By Andrew Tzembelicos
The Greek government’s recent announcement of a cash infusion and modernization of the KTEL regional bus system should be welcomed by all riders. It was an announcement that could not have come soon enough.
In the Athens area, the service offers a beautiful ride along the Athens Riviera with stunning glimpses of the crystal-blue Aegean Sea.
Determining a coach’s arrivals and departures, however, inevitably becomes an exercise in frustration — particularly when summer temperatures typically climb well beyond 30 Celsius (the 90’s Fahrenheit) and its decades-old shelters offer little or no protection from the scorching Athenian sun.
The lack of any proper schedules offering a reasonable estimate of when to expect a bus at a particular stop — be it in English or Greek — online, makes planning almost next to impossible, especially if a previous OASA connection is required.
This is not only a problem for those visiting Athens with limited time but for locals as well. Indeed, across multiple journeys, I found that many of those waiting — and expressing their discontent — were Greek-speaking Athenians traveling along the coast for the day.
Once onboard, the experience didn’t improve much, as most of the operators communicate in Greek only, which bedevils a rider who may be unfamiliar with the route or stops. That the on-board crew had little patience didn’t help matters either.
In one instance, the attendant quickly became unpleasant with a local rider who didn’t know the schedule. In another instance, also on the same journey, both driver and attendant were hostile with another local who simply requested a stop.
On my inaugural journey the attendant concluded his shift for the day, departing 15 minutes before me. The only problem was he failed to inform the new driver of my stop. Had I not known the area or been distracted, I would have ridden right into downtown Athens.
The new KTEL website must offer clear maps, list all stops and approximate coach arrival and departure times and a secure online ticket purchase function, just as all others do in cities all over the world.
This should not result in taking away the position of the onboard attendant — whose job can remain as it is, to sell tickets to those purchasing onboard in addition to validating those tickets purchased in advance online, as riders board.
Recently, a short trip to Syros offered a chance to try the KTEL service in another location. There, the service was prompt and efficient, schedules were posted at all onboarding and offloading points, drivers were friendly and regularly — and clearly — announced all stops. Using KTEL allowed for exploration of the island well beyond Ermoupolis, the island’s largest community.
If Greece hopes to create the most travel-friendly possible experience, particularly when the Greek economy relies so very heavily on tourists, making meaningful changes to the KTEL system as a whole — and especially the popular Athens–Sounio route — marks an important step forward.
Andrew Tzembelicos is a Greek-Canadian writer, editor and communications consultant who divides his time between Athens and Vancouver.