Building back better with CO-APS: Interview with the Municipality of Karditsa

Practice makes perfect – something we also know at CO-APS. Last week, a pilot was launched in four cities across Europe, where CO-APS will be used and tested by real passengers. One of the pilot cities is Karditsa (Greece), where Karditsa Municipality joins forces with CO-APS. We spoke to Natalia Tzellou, Head of the Department of Development Planning, about her city has dealt with recent challenges due to the COVID-19 crisis, and how they expect CO-APS can help to keep the city moving. 

The last 6 months have been challenging due to the COVID-19 crisis. Can you tell us a bit more about how you have experienced recent times and some of the initiatives you have taken to meet the ongoing challenges in public transport and urban mobility?

During the last six months, and especially the 2 months of quarantine (April-May) we came face to face with big and unprecedented challenges, affecting important city-functions, including mobility. The radical reduction of trips had a direct impact in the reduction of car-use, similarly to many other examples worldwide. As the cityscape allows it, many citizens shifted towards walking and cycling. The noise levels (previously generated by motorized traffic) reduced significantly. However, when it comes to public transport, covid19 caused a 95% drop in ridership. This change affected life of many citizens, since public transport was used for daily trips between Karditsa and satellite towns, for work, shopping, school, etc.

The city, trying to capitalize on the favorable for sustainable mobility behavioral changes, but also to respond to the new pandemic reality, introduced measures for car-speed reduction in the center; from 50 to 30km/h. No additional infrastructure for pedestrians and bikes was deemed needed, since relevant infrastructure was already sufficient, while 4km of new bike lanes were already planned for the next 3 years. However, the city did not manage to find sufficient solutions for public transport, and this is where CO-APS project came to contribute to this crucial challenge.

What do you expect from your participation in the CO-APS project?

Public transport is of paramount importance in our city. Even though the healthy and active citizens managed to shift to walking or cycling, an important part of our society –such as elderly and commuters from around cities- are Public Transport reliant and face important difficulties due to PT crisis. CO-APS will help in two levels; at the short-term it will serve as a practical mean of informing passengers on crowdedness, allowing them to choose another bus. At the same time, it will provide the Public Transport Operator with evidence for better responding to passenger needs, as they are shaped because of covid-19, by e.g. increasing frequency at certain hours of the day, hence improving safety conditions. At the mid/long-term, CO-APS plays an important role towards the effort of restoring trust in Public Transport concerning health conditions. Moreover, Karditsa considers to replicate CO-APS approach in other sectors, such as Public Services and Public Spaces for improving health conditions and manage better crowdedness.

Can you tell us a bit about your role in the CO-APS project? What is your exact role?

Karditsa is one of the four cities participating in CO-APS project, representing the case of a medium-size city that also acts as the center of smaller towns of the area. Its role in the project is to test CO-APS application locally, in collaboration with the public transport operator and other stakeholders and to evaluate how CO-APS can benefit cities of its type. CO-APS will be tested on specific bus routes, and incentives for using the app will be provided in collaboration with local stakeholders and in the framework of promoting sustainable behavior.

Finally, the COVID-19 crisis is ongoing, but fortunately we know a lot more than we did 6 months ago. How do you see the future of the city and its public transport network?

In the beginning of the pandemic, citizens acted with fear and panic concerning the spread of the virus. Gradually, they adapted to the new situation, following the guidelines of the government. In Public Transport, maximum ridership was limited to the 50% of the capacity, creating important sustainability problems. Unfortunately, Public Transport needs to put significant efforts in order to reverse this situation. We believe that CO-APS will play an instrumental role in this direction and –together with complementary measures- will support PT regain citizens’ trust.

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