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Public transport determined to win hearts and minds

feature malia the cpt is not profitable unless it is able to increase the number of passengers that use the service
The CPT is not profitable unless it is able to increase the number of passengers that use the service
A US visitor to Cyprus negotiates the bus system

By Malia Chung

Since my arrival in Nicosia two weeks ago, I’ve tried to avoid Cyprus Public Transport (CPT).

In part, this decision was a result of the island’s immense hospitality, as friends have consistently offered me free rides to places they are already headed. But my avoidance of public transport is, also, a result of advice I’ve received from locals, who are quick to complain about the system, pointing me to taxis or walking routes instead.

Rent a car,” I’ve been told, until I remind Cypriots that I’m American and, therefore, used to driving on the other side of the road. But to make my daily commute from Solomou Square to the office, CPT has, inevitably, become a transportation lifeline for me – and will continue to be for the duration of my two-month stay. 

The bus system has evolved and now offers a better situation than it did before,” Alexander Kamberos, CPT’s business development manager, reminds readers.

Supplying a fleet of buses that provide 5G service to its users, the CPT, since it was revamped in 2021, is of a higher calibre than the system that went before.

Working closely with a ministry that prioritises going green, the CPT recently welcomed its first line of electric buses, which will hit the roads after a company celebration on July 4. Because of its recent efforts to expand, this modernised, public transportation system seems to have earned its online slogan: “our success is everyone’s success.” 

And yet, in the eyes of Cypriots, the system still falls flat. The CPT’s commitment to serve Nicosia’s community is ironic considering that city buses are typically used by non-natives. In a 2022 service satisfaction survey, the CPT reported an overall 8.05/10 satisfaction rate among users in Nicosia, and yet, in the survey’s subcategories (those created to analyse interactions between the community members that CPT supposedly works to unite), scores were particularly low. Passengers ultimately felt overlooked and poorly communicated with by the system’s operating staff. These sentiments are evidenced in the following mean scores for the subcategories of Operators’ Staff Behaviour and Passenger Information offered: 3.69/5 and 2.93/5, respectively.

These ratings could, in part, be a result of a language barrier, as most non-Cypriot commuters rely on English to navigate the city’s bus system. Besides tourists, the vast majority of the CPT’s passengers are migrants, who use English as an intermediary between Greek and their own, native language. For anyone who is new to Nicosia or is without access to a car, the CPT is crucial for navigating the city. A student who prioritised affordable rent over the convenience of commuting, I would, like some of my fellow passengers, be left walking forty-minutes to work each way – in the heat of the summer. By making morning commutes – without a car – possible, the CPT makes it possible for users to arrive at work, make money and pay the bills. 

But still, the CPT must continue to update their system so as to make using it easier. Often, the bus announcements themselves are often communicated in Greek, making my own morning commute difficult, especially when bus shelters lack additional signage to indicate where along the route I’ve been let off.

While the Pame app does its best to simplify matters for English-speaking users by locating easy bus routes that Google Maps is unable to suggest, Pame isn’t able to verify accounts made with US phone numbers and, therefore, can offer only rough estimates of the routes that I need to take, rather than detailed descriptions of what stops to get on and off of. As a visitor travelling without a sturdy sense of where I am headed, I found that, in my first days of commuting, Pame wasn’t able to make my morning commutes less disorienting, especially when buses ran later than the app predicted.

But public transportation is necessary in a city that is spread out, as Nicosia tends to be.

In part, it’s the culture. We’re too used to the car,” Georgia Aristidou, the company’s marketing officer, explains. She is right. During rush hour, cars often bottleneck, especially because drivers insist on driving alone, and each car typically holds only one or two passengers.

Pushing for a system that goes against a cultural pattern, the CPT works under tiresome conditions. Alexander Kamberos elaborates: “there are memories of a previous system that Cypriots still hold on to, and now they lack a willingness to try” the revamped bus system – instead, resisting the change.

When asked what they most enjoyed about their jobs, both Aristidou and Kamberos quickly cited the thrill of achieving user satisfaction.

We must maintain top tier service in order to attract Cypriot passengers,” said Kamberos.

While the CPT’s funding is calculated by kilometres driven, its contract is structured so that it is not profitable unless it is able to increase the number of passengers that use the service. On some level, the CPT needs Cypriots users. In this way, the CPT can only continue to self-edit – making its system more efficient and more beneficial for users – once Cypriots buy into the idea of public transportation.

Both Aristidou and Kamberos hope that the CPT’s involvement in school bus routes will leave Cypriots with a positive impression of public buses. Introducing children to public buses will, they hope, teach younger generations to begin accepting public transportation from an early age. By ingraining these habits in children (and, by extension, their families), the CPT’s buses also have the capacity to slowly reduce traffic over time – but only if Cypriots commit.

Ultimately, trusting the public bus system – if the CPT can uphold its promise of modernising – becomes an investment not only in a public transportation system itself but also in a green future for residents of Nicosia. Now, it’s up to Cypriots to plan their next stage of approach.

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