Changing Patterns in Car Sales During Crisis: a Case Study in the Athens Metropolitan Area

Changing Patterns in Car Sales During Crisis: a Case Study in the Athens Metropolitan Area


Z Christoforou, M G Karlaftis, National Technical University of Athens, GR; T Roul, Ecole des Ponts-ParisTech, FR



In May 2010, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) along with Eurozone governments provided Greece short- and medium-term loans of over 100 billion euros. Since then, a number of additional loans have been provided, memorandums have been signed, and adjustments have been made to assure a minimum repayment rate for the public debt. In parallel, the Greek Government strives to comply with rigid loan terms; additional income sources are being searched for by both spending cuts and additional taxation. In this context, major reductions in public transport (PT) investment and subsidies have been made. Budget cuts are decided on grounds of efficiency and mainly consist in reducing and merging existing bus lines and in raising PT fares. On the other hand, additional taxation has been applied to gasoline prices leading to an overall increase of around 70% within a year's time.

Athens is the economic and political centre of Greece as it accounts for almost 50% of the country's GPD, with the average annual income being around €27,000 per capita (constant 2007 prices). The Athens City Centre boasts a huge economic activity including commerce, finance, entertainment accommodation, and small-sized industries. It has a surface of about 39.000 km2 and a population of only 700.000 inhabitants as housing on the suburbs is preferred and the City Centre is mostly used for offices, commercial uses, and entertainment purposes that produce a high demand for transportation (approximately 10.000.000 journeys on a typical working day). Athens is served by a mass transit system of 3 metro lines, 2 tramway lines, 1 suburban railway line, 360 bus lines, and 20 electric bus lines (trolley). All major axes connecting the centre to the suburbs suffer from congestion and are saturated on peak hours.

The financial crisis leads to urban reconstruction and re-adjustments that cause significant changes in the city image and economic geography, in citizens' habits, consumption patterns and, consequently, in transportation demand patterns. While there is an increasing interest in the field of travel behavior change due to various causes, limited attention has been given to the behavior change due to financial or other crises. Travel behavior change towards PT has mostly been studied as a positive aspect of Mobility and Demand Management strategies. These strategies utilize emerging ITS technologies in order to encourage a shift towards PT and, consequently, expand and motivate sustainable travel choices. However, a similar shift towards PT can be observed due to reasons different from enhanced mobility awareness or ecological sensitivity; i.e. purely economic reasons. Such changes are not voluntary nor the outcome of well-designed awareness campaigns. Instead, they are dictated by necessity and affect travelers unevenly. We argue that crisis-related changes have different inherent characteristics and consequences as they limit travel choices and strangle mobility despite having a similar quantifiable result, i.e. a potential increase in ridership. We thus believe that the process of travel change during crises should be separately examined and addressed.

The objective of this study is to provide insight regarding the impact of crisis on the travel behavior of Athenians while considering the impact of (i) PT changes and (ii) the increase in gasoline prices. To this end, we use the findings of a previous diagnostic analysis regarding PT demand changes (2011) and expand our research to private vehicle travel. We perform an extended travel survey on travel demand changes. We, then, cross declared responses with gasoline and PT fare price level oscillations. We, thus, attempt to quantitatively assess the impact of crisis on travel demand patterns and to capture emerging trends. Finally, we introduce qualitative data (for example, milestones of the austerity measures applied) and we attempt to identify interactions between policy, consumer economy, and transportation choices.


Association for European Transport