Insights | 24 January 2024 | Ministry of Transport, Communications and Works

Alexis Vafeades , Minister of Transport, Communications and Works

Our main scope is to increase efficiency and cost-effectiveness in transporting goods and the population in general, to enhance the attractiveness and quality of the urban environment and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption.

Your portfolio covers transport, communications and works, how would you assess the current state of these sectors in 2023, and were any key milestones reached this year? 

The air transport sector even though severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, has seen a tremendous increase this year and connectivity has been restored. We expect Cyprus airports to register 11.5 million passengers this year, delivering direct access to 40 countries and markets around the world. Our strategy focused on attracting airlines to the island by offering support to all stakeholders, to enable the use of our modern infrastructure and develop our national economy. Being an island, it’s imperative to safeguard air connectivity as this is vital for economic and social purposes. The development of tourism, trade, business and technology hubs, is a strategic goal for the government of Cyprus and air connectivity plays a major role in order to ensure the prompt access to centres of activity, providing agglomeration effects ranging from market access to investment opportunities.  

The port sector has been performing very well in the last few years, especially after the commercialisation of the Limassol Port activities and of the Larnaca Port, as part of a much bigger redevelopment project. The Government’s efforts, in combination with investment by the private sector, have resulted in an improved service provision and greater port user satisfaction. Regarding the cruising sector, these combined efforts have yielded good results and an increased number of calls and passengers visiting Cyprus by ship.  

The Ministry of Transport, Communications and Works is working to decouple the economy from fossil fuels. Specifically, the Ministry has started implementing infrastructure for bus lanes, cycle lanes and Park & Rides in order to promote public transport as well as active modes of transport. By providing alternative options for travel, in conjunction with basic behavioural change in the way we travel, we can enjoy double benefits in the decarbonisation of transport and in the provision of congestion relief. 

Similarly, the completion of the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) remains one of our key priorities. Trans-European transport links increase the potential to generate trade, foster economic growth and boost competitiveness. It encompasses several components, such as improving regional development strategies, strengthening technical capacities, building international partnerships, and fostering regional and international activities promoting the realisation of large infrastructure projects. The TEN-T Regulation is currently under revision aiming for an efficient, multimodal, and climate-smart transport system across the European Union and beyond.

The revised TEN-T Network (expected to be in place in June 2024), places Cyprus at the end of two European Corridors: The Western Balkans-Eastern Mediterranean Core Network Corridor through Greece, and the Western Balkans towards Italy and Austria, and the Baltic Sea-Black Sea-Aegean Sea Core Network Corridor through Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, and Ukraine towards Finland. Cyprus, being a transportation gateway due to its geostrategic location in the Mediterranean Sea, at the south-east outskirts of Europe, and through its strong regional and global maritime connections, can play a leading role in the realisation of these corridors, linking the eastern Mediterranean region with the EU, through this enhanced connectivity to both the Balkan and the Baltic regions. 

Our vision is to establish Cyprus as a modern, dynamic, and efficient supply chain hub for Southeast Europe. This will offer the opportunity to support commercial connections between the new European Corridors and the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean region. These regions, especially the Middle East, are already reaching out to Cyprus as a freight and logistics gateway to Europe and beyond.

In addition to the above, road accidents in Cyprus, a country that depends entirely on road for its internal movement of goods and people, is one of our most serious socioeconomic problems, as they are the cause of approximately 40 to 50 deaths every year and a few hundred serious injuries. For this reason, the Government of Cyprus has made road safety a political priority with the establishment of the Road Safety Council in 1986, the national statutory body for the coordination of all government authorities involved in road safety. My Ministry is the competent authority for road safety, and I chair the Road Safety Council, which works very closely with other ministries and all key stakeholders. Being in line with the EU targets of a reduction in road fatalities and injuries by 50% in 2030 and the ambitious goal of ‘Vision Zero’ by 2050, our Strategic Plan for Road Safety 2021-2030 adopts the “Safe System Approach”. Its key component is that people make errors, and the system is designed so that it is forgiving and prevents exposure to large crash forces, in order to reduce the probability of fatal or severe injury.

Since the beginning of our organised efforts in the 1980’s, several road safety measures have been implemented which effected positive results and reduced the number of fatalities in road collisions from around 160 in the early 1970s to 37 in 2022. However, more needs to be done in achieving no road fatalities by 2050 and a 50% reduction in injuries and deaths by 2030. My Ministry acknowledges that improving road safety is a multi-disciplinary activity, which takes place in a complex multi-sectoral context. It is our responsibility to ensure that concerted efforts amongst all key stakeholders at a National, European, and international level continue. Beyond our political commitment to implement targeted policies and effective measures, we also need to improve in effecting new methods, new approaches and new tools to further enhance our integrated and holistic system-wide approach to road safety so we can reach our goal of “Vision Zero”. 

What strategic steps are being taken to enhance and modernise the country's air, maritime and land transportation infrastructure to meet current and future demands?

Developing the Vasilikos/Zygi Port into a new port servicing the energy sector and other industrial cargo is now a mature idea. When completed, the port will help us meet future demands of the island and of the Eastern Mediterranean in general. The Vasilikos/Zygi port terminal is being developed to service the energy sector and other industrial cargo. When completed, it will constitute a valuable asset and a strategic component in our efforts to use national reserves and other readily available from neighbouring fields for the needs of the local market. It’s also intended to enrich the service offered to local heavy industry which is currently restricted by the current facilities.

As transport is primarily responsible for 49% of greenhouse gas emissions under the “Fit for 55” package, we are tangibly working with all responsible departments and competent stakeholders on projects and schemes to decarbonise transport. Projects such as subsidies for e-cars, e-bikes and bikes, active modes of transport infrastructure, launching low- and zero-emission zones, introducing tram or bus Rapid Transit in certain congested avenues are all projects being implemented and under consideration. The need to build an efficient, multimodal, and climate-smart transport system across Cyprus can only be addressed through synergies with technology and innovation sectors. Information technology and intelligent transport systems form an integral part of our planning and our discourse regarding transport policy. Our aim is to offer good services for people and companies with real needs. 

We are also working on the concept of Motorways of the Sea which is vital to the integration of maritime transport with other modes and can play a vital role as an effective and efficient mode of transport especially as an alternative to transport over land in times of crisis and as a means to integrate third countries into the EU-wide transportation system. Integrated and intelligent transport systems and the data collected by all transport-related information technology, play an important role in making informed decisions at political, administrative, and business level and can decrease travel time, reduce greenhouse emissions and help in achieving our long-term goals.

At the same time, aviation can act as a driver for innovation by facilitating the exchange of knowledge, technology and ideas through the broadening of markets and provision of greater access to international capital, human resources and investments. We consider the quality of infrastructure at our airports and its interconnected high-quality highway network, have enabled the connection of Cyprus to the world in line with the steady recovery of our economy. A clear strategy and resolute belief in these projects, are required to inspire and promote our vision to others.

If we were to look back to 2006 when the airport handled 6.7 passengers a year, only a few people believed in the dynamic approach towards modernising and developing the airport infrastructure.  This strategy facilitated the surpassing of a historical threshold of approximately 11.3 million passengers in 2019 and which we anticipate exceeding this year.  At the same time, local airports are now able to face fierce competition from neighbouring gateways. They have managed to become regional reference airports for Southeast Europe based on our clear plans for the short, medium and long-term future. We aim to continue the development of the airport’s key infrastructure and ensure the provision of quality services for passengers and airlines in a safe and secure environment. We will continue our efforts to extend the taxiway system, construct new apron and aircraft parking areas and expand the passenger terminals. 

Additionally, as part of our commitment to further expand our network of flights and connections in Europe and beyond, we continue to make progress towards improving connectivity with the rest of the world. We are convinced that these efforts will also strengthen regional connectivity, increase competition, and deliver access to a wider destination network, more flights, better connecting times and lower prices that in all will contribute to the development of tourism in the island.

With growing concerns about environmental sustainability, how is your Ministry integrating greener practices and innovation in the sectors you cover?

Cyprus has long and short-term measures to grow sustainably and we are working hard to implement critical infrastructure and legal reforms to ensure future sustainability. Our main scope is to increase efficiency and cost-effectiveness in transporting goods and the population in general, to enhance the attractiveness and quality of the urban environment and to reduce pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption.

In line with the EU Directives, Cyprus has adopted legislation 59(I)/2017 in relation to Cold Ironing (CI) at the ports. We are currently working towards EU deadlines in providing facilities to enable CI as a tool to reduce emissions while ships are at berth.  

The Ministry is also procuring the tenders for the supply, installation and maintenance of a new Urban Traffic Control System (UTC) for the Nicosia and Limassol districts (125 signalised junctions in both cities) in order to improve traffic conditions and alleviate congestion. The UTC will also have the capacity to operate in adaptive mode and provide bus and emergency vehicle priority along the bus corridors. With the new UTC we are expecting improved traffic conditions in both cities as well as better flow for public transport. The effective use of a bus priority system is a pre-requisite for the introduction of the tram in Nicosia. Such traffic control systems like the Cyprus UTC will also improve air quality and travel times for all modes as well as road safety. Through improved traffic conditions the UTC will also help to reduce emissions.

Additionally, the Ministry is implementing early winner projects under the Nicosia Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan (SUMP) which is currently being updated. In 2024, the PWD is expected to procure the construction of 16 km of bus lanes, 28 km of cycle lanes and two P&R sites in Limassol and 14 km of bus lanes, 57 km of cycle lanes and two P&R sites in Larnaca under the Recovery and Resilience Fund and the deployment of three more bus stations in Limassol and one in Larnaca under the “Thalia” fund. The Famagusta and Paphos SUMPs are to be concluded soon and will thus reach this important milestone in the planning process. 

With regards to aviation, our efforts are focused not only on economic and connectivity recovery but also on the environmental impact of aviation. The pandemic crisis has conveyed the message for prompt actions on a global level. Therefore, and since economic growth and emissions are basic pillars of the aviation sector, the government of Cyprus will continue its efforts to promote solutions for the optimisation of capacity, procedures and routes, to contribute to the achievement of the aviation industry’s sustainability goals and reach climate neutral aviation targets by 2050. It is important to add that all current and future airport development projects for Larnaka and Pafos International Airports will consider our commitment to the Net Zero by 2050 goal, which was strengthened by the signing of the Toulouse Declaration on future sustainability and the decarbonisation of aviation.

Cyprus serves as a strategic location for logistics in the Eastern Mediterranean. How is the government supporting and enhancing the efficiency of the logistics sector, especially in terms of streamlining supply chains and facilitating trade to leverage its geographical advantage? 

The Government is considering options for developing transhipment through the Port of Limassol. Specific proposals are under review, with the Ministry aiming to conclude discussions as soon as possible. Over the last years, the intensification of trade and the rapid growth of demand for goods and services have led to changes in global logistics and competitiveness in the transport sector. To remain competitive, transport and logistics operators are required to carry out operations with maximum efficiency through modern, safe, and efficient, well developed, and integrated land, sea and air network infrastructure to meet the requirements of a continually growing and diversified demand. We view our island, being part of the EU family, as the prosperous and stable steppingstone for regional development and therefore we consider that we must be an integrated part of regional policies for the respective regions to allow them to prosper and develop. It is not just about connection possibilities offered by airports, it is also about the long-term view at a regional level in terms of investments, trade and tourism development. Regional airports and ports also feed connecting traffic to major hubs and play a significant contribution towards the success of these. We thus give emphasis to the development of our transport hubs and are currently in the process of further expansion of our infrastructure.

Logistic chains have no geographical boundaries and for island member states such as Cyprus, where its supply chain and operations as an economic activity is the number one contributor to the GDP of the island, an efficient Motorways of the Sea network is as crucial as the railway network on the continent. 

Cyprus, will soon be at the end of two European Corridors and being a transportation gateway due to the country’s geostrategic location at the south-east outskirts of Europe and through its strong regional and global maritime connections and expertise in shipping, has the necessary characteristics to transform the island into a logistics hub for Southeast Europe and beyond. Having partnered with international companies in energy, we are shaping our transport and energy masterplan that aims to upgrade the country’s road, port, airport, and energy infrastructure. The country’s ports will no longer be just transportation hubs. They will become energy hubs that manage the flow of energy serving urban nodes and industrial parks, acting as suppliers in a multi-fuels approach supporting the circular economy. Furthermore, Cyprus’ shipping expertise can be of value in the effort to transform the island into a logistics hub for Southeast Europe, by channelling the synergy of Europe’s logistic chains’ stakeholders, bringing them closer to regional and international levels through Asia, Middle East and Africa. 

In an era of rapid technological advancements, how is your Ministry supporting the creation of a digital economy and the development of secure electronic communications networks and infrastructures?

The digital transformation of Cyprus is underway, generating transformational changes across all economic sectors. Economic growth is essential and so is resilience and we are taking every effort to strengthen the deployment of digital technologies to provide solutions that can substantially address the increasing needs of society.

Our Ministry aims to highlight the standards and best practices deemed important to support the emergence of an open, democratic, and sustainable digital society within the framework of a fair and competitive digital economy. We also wish to provide visibility on digital economy-driven impact that will contribute towards achieving Sustainable Development Goals and building sustainable economic growth. Innovation is a powerful social and economic growth engine as well as a necessary condition for regional long-term prosperity and sustainability. Hence it is imperative to identify and address the main gaps in our capacities for innovation that emerge from lack of available digital technology and develop our infrastructure accordingly.

Rapid digital transformation of our economies also generates a rising need for trust and security. Investments in cybersecurity are vital to safeguarding the development potential of the digital economy. So, despite the substantial growth potential, our industry faces many infrastructural and operational challenges. By adopting incentives and means for digital transformation and innovation, we consider that we can bridge the digital gaps that are present and can offer opportunities for development. Accelerating the adoption of e-services and the further development of the digital economy for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), aims to ensure more inclusive societies with access to basic rights and services. Our Ministry needs to further deploy e-governance services while also fully respect data protection and security. Likewise, integration should be supported to ensure wider market opportunities for the industry and further benefits to citizens. 

What are the biggest opportunities for infrastructure investment in Cyprus at the moment? What kind of projects would you like to see more foreign investor involvement in?

The network provided and the island’s long-term view at a regional level in terms of investments, trade, and tourism development, contribute significantly towards our economy’s success. Investments for green energy transition, for the development of digital and critical infrastructure as well as maintaining the resilience and security of the above systems can have a positive impact on the economy. 

Foreign investment is evident with the Larnaca Port and Marina redevelopment project which is currently underway. The Paphos Marina will also provide an opportunity for foreign investment, while at the same time the Cyprus Port Authority is reviewing the possibility of inviting investments to participate in other projects they are currently considering. 

The Government has been working towards the establishment of the port terminal at Vasilikos/Zygi, the island’s main port for handling of industrial cargo and fuels. The Ministry, together with the Cyprus Ports Authority, has drafted a strategic plan for its development to utilise in the best possible way the prospects generated from the new role of Cyprus in natural gas developments in the Eastern Mediterranean, including hydrocarbon findings in our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). This plan takes in to consideration the construction of a Floating Storage Regasification Unit (FSRU) and includes the expansion of the existing port facilities, the introduction of LNG Bunkering, including facilities for the use of LNG as maritime fuel and the upgrading of the road network linking the port to the hinterland.

What are the most difficult challenges or obstacles in achieving your Ministry’s strategic goals and why? How are you tackling these issues? 

The Ministry is responsible for the island’s major critical infrastructure. Four decades of growth in air, sea and road traffic have been followed with developing necessary infrastructure that enables us to work towards establishing the island as a regional hub. Our main challenges include the need to develop and interconnect our infrastructure network to improve the quality of services offered. We aim to further improve user satisfaction levels and maintain flexibility in adapting to the needs of a rapidly evolving transport industry. 

A major challenge is social resistance to change in travel habits. Traffic congestion has exhausted the people’s patience who are now pressing for change. We need to react before sundown and the way is only through green transitioning, the primary principle of which is to eliminate the need of transport by digitalisation, by shifting to more sustainable modes of transport such as public transport and active modes such as walking, biking, and scootering. 

Tackling congestion mainly in the cities of Nicosia and Limassol will also include improving connectivity with projects such as the completion the Nicosia South Orbital Motorway and other projects to divert part of the traffic from the entrance of Nicosia. Other works that help improve flow at junctions, such as the installation of the UTC, that improve public transport and passenger experience will also be instrumental in achieving this goal.

During last year, a reduction of 18% in Cyprus’ road deaths was achieved when compared to the previous year. More needs to be done however to implement the 28 policies/objectives and 158 activities as set in our Road Safety Strategic Plan 2021-2030 and therefore create a safer road environment for all road users. We will continue to improve every aspect of road safety with the active and coordinated efforts of all stakeholders, including our Road Safety Ambassadors and we will maintain our efforts to improve road infrastructure, driver competence and road user education.

What are your key targets and expectations for 2024?

Cyprus can help in the economic development of the region by being a valuable academic, cultural, industrial and business centre. Infrastructure and improved connectivity had a major impact in the increase of tourism, the growth of trade, investment, and productivity of the island. Increased annual passenger traffic, road network usage and freight movement have helped the development of the region. The development of our critical infrastructure networks and services create direct and indirect job positions and play an essential role as economic growth engines. 

Thus, we anticipate that through the forthcoming development of Larnaca Marina and Port, the anticipated expansion of our airports and highway network, which will be in progress throughout 2024, we will, through a coherent recovery, resilience and development strategy, continue to positively influence the future of the island and the entire region. 

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