities are particularly alarmed by the increase in traffic throughout the Greek capital, which at times seems like a huge parking lot with all traffic stopped on the major freeways.

In the region of Attica there are currently about 2.3 million vehicles, of which only 7,654 are electric, hybrid or run on natural gas.

Kostas Karamanlis, Greece’s Minister of Infrastructure & Transport, told SKAI news that the issue of paying tolls “is on the table.” In addition, he announced a reduction by half of the vehicles permitted to enter the “small ring” of the Athens center and the gradual expansion of the boundaries of the ring.

Small ring in Athens

Experts say that traffic in Athens has risen sharply for two main reasons: Athenians are keen to travel after 18 months of the coronavirus lockdowns and they are concerned about public transport as the pandemic is still ongoing.

Athens has no current pricing system for tolls, although there are regulations for vehicles entering the city center.

What is known as the “small ring” applies to the inner city where vehicles up to 2.2 tons are only allowed entry to the area on alternating days, depending on the last digit of their license plate (odds or evens). The scheme is active from Monday to Thursday from 07:00 – 20:00 and Friday from 07:00 – 15:00.

Tolls around the world

Tolls are seen by some experts as a way to reduce congestion and improve air quality. The measure has been introduced, with variations, in several cities around the world over the last decades.

Singapore is the godfather of congestion pricing systems as the Area Licensing Scheme (ALS) as it called was introduced in 1975. Cars with one or two people in them were charged US$1 every time they crossed a line entering Singapore’s central business district during the peak morning period with carpools of more than three people and trucks exempt from the fee.

London is probably the best-known congestion pricing system in the western world. While more technically complex than Singapore’s system the London pricing system has had a similar level of success in reducing traffic for the central business district through an intricate series of cameras and transponders.

Other cities such as Stockholm, Milan and Riga, the capital of Latvia, have introduced pricing systems for vehicles.

Implementation of congestion pricing has reduced congestion in urban areas, but has also sparked criticism and public discontent. Critics maintain that congestion pricing is not equitable, places an economic burden on neighboring communities, has a negative effect on retail businesses and on economic activity in general, and represents another tax levy.

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