Skoda manufactures trolley busses for San Francisco

The Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman visited the United States last week, and one of his main aims was to promote trade between the two countries and attract US investors to the Czech Republic. Besides talks with high-tech producers, such as Motorola and other companies in the Silicon Valley, Mr. Zeman also visited a trolleybus production facility in San Francisco. The company ETI is a joint venture of Czech heavy industry giant Skoda Plzen and American AAI, whereas Skoda holds a 65-percent majority. The project was set up in 1996 when Skoda won a public tender to supply 273 trolleybuses for the San Francisco municipal transport system by the end of 2002 in a 230-million-dollar contract. A member of the San Francisco board of supervisors, Gevin Newsom, had nothing but praise for the joint Czech-American product: Skoda is one of few world's manufactures of trolleybuses and occupies an estimated 80-percent share of the global trolleybus market. Prime Minister Milos Zeman sees the ETI project as a kind of counterbalance in a mostly one-sided Czech-American economic exchange. He also outlined further bright prospects for Skoda products. Most parts of the new trolleybuses are made in the Czech Republic. However, under the project being sponsored by the American federal government, American suppliers and labour also need to be involved, so the assembly is done in Hunt Valley, Maryland, and the finishing touches added in San Francisco. Robert Rinaca, the oversite manager of the final assembly plant in San Francisco, compared the new model to older trolleybuses and also spoke about the technical aspects of production. So how well have the Czech trolleybuses done on the streets of San Francisco? Our correspondent Jaromir Marek, who accompanied Mr. Zeman on his visit, spoke to Billy Williams, a trolleybus driver who has been working for the San Francisco municipal transport system since 1967.