Prague weighs means of improving conditions, safety on night trams

For more than a year, city officials have been considering ways of improving conditions on Prague's night trams and night busses. Though popular, night trams often witness scenes of drunk and disorderly conduct. There are also many non-paying passengers, including many of the city's homeless. The city and Prague Public Transit. could now agree on a new step: to introduce night inspectors who would monitor well-used routes to try and improve conditions.

The night tram in Prague has long been considered an "institution" among young people making their way home from the city's many pubs and clubs after dark. Short of flagging a taxi after the metro stops, night trams are both reliable and a useful form of transport. But, that doesn't make night trams ideal: popular as they are, tram cars at night tend to be crowded, rank with the smell of alcohol, and sometimes even rowdy. While little can be done with the former, conditions in general on the night trams can be improved, says spokeswoman for Prague Public Transit Michaela Kucharova:

"The situation is currently not ideal in night trams when you consider the trams have only a single driver. When you take into account who uses night trams, the situation is not helped in the winter months because there is also an increase in the number of homeless people. The driver is not really able to intervene, though in cases of violence they can contact dispatchers who then call the police. The situation hasn't gotten worse, but we would like to see an improvement."

If the city - and the Prague Public Transit Co. - does agree to introduce night inspectors arguably they won't have it easy: having to deal with individuals or groups often far from sober, or to try and check homeless passengers lacking tickets, money or ID, seems an unenviable task. For that reason, says Michaela Kucharova, city legislators and the transit authority will have to agree on whether the job should be done by regular inspectors or members of the municipal police. Money too remains a problem:

"It depends what kind of solution the city and by extension the Prague Public Transit Co. can agree on and funds will determine whether we will have night tram inspectors who are regular employees of the transit authority, or private security guards, or members of the municipal police. That is something that has not been decided yet. We will have to somehow generate the funds that are not available currently."

By estimates, changes on Prague's night trams will represent a fairly hefty investment: roughly 75 million crowns per year - the equivalent of 3.5 million US dollars. Up to a third of that could be made back in the form of a rise in "night ticket" prices - double the current twenty crowns - as well as an ensuing rise in ticket purchases. As it stands now, paying late-night commuters - unless they have prepaid passes - are something of a rarity: Czech trams and busses feature no turnstile system, allowing anyone to get on for a free ride. If night inspectors are introduced they will not only try and make night trams safer and more comfortable for paying customers, they will also check tickets and issue fines to non-paying passengers.