City Hall defends controversial September reworking of Prague transit system.

Prague municipal authorities have approved a series of major changes to the city’s transport system. The alterations will mean that as of September 3, numerous tram and bus lines will be cut while other, longer routes will be added. The city says the changes are needed to save money, but critics argue that they will cause chaos.

The Prague Transit Authority – known locally as simply “MHD” – is responsible for running the city’s trams, buses and metro lines. The most recent changes approved by City Hall are designed to save almost half a billion crowns from the transport budget annually. The revisions will mean the abolition of some bus and tram lines, compensated for by fewer intervals in those that remain, including the expansion of so-called Metrobuses, which will also run at shorter intervals, have more centrally oriented routes and utilise special lanes to avoid becoming stuck in traffic. Prague’s mayor Bohuslav Svoboda argues the measures will modernize the network, addressing changes to the way Prague’s citizens now travel.

But the proposals have met with strong criticism. For one, they have come under fire from the Czech Technical University, or ČVUT, who were to hired analyse the plans. Representatives from both sides held a final meeting on Tuesday, with ČVUT transport experts voicing concerns, but the city ultimately decided to press on with the September start date irrespective. Meanwhile, according to a ČVUT report obtained by Czech Television, the promised savings will be far fewer, while car traffic will likely increase as a result of the changes.

Vratislav Filler
Vratislav Filler is a transportation expert at the NGO Automat, which advocates sustainable development in Prague and which has also expressed criticism of the proposed changes centring in part on placing so much emphasis on the new Metrobuses.

“We do not agree with the anticipated results. We are afraid that this will mainly make public transport less attractive because of some disadvantages in changing to this Metrobus system. In Prague, the character of the city is not very good for this system.”

Mr Filler went on to explain that the city’s existing network of trams and buses does very well to serve the city’s many populated nooks and crannies. Seeking to centralise this system within a so-called “backbone network” both via the Metrobus and anchoring it to a Metro-centric system, he argues, will just not work. Automat has also been highly critical of the speed at which the changes are taking place:

“The city promises a major information campaign but I am not sure that everyone will be informed enough. Because now people are on vacations and not everybody is in Prague and at the beginning of September, such people will see that everything has suddenly changed.”

Illustrative photo: Kristýna Maková
Josef Nosek, Prague deputy mayor in charge of transportation affairs, denied there was anything rushed about the proposals:

“These are not surprising changes – they have been in preparation for a number of years. According to our experiences, the last two weeks before changes come into effect are the crucial ones. All required information will be presented not only at bus and tram stops and metro stations of the MHD, but they will also be publicized online, on Facebook. We will also be mounting a publicity campaign with ads in newspapers. I will dare to say that you won’t find more than one single person who won’t know that there have been changes to the system or what those changes are.”

Automat’s harshest words, however, have been targeted at the reasons behind the changes – namely budget saving. This, they have argued amounts to the public paying the price for the mismanagement of the Prague Transit Authority. Filler cited the city’s controversial Opencard e-ticket system, estimated to have cost as much as 1 billion crowns to implement since its introduction in 2006.

Photo: Kristýna Maková
“There were billions of crowns moved away from the Prague Transit Authority. So now the reason why these changes are being made is because they want to save money. With corruption scandals like those surrounding Opencard, the city just doesn’t have enough money to continue to meet the transportation needs of the public.”

However, the city has promised to take good note of travellers’ concerns during the first two of three weeks of the new system’s functioning, and adjust the new travel plan accordingly.