Govt announces free public transport in Athens for a week as Greeks face cash crisis

Residents wait for the bus in downtown Athens on June 30, 2015.
Residents wait for the bus in downtown Athens on June 30, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

ATHENS (AFP) - The Greek government has declared public transport free in Athens this week to ease difficulties created by the closure of the banks and a rush on petrol stations.

Greece's transportation minister, Christos Spirtzis, has announced that buses, trams, trolley-buses, and the Athens metro will not require fares until next week.

The offer is set to last until July 7, when in principle the banks will re-open.

Greece's transportation minister, Christos Spirtzis, has announced that buses, trams, trolley-buses, and the Athens metro will not require fares until next week.

UK's Times newspaper reports that fares are usually about 1.20 euros (S$1.80), and the decision will cost the government about 4 million euros this week.

The decision only covers greater Athens, where about 40 per cent of Greece's population lives. The government cannot waive fares in its next-largest city, Thessaloniki, because its transportation system is not fully run by the government, according to the Times.

As Greece teetered on the edge of default this weekend, anxious drivers queued at petrol stations, with fuel sales up 20 per cent on the previous week, according to the Greek union of petrol station owners.

"There is enough petrol... The lives of tourists in the urban centres, the peripheries or the islands will not be disrupted," the economy and tourism ministry said, amid fears the crisis would hit the tourism industry.

Grigoris Stergioulis, CEO of the biggest oil company in the country Hellenic Petroleum (ELPE), told ANA press agency that "the refineries are working as normal and supply is fully assured, we have oil reserves for several months."

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Sunday announced a series of capital controls and closure of the banks until after a referendum on July 5 on a new cash-for-reforms deal with Athens's international creditors.

The move came after a breakdown in last-ditch negotiations with the eurozone's 18 other members, which sowed panic in Greece and sparked a run on cash machines before a possible "Grexit".