ATHENS - The government is mulling the staggering of working hours in order to prevent rush-hour crowds on public transport, Infrastructure and Transport Minister Kostas Karamanlis revealed on Sunday, speaking on SKAI television. He said that the idea, which calls for a spread of employee arrivals over three separate stages instead of one big wave squeezed in between 7:30 and 8:30, has been put to the prime minister for consideration.
"We must not have the impression that, from one day to the next, one million employees will be let loose onto the streets. The new measures must have some balance," he added. Karamanlis said that a discussion was currently underway on whether those using public transport will have to wear PPE, especially masks, with the final decisions due to be taken next week.
"A very specific operational plan for the day after is being prepared. We won the first wager, which was for the virus not to spread. Now we must gradually embark on the process of starting up the economy again, which means that some people from the private and public sector must start to be active to begin the productive process," Karamanlis noted.
On the financial side, given the sharp drop in passengers, the minister said that the transport companies will give credit to people for unused travel cards, as well as an additional 10 pct discount for those buying one-year travel cards. He pointed out that passenger traffic had dropped by 85-90 pct in the last two months, creating a difficult situation, in contrast to January and February, where revenues had rise by 5-10 pct.
"What matters at the moment is the day after, so that people can safely use public transport," he emphasised, noting that the problem could not be resolved by simply using more buses because there were not enough, since no new buses have been purchased since 2009.
"We will resolve this, of course, and we will soon be ready to begin a tender, but at present and with the given circumstances we are doing whatever is humanly possible to provide a service to people and protect public health," he said, warning that the lifting of the measures will be gradual.
On air transport, Karamanlis said the government's intends to provide strong support, given the importance of tourism for Greece's economy.
"Greece has a comparative advantage because we did very well in the health crisis. We must slowly start opening up air transport as well. For this reason, the prime minister a few days ago made a special reference to this to the European Council President, calling for a specific plan for air transport. On Wednesday, we will have an informal transport ministers' meeting where we will examine specific measures...we want a balance between freedom of movement and public health," he said.
Karamanlis explained the government was looking at several alternatives, including a health certificate, supervision of travellers depending on the risk they present and tests at the border when a problem was suspected.
"Greece was one step ahead of the rest of Europe and we very quickly shut down our airports and flights from countries that had a problem. We will make an effort to find a common line on this on an EU level. If it is not found, however, we will not remain idle."