Smart mobility Public transport

Can you make a smart city from historical cities?

Wednesday, 21 December 2022

Athens on the road to smartness.
Athens may not be the smartest city in Greece by its own admission, but that’s not to say that situation won’t change any time soon. The University of West Attica’s Panagiotis Papantoniou tells Intertraffic about some of the projects that are helping to move Athens up the smart city table.

Intertraffic: Someone once said that the way you can work out if a city is smart or not is if you poke that city, it reacts. So if you asked the city a question, it would answer it. Is Athens a smart city? If you poked Athens, would it react?

Panagiotis Papantoniou (PP): I think the answer to that is that Athens is not yet a smart city. There are some steps that have been taken over the last few years but they're very slow steps. First and foremost many of the smart city plans were severely delayed because of the 2008-2013 economic crisis. During this timeframe, pretty much nothing happened in general in Greece, and even the traffic management centre of Athens was not working. Now, what has been happening over the last three or four years is first, there is now a new traffic management centre in Athens, which is under the auspices of the region of Attica. The centre belongs to the region of Attica, but mainly deals with the city of Athens and some surrounding smaller cities. The goal is to manage the traffic in a smarter fashion.

First and foremost many of the smart city plans were severely delayed because of the 2008-2013 economic crisis

Intertraffic: What methods and practices are being implemented and deployed?
PP: So far they have put in some smart traffic signs, some smart pedestrian crossings that are established and there are many variable message signs. Also the public transport operators have a mobile application where you can book your tickets online, and almost every bus stop in Athens is a smart bus stop that tells you how many minutes you have to wait until the next bus arrives. In terms of public transport, things are definitely improving but in terms of traffic there are projects and solutions that are still mainly at the pilot stages. This is the main issue but we now have a funding tool called TRIESIS that supports municipalities in their quest to make smarter tech decisions and provide funding for the construction and management of the municipalities’ traffic programs. We have a separate section for Smart Cities that started in 2021: they put forward proposals and we try to implement them.

In terms of public transport, things are definitely improving but in terms of traffic there are projects and solutions that are still mainly at the pilot stages

Intertraffic: Can you talk about another project that's in the works and may be deployed in the next year or so? A MaaS (Mobility as a Service) project, for example…
PP:
To be honest, there aren’t any MaaS projects running at the moment, only some pilot tests and research projects from the universities. Among those, though, there been have pilots for MaaS-related ideas and in terms of drones to carry out some logistics tasks in the field of urban air mobility.

There are a couple of interesting elements at play here in Athens, though. Firstly due to Coronavirus, the companies that had introduced e-scooters have stopped their operation. For some years there have been two or three companies providing micromobility services, Lime being perhaps the most well-known but now there aren’t any offering this mode of transport. The second is that, again during the Covid era, a big project took place in Athens called the Great Walk of Athens whereby the municipality of Athens decided to devote two lanes of two key roads in the centre of Athens to walking and cycling. It was a huge news story for many but finally they people accepted its implementation. To be honest, it does not have any smart elements in terms of technology but it’s a big step in terms of sustainable mobility. However, some cyclists have not been happy because the route is not connected to a metro station. They said: ‘You have created a very big project that has space for cyclists, but we cannot go to the start or the end of the route with our bike.’ They don’t feel that cycling is a priority.

For The Great Walk of Athens the municipality decided to devote two lanes of two key roads in the centre of Athens to walking and cycling. It was a huge news story

In terms of smartness there isn’t much that is coordinated but there are individual actions that are happening. The pedestrian crossings I mentioned previously are an example. Another action is that the city is installing speed cameras into traffic signs, so that we can both identify the speeding vehicle and provide red light enforcement.

Intertraffic: The sense is that in isolation all these ideas are good, but they would serve Athens better if they were consolidated into one or could be coordinated into one Smart Athens app. I will return to my original question, though - if I am a visitor to Athens, how do I know that the city is actively helping me to get around rather than being obstructive?
PP:
There is no unique way to take all the information that you want about transport in the Attica region, of which Athens is at the centre, so you have to go to different places. You have to use a public transport app for information on buses, trains and the metro, for example and if you want airport information you have to choose that. We don’t have one place where everything about the region is included. The Ministry of Transport has been informed very often that this type of organisation exists in many if not most European cities. A transport-oriented organisation that will have this role to connect all the different actors in Greece: the police, municipalities, the ministry – everything needs to be accessible under the same umbrella in order to solve all these problems in terms of strategy. This is something that is missing and it is regularly highlighted.

Panagiotis Papantoniou is Assistant Professor at the University of West Attica‘s Department of Surveying and Geoinformatics Engineering in Athens

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