By Andria Kades
BUSES in Cyprus could soon be utilising ‘smart cards’ that can be topped-up, scrapping the current system of buying tickets from drivers.
According to Vladimiros Zavros, head of the management and control unit for public transport contracts, the ministry is currently in the process of evaluating different expressions of interest aiming to introduce the system by the end of the year.
“We are very close,” he told the Cyprus Mail, adding that there was also work being done towards installing a GPS operated system informing passengers where and when their next stop will be.
Although pleased with the results of five years of the current transport system – marked yesterday with free public transport for everyone across the country – he said there was still have a long way to go, echoing the comments of Transport Minister Marios Demetriades earlier in the day.
“A lot of things need to be done,” the minister told public broadcaster CyBC.
Demetriades who took the bus from his own residence in Latsia to work yesterday said the journey took him 50 minutes compared to around 25 to 30 minutes driving.
Asked whether he would use the bus again, he laughed and said: “Of course I will use it again. It is not the first I am using it. It is a fact that we’re well used to our cars – this is a reality – and what is a required at the moment is we leave the comfort zone of our cars.”
Although they have not reached their goals yet, efforts were certainly being exerted, Demetriades said.
Since the inauguration of the new system in 2010, a steady increase has been observed in the popularity of buses, according to Zavros with an estimated 25 million transports in 2013 based on ticket sales.
The estimate based on ticket sales was a bit tricky however, he said as some people use day, weekly or monthly tickets. “We must also bear in mind that reaching one destination could mean taking two buses thus increasing the figures,” Zavros said.
Buses are most often used by pensioners, students and foreigners that may not have other means of transport, Demetriades said.
The most popular districts for buses are coastal cities, according to Zavros with Paphos and Famagusta at the top for usage often due to tourism, as well as Limassol.
EMEL, Limassol’s bus company said their latest estimates in 2014 were that about 4.5 million tickets were issued which was a steady increase since 2011 with bus 30 being the most popular means of transport going along the coast to and from the mall.
According to the Nicosia bus company OSEL general manager Andreas Athanasiatis, there has been a 15 per cent increase in the popularity of public transport. Re-iterating previous comments that it is always difficult to estimate as students for instance have monthly passes and other passengers may buy weekly or all-day-tickets, results were satisfactory.
Christmas time, he says was a particularly popular period as people do not want to be concerned with having to find parking however “we are taking baby steps” particularly compared to how things were, he added.
Current routes in the capital make up for 10 million km per year, Athanasiatis told the Cyprus Mail but there still needs to be more buses, more routes and more support, particularly from municipalities who need to set up more bus stops so the companies can provide better service to people.
The financial state of affairs has certainly been a factor in increasing bus use, according to Costas Oikonomou, from the IT department at Intercity buses he inspects.
“There has been an increase since 2010 when we started,” he said, putting the estimated figures at about 6,000 to 7,000 per day travelling between towns.
“The first year when we started, the Larnaca–Nicosia bus had one route. Now there’s four because it’s so popular,” he told the Cyprus Mail.
On a daily basis, the most frequent bus users are employees that commute, followed by students, pensioners and foreigners, while on weekends it is usually the reverse.
“We are much better than we used to be five years ago but we are still lagging behind from where we want to be” which includes modernising buses and installing services such as free internet, said Athanasiatis.