By Andy Dabilis
ATHENS – A college student who can get discount fares, Haris Moumtzelis, 19, said he understands why Greece’s Metro system has given up using paper tickets and walk-through entries in favor of coming electronic cards and turnstiles.
He also said he understands why many people won’t pay and that many can’t pay the fares on the subway, trains, buses and trams through Greece’s capital during a seven-year-long economic crisis, and even why anarchists smash ticket machines in rage against austerity.
“It’s not right to break them but it’s right not to pay the government,” he told The National Herald as he stood outside one of the still-gleaming fresh Metro stations on a system that opened in 2000 to great fanfare.
Anger against big pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and worker firings on orders of international creditors has fueled an upsurge in fare evasion, a problem made easy by the honor system that’s been in place where riders are supposed to buy and validate paper tickets but where so many people don’t that it’s brought huge losses.
The turnstiles on the Metro have been installed in staggered work for several months and are due to go into operation on June 1.
“They’ve done it to get money because so many people aren’t paying but other people don’t have money,” said Moumtzelis.
Nearby, Dimitra Terezaki, 27, was handing out flyers advertising help for people with debts, seeing a flood of people pass by on their way to the Metro and said she’s glad there’s a switch to turnstiles.
“I’m satisfied with it,” she told The National Herald. “There’s a lot of people who don’t buy tickets and aren’t getting caught,” she added.
Indeed. So many aren’t paying the 1.40 euros for tickets good for 90 minutes that STASY, the company that operates the capital’s metro, electric railway and tram systems, had losses in 2015 of 78.2 million euros ($100.7 million) from 36.4 million euros ($39.07 million) the year before Kathimerini reported.
The application of the electronic ticket … as well as the telematics on buses and trolleys that have been in effect since last April, are two works of modernization and of strategic importance that mark a new era in Athen’s urban means of transportation and in serving passengers,” Nikos Perperas, spokesman for the Athens Urban Transport Organisation (OASA) project of installation of electronic ticket on public transport told TNH.
He said the e- ticket will offer many advantages and can be charged up at automatic machines, the Internet, through credit and debit cards as well.
“In the second stage, after the e-ticket system is fully functioning, passengers will be charged depending on the distance covered. Therefore, fares will be far more fair,” he added.
Noting the vandalism on the public transport system, including smashing of validation machines by self-styled anarchists, Fondas, a 20-year-old man who didn’t want to give his last name, told TNH that more should be expected, which he didn’t condone and that it was unfair for so many fare dodgers to get free rides.
“We shouldn’t pay for other people,” he said before buying his ticket at a Metro stop in an Athens suburb.
“It’s very good they made it electronic,” he added. “They won’t be able to keep it up though because people will break it. They want it the easy way,” he said.
Until now, inspectors on the subway and on trams and buses have randomly stopped riders and asked to see their validated tickets, which has led to arguments and in one case in 2013, the death of an 18-year-old man who tried to get off a bus and fell and hit his head on the pavement, sparking further outrage.
In a country where tax evasion is a national sport, ducking fares isn’t far behind, whether on the Metro, tram, train or even going through toll booths on the national road and Attiki Odos, the major road to the airport.
The We Won’t Pay movement, people infuriated by austerity measures that haven’t touched the rich, politicians or privileged who are still thriving, have encouraged use of roads and transportation without paying.
The Metro is being expanded to reach Athens neighborhoods but has been hurt by workers’ anti-austerity strikes and massive fare evasion with many willing to risk fines and as the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA was reportedly discouraging inspectors from checking tickets, fearful of another backlash after reneging on anti-austerity promises.
The full electronic system is designed to end fare dodging but Moumtzelis doesn’t think attitudes will change and that freeloaders will try to find some other way to avoid buying electronic cards. “There are those who have the money,” he said. “They just don’t want to pay.”