Controversial Opencard scheme potentially facing disastrous end

Photo: Tomáš Adamec

Prague’s multi-purpose Opencard scheme which was to provide users with an efficient means of paying for public transport, parking, and serve as a library card has been dogged by problems from the outset. Now it threatens to turn into a nightmare for over one million users. The card’s days are numbered and Prague City Hall has failed to secure continued licencing until a new system is up and running.

Photo: Tomáš Adamec
Late night marathon talks at Prague City Hall underlined the gravity of the situation. City Hall, which is bound by a series of highly disadvantageous contracts from the past has blown the whistle on the city’s controversial Opencard scheme and announced it will call a tender to select a new card system. However it has failed to buy the licensing rights for the card from eMoneyServices which offered to sell them for 500 million crowns. Prague Mayor Tomáš Hudeček said the amount demanded was unacceptable and two independent studies reportedly found the price inflated by one-quarter.

This has left City Hall with a major headache. eMoneyServices may now block the system anytime after June 18 leaving one million city transport users who have paid for their fare well in advance high and dry. During Monday night’s emergency talks with the firm’s representatives, Prague City Hall managed to push the deadline back to June 30, on condition that it would pay the company 30 million crowns which it owes for past services. But the core problem remains unresolved.

Tomáš Hudeček,  photo: Filip Jandourek
According to City Hall officials there is a very real threat that the talks with eMoneyServices could hit the rocks and Prague would have to replace the one million electronic cards with paper coupons. This temporary solution would cost 16 million crowns and would force over one million of the city’s inhabitants to undergo the nightmare of queuing up at sales outlets, provide a photo, and fill in the respective forms to get a paper replacement. Prague City Hall admits its outlets are not prepared to handle such an operation, but nonetheless plans for printing hundreds of thousands of paper coupons have been concluded and the printing order may be issued any day.

The paper coupons could not be used for parking, nor serve as library cards. And eventually users would have to go back to the respective sales outlets to get them replaced by new electronic cards. The vision of this nightmare has led city hall officials to push hard for a solution that will cushion the damage and protect them from growing public anger.

Photo: Kristýna Maková
However, even if the worst case scenario does not materialize Prague’s Opencard scheme will be one of the worst undertakings ever made by city hall officials. The 1.3 billion crown project involved numerous dubious contracts which resulted in criminal charges against close to two dozen city hall officials, including Prague’s current mayor Tomáš Hudeček. Five people received suspended sentences and heavy fines but NGOs and the media, which were active in highlighting the shady deals involved, claim the big fish remain unpunished.