Quarrels over who should finance Prague's metro expansion

Those of you who are familiar with Prague know about one of its great perks: a transit system combining a metro, tram lines, and buses, all running according to an exact schedule. The metro system is in the process of expansion, along the northern line that will now end at a popular shopping destination, Letnany, and the entire project is slated to cost 15 billion crowns. Yet there is a debate raging over just how much the city should pay, and how much the government should contribute.

Prague's public transit system: residents swear by it, and tourists rave about it. It's what makes the Czech capital so easy to navigate. The metro system, originally built in the 1970s, has seen a number of expansions in recent years. The current major project is an extension of the C or red line, which is set to open in about 20 months and will carry passengers along the northern line to the district of Letnany. The entire project is set to cost 15 billion crowns (almost 700 million USD) and when it's completed, there will be an additional 4.6 kilometers of route, three new stations, and easy-access to the already-opened and popular Letnany shopping centre.

Yet in August, Prague City Hall discovered that according to the state budget proposal for 2007, there is not one Czech crown allotted towards financing the expansion of the metro system. As could be expected, reactions from City Hall have been strongly critical. Deputy mayor Petr Hulinsky says that it is not possible to expect the city to finance a huge project like modernizing the metro, which is significant for the entire country, all on its own.

Mayor Pavel Bem is equally outspoken, citing examples of other European cities that receive substantial aid from national governments for transit projects. For example, the Hungarian government funded the entire construction of a fourth line for the Budapest metro system. Where public transit is concerned, states as prosperous as Holland and as economically troubled as Romania fund 90 percent of costs. In Italy, Rome gets 70 percent of its public transit costs covered by the government, and the remaining 30 percent comes from the coffers of the capital city and the local region.

The City of Prague requested a contribution of one billion crowns from the Ministry of Finance towards the 'C' line expansion, and so far - nothing. Meanwhile, the blame for the outgoing Social Democratic government's budget proposal is being bounced between the different ministries: the Ministry of Transportation says that it was the Ministry of Finance that axed the request for a subsidy to Prague's metro, while the Ministry of Finance spokesperson, Petra Krainova, says that the matter was fully in the hands of the Ministry of Transportation.

Whether or not Prague can expect some financial assistance from the state remains to be seen—and Mayor Bem says the new Civic Democratic minority government could have a more favorable approach. Regardless, City Hall representatives say that the Letnany expansion will be completed on time, even if the city has to cut money elsewhere—it is an essential service, and with the shopping centre already completed, also a necessary part of Prague's infrastructure. As it stands, the construction of the new metro line between Ladvi and Letnany is half-way finished.

During the past four years, Prague has invested 10 billion crowns towards improving the metro system, while the state has contributed 1.5 billion crowns.