Prague City Hall gives green light to congestion charge


Prague Mayor Pavel Bém has announced that motorists in the Czech capital can expect to pay a congestion charge as of 2010. Following the lead of several other European cities, Prague is set to charge those driving into the centre of town up to three euros for the privilege. The fine details are yet to be worked out, but already, motorists’ groups are unhappy.

I’m standing here beside Prague’s magistrála, a motorway intersecting the heart of the Czech capital. As you can probably hear, this is one of the country’s busiest roads, with more than 100,000 cars speeding along it every single day. Around me I can see the old parliament building, the National Museum and Wenceslas Square – and today, when the weather is clear, a low-lying cloud of exhaust fumes.

Prague City Hall is intent upon cutting down on traffic in the city-centre. It wants to redirect this magistrála for a start. And it wants to impose a congestion charge. But not everyone is for the idea. Earlier I spoke to Václav Špička from the Czech Automotoklub on the phone:

“We think that it would be better to improve Prague’s public transport system than impose a congestion charge. The City Hall should make public transport better – and cheaper. This would mean that people saw the advantage of taking public transport as opposed to driving their cars into the city. Until this is tried, it doesn’t seem like a good idea to impose a congestion charge.”

Prague council wants to charge motorists driving into the city-centre around three euros for the privilege. At the moment, the council is only discussing charging motorists at peak times, during the week. But even this sits ill with the Automotoklub:

“First of all, we must try out some alternatives. These alternatives are: building more ring-roads which avoid the centre of Prague, building more park and ride facilities and building new roads within the city-centre. Then, and only then, can we start considering the need for a congestion charge. And we have to think about the economics behind such a toll – whether it would prove financially viable or not. Take Stockholm, where a congestion charge was imposed just under a year ago – this was an expensive system to put in place, and it is generally considered there to have been an economic fiasco.”

But the idea of a congestion charge has received praise from some quarters, environmental groups are all for the idea. And in cities such as London, it is said to have cut traffic by up to 18 percent. The congestion charge is set to be piloted in Prague in 2010.