One consequence of the spread of the Covid-19 is that it has reduced the pollution in urban areas. With most people working from home and very few cars on the roads in towns the air we breathe in towns is much cleaner. In fact, the head of the department that measures the air quality Chrysanthos Savvides said it had rarely been cleaner and this was because of the decrease of cars on the road, “one of the main sources of air pollution” in towns.
“During the rush hour, from 7am to 9am, the pollutant concentrations in some situations have fallen up to four times below ‘normal’ levels,” he said. It must be said, however, as most things are a trade-off, that people would rather have air polluted with carbon monoxide, benzene and PM10 than with the coronavirus that has turned lives upside down. It is not a choice, but merely an indication of the air pollution caused by excessive car use and a reminder of important it is to get fewer cars on the road.
No government has ever tried to address the matter and come up with a credible plan for reducing car use and air pollution in our towns. Many argue this is because of the inadequacy of the public transport system but we doubt they would use public transport even if we had the most efficient and reliable service in the world. The truth is that the only people that use the buses are impoverished foreign workers and the elderly, even though the service is of a reasonable standard, which would have been improved if there was growing demand.
Demand has not increased since the new service was launched 10 years ago because government refuses to make it costly to use cars in the centre of towns, something many cities abroad have done as a way of reducing air pollution. In the centre of Nicosia, between Solomou and Eleftheria squares a five-storey car par is being built; opposite the finance ministry the site of a football stadium has been turned into a giant, free car park for public employees; the same has been done in the area around the interior ministry. Why would anyone use public transport when they can park outside their workplace free of charge?
This is just one example of the absence of any plan to reduce traffic, as is the failure to create cycle paths. If anything, the authorities are doing everything they can to keep the towns congested and polluted. We are afraid the air pollution will have to become much worse before the authorities take real action to reduce car use in towns.