Environment watchdog plans his green legacy
By Stefanos Evripidou Cyprus mail on Sunday
IN HIS LAST month in office, Environment Commissioner Charalambos Theopemptou is pushing for a complete overhaul of public transport to include a 24-hour shuttle service to and from Larnaca airport, new bus routes operating with greater frequency and a new central bus terminal in Nicosia.
Theopemptou met with Planning Bureau chief Andreas Moleskis last month in an effort to initiate a number of projects that would change the face of public transport in Cyprus and help alleviate the environmental impact of road transport.
The two also discussed ways of encouraging companies to enforce EU rules on recycling. Moleskis also happens to be chairman of the influential committee that decides how to spend the billion euros available as part of the EU cohesion fund for Cyprus.“Since the EU asks us to concentrate more on public transport and less on digging up roads, I have asked Mr Moleskis that we implement a plan to connect all main cities with a shuttle service to and from Larnaca Airport,” Theopemptou told the Sunday Mail.
The Commissioner referred to a study prepared by Andrie Phinikaridou in 2005, which highlighted the need and public demand for such a service. The study proposed a Nicosia-Larnaca Airport shuttle service that would operate on a 24-hour basis starting from central Nicosia and stopping in two-three other places in town on the way.
Parking would be provided free for the public who would be asked to pay around €5 per fare as opposed to the €30-€43 charged by taxis (2005 prices). Not only would the service provide cheaper and more environmentally-friendly options for travellers (citizens and tourist), it would also increase options for those members of the public who did not have access to a car.
Theopemptou also discussed hiring buses to take public officials to the airport as a more cost-effective and environmentally-friendly policy.
He estimated that on average 50 civil servants travelled to Brussels on a direct flight every Tuesday and Friday.
Given that each official has the option of taking a separate taxi to and from the airport, the taxpayer can end up paying €43 each trip there and each trip back for every government official, apart from the extra cars on the road and needless pollution. “I made some inquiries and it would cost between €137 and €170 to hire a bus for a whole day.
If you get four public officials on one bus route to the airport, that’s already covered the money the government would have spent on taxi reimbursements,” said the Environment Commissioner. “Imagine for the whole day what the savings would be. And if the bus isn’t full, the owner can offer the seats to the public too,” he added.
Theopemptou has asked the authorities to collect official statistics on how many officials travel to Brussels so a plan can be worked out for the new airport service. “I have also spoken with British Airways who are thinking of including in their ticket price a free or subsidised ride to the airport. They are studying the issue, but I think it would be a very attractive offer,” he said.
The government bus route and public shuttle service would also go some way in alleviating the problem with parking capacity at the airport. “Those cars parked by the Salt Lake are not just there because of parking prices but because there is often no space for them in the car park.”Theopemptou and Moleskis also tackled the issue of Nicosia’s public transport system. “I asked them to conduct a study on bus routes and their frequency. Who decided which buses go where?
The small Nicosia Bus Company cannot be expected to shoulder the costs of such a study,” said Theopemptou. The Commissioner noted that the next step would be to offer certain chosen routes up for tender to see which companies could provide frequent and effective services.
In a separate meeting with another high-level government official, Theopemptou proposed that the old GSP Stadium parking lot be transformed into a new central bus station. “The current Solomou Square is not exactly a traditional bus terminal. I mean the road is open to the public,” he noted.Finally, Theopemptou referred to his drive to encourage all companies to implement recycling laws. “We agreed that all government projects would include environmental conditions, or ‘Green Procurement’.
This basically attaches conditions to the execution of works and purchases. For instance, a company seeking a government contract must abide by certain laws, like the purchase of low energy consumption faxes or energy-saving light bulbs.”The law has been in place since 2005 but only recently have government departments, municipalities and semi-government organisations (SGO) started applying the green procurement policy.“CyTA have been the quickest, appointing an environment officer to deal with purchases.
For example, if a government or SGO wants to buy computers, the company in question has to have registered with Green Dot which provides recycling services for all their old computers.
It’s what we call producers’ responsibility,” Theopemptou explained.“When I was appointed, the first thing I did was get banks to follow the same procurement policy. Now, all the companies are running to come up to scratch with recycling requirements. These are big contracts on offer. It is a simple method but yields big results.”
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