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By Peter Stevenson MEMBERS of Volunteer Doctors Cyprus have treated around 350 people at their free clinic in Nicosia since it opened three months ago, while two more, one in Paphos and one in Polis are due to open today. Limassol also has a free clinic, which was opened only last month, and plans have been drawn ...
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Cyprus Internet Directory [ Action not words on public transport ]

Action not words on public transport

THE GOVERNMENT this week announced major infrastructure work to improve public transport in Nicosia. The measures include a €3.3 million revamp of the woeful central bus station at Solomou Square, as well as the inclusion of special bus lanes on new avenues in the capital. The authorities say this is just one part of a major action plan that includes a total overhaul of urban transport policy, as well as inter-city routes and public transport links to the island’s two airports.

It’s been years now that we’ve been hearing talk of grand public transport projects. Successive ministers have promised to tackle the issue, consultations have been held and reports commissioned. Two years ago, it seemed the government was getting serious, with the announcement of a £275 million plan to increase public transport usage from two to ten per cent by 2015. The plan made all the right suggestions, promising a modernised fleet of buses, stops every 500 metres, buses running at intervals of no more than 15 minutes and for at least 16 hours a day, priority lanes, park and rides, a crackdown on illegal parking and improved pavements.

But residents since then have so far seen very little to back up those promises. Apart from the odd new bus, the only change has been an increase in fares and a decision by Nicosia buses to scrap free bus passes for pensioners, because government subsidies were so low that private operators simply could no longer afford to maintain a free service for the elderly.

The decline in public transport over the years has been palpable: in 1980, buses carried 13 million passengers but by 2004 this had fallen to only 3.5 million, despite the influx of foreign workers, who, together with the elderly, are now the only people to use public transport. Only two per cent of the population now say they ever use the bus, a shocking indictment of the quality of service.

The fact is that buses are infrequent, unreliable, uncomfortable and often driven at breakneck speeds. And with no service after 7pm they are of no use to anyone coming home from work, or for people heading for an evening out.

And yet we need them more than ever. With spiralling petrol costs and increasingly heavy traffic pollution, it’s becoming desperately urgent to take cars off the road. And with drink driving claiming more and more lives, it is imperative to provide young people with a safe option for going home at the end of a night out.

Dare we hope that this time the government will see through its promises? Dare we believe that now we have a communist-led government in office, we may actually see progress on a core state responsibility that will genuinely help the poorer members of society?

Such projects are expensive, but the European Union will fund much of the costs (the EU has refused to fund any more road projects in Cyprus, but has indicated its willingness to contribute substantially to the public transport infrastructure).

What is needed is the political will. For years, we have poured money into projects that have encouraged private motor traffic to the detriment of public transport, the environment and our urban quality of life.

Now it’s time to overturn our priorities. Not only must we encourage public transport (and here we hope the government goes through with its ambitious pledges), we must actively discourage private car use. To do this, the police have to crack down on rampant illegal parking that makes car use far too easy by simply handing over our city centres to the convenience of the lazy motorist. The ease of illegal parking not only makes driving a very practical option, it makes it almost the only option by making it almost impossible for pedestrians to make it from A to B without risking life and limb by venturing into busy roads.

If parking were restricted to a few car parks – with rates more expensive the more central their location – driving into town for a small errand would suddenly become far less attractive. Motorists having to park their car for a hefty fee, then walk to their destination may suddenly find public transport more convenient. They might find it almost unavoidable if our mayors then had the courage to add city centre congestion charges as are now in force in many European capitals.

Sooner rather than later, it has to happen. The air in our city centres is becoming increasingly polluted, especially when suffocating desert dust is mixed into the sickening cocktail of vehicle emissions. Rising petrol prices are making it harder and harder for ordinary families to commute into work every day, and we are wasting more and more time in traffic jams.

Let us hope that this time the government is serious, and that in the not too distant future we will at last be allowed the option to leave our cars at home.


(Source: Cyprus Mail)



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