Is Prague’s public transport really world’s second best?

A recently published Time Out survey placed Prague second in the world, behind Berlin, when it comes to how convenient locals find its public transport system. But in reality how good are the city’s tram, underground and bus services? I jumped on a tram in the downtown area with experienced travel writer and Prague resident Mark Baker.

Generally speaking, how do you view Prague’s public transport system?

Mark Baker | Photo: Ian Willoughby,  Radio Prague International

“I think Prague has a really fantastic public transport system.

“It’s very comprehensive and you can more or less rely on it.

“When you’re going out or coming home from some place, you can pretty much always assume that the tram or the bus is going to come at the time it says it’s going to come.”

This Time Out survey found that Prague had the second best public transport system after Berlin. You’ve obviously travelled a lot around Europe. Is that fair, do you think?

“You know, I can’t vouch for all the other cities on the list, but I have to say that Prague must be somewhere toward the top of the list, whether it’s two, three, four – something like that.

“But for sure.”

You’ve been riding the system for I guess three and a half decades, on and off – you came here first in the ‘80s. How has it changed over the years?

“Well, of course the trams have added a lot more newer cars, although they still have a mix of older cars on the lines.

“So when people say to go to the Tram Museum, I’m always thinking to myself, Sometimes you’re actually riding in the Tram Museum and you don’t even know it [laughs].

“But yes, the trams have modernized a lot and I think that’s probably the thing that people most notice about it.”

I know you yourself are a tram enthusiast. What is it about Prague trams that you find so appealing?

Photo: Filip Jandourek,  Czech Radio

“I think more so than the Metro, or the buses, trams are part of Prague’s public identity.

“So riding the tram is a quintessential part of living in this city.

“I think that’s what I like about the trams – it’s part of the city itself, it’s the fabric.”

When you first came here, how did you find it? I must say for me, coming from Ireland, the idea that you could almost set your watch by the tram or bus schedule was something incredible.

“Yes, most of the time – let’s stress the word 'most' here – the trams do make it at the time the timetable says they are going to.

Photo: Filip Jandourek,  Czech Radio

“But of course when they are working on tram tracks, you don’t even know if the tram that you’re sitting on is going to go in the direction that you think it’s going to go.

“But that’s almost always true.”

Of course for tourists in the summer, when they do a lot of the road works, it must be hell trying to navigate the system when there are so many diversions.

“That’s true. When I write a guidebook and we write about Prague trams, I say exactly that: If somehow you find yourself on a trams that zigs when it was supposed zag, well, settle in and enjoy the ride.

“What else are can you do?”

Also when I first came to Prague I rode the trams as much as possible – rather than taking metros, which were often faster – just to get to know the city.

Photo: Lenka Žižková,  Radio Prague International

“Right. The Metro is very crowded, but I think a lot of people would prefer to stay above ground when they travel – I know I do.

“I take the Metro when I have to cross town, but I don’t take it for short distances, ever.”

What is Prague’s transport system lacking in your view?

“I guess the easy answer would of course be a direct connection – not a bus – to the airport.

“That’s something that even the people that did that survey said that Prague needs to do, to keep that ranking, I suppose.

“What it needs to do? Put it this way, I don’t ever want to see them diminish the quality of the service.

“A couple of years ago they reduced the ticket prices for annual passes and my first thought was, I hope that’s not the first step in the system getting slightly, slightly worse.”

How do you find the price? It’s something like three euros a week if you have the yearly pass.

Photo: Ondřej Tomšů,  Radio Prague International

“What I find so amazing is the discrepancy in the price between the annual price, aimed at residents, and normal ticket prices.

“It’s an extreme difference. I don’t know why that is, of course.

“But yes, it’s extremely reasonable – and that’s one of the best things about the transport system.”