Government pushes for broader restrictions on long-haul trucks

The country’s coalition government, made up of the Civic Democrats, the Christian Democrats and the Greens, has agreed on tightening restrictions in the Czech Republic on long-haul vehicles. On Wednesday, the cabinet met to discuss the issue, agreeing that large trucks should be banned year-round from Czech roads on Fridays between 3 and 6 pm, and Sundays until ten pm. The goal is to clear up traffic on Czech throughways and principal routes as well as to reduce deadly road accidents. But the news has many hauliers - long opposed to a ban on economic grounds - up in arms.

Martin Bursík,  photo: CTK
Currently, the Czech Republic bans long-haul trucks – vehicles weighing 7.5 tones and more – only in the months of July and August – and only for set hours on Friday and the weekend. That could change by the end of 2008. The government agreed, in principal on Wednesday on a ban to be implemented year-round, a goal pursued strongly by the Green Party and its leader Martin Bursík. The ban was key policy for the Greens ahead of the last elections, and Mr Bursík has called introducing such legislation a “major priority”.

“The ban will lead to improved travel on roads at the weekend, and will lower the level of noise pollution as well as the number of road accidents and fatalities.”

Illustrative photo: archive of Radio Prague
Transport representatives, caught off-guard by Wednesday’s developments, struck back, with indications that they might consider protests and even eventual blockades. That said, it is still early days. Many in transport are hoping there will still be time to convince legislators that the proposed ban will neither improve congestion nor lower the number of accidents - especially on Fridays – a time when roads remain full of motorists even after six pm. Another issue is over the projected economic impact. But the head of Česmad Bohemia, Vladimír Starosta, representing Czech hauliers, said on Wednesday there was no reason to panic, making clear on Czech TV he was sceptical the proposed ban would ever pass.

“I am an optimist. If I wasn’t, I would never have taken part in the negotiations. At the beginning of the summer holidays we met with the prime minister at a meeting that was very positive. All of my life I have put stock in one’s word in negotiations, when you agree on certain steps.”

Aleš Řebíček
The Transport Minister Aleš Řebíček now has 30 days to hammer out the legislation, which will then come up in Parliament. By then, many in the transport sector hope the plans will have been derailed. They point that the government’s decision in favour of broadening restrictions, came just days before Green Party head Martin Bursík faces a leadership challenge at his party’s congress. Talk of a truck ban could boost his chances at the weekend but critics have suggested the move is simply a ploy by the prime minister to help the party leader, saying that talk of the ban will later quietly dissipate, put on the backburner.