Will Czech lawmakers have to pay for public transport?

Free plane tickets around the Czech Republic, generous travel allowances, low- rent luxury flats in Prague– those are just a few of the many perks enjoyed by Czech deputies and senators. This week, the Prague Transport Authority decided to strip lawmakers of one of these privileges and make them pay for the use of public transport like everyone else, warning that any lawmaker caught without a ticket would be fined.

Markéta Reedová
There have been many attempts in the past to limit the generous perks that deputies and senators are entitled to, but Czech lawmakers are not willing to give them up easily. Prague Deputy Mayor Markéta Reedová was the one who first suggested that City Transport should make lawmakers pay transport fares, calling them an elitist group of fare dodgers. When I spoke to her over the phone, I asked her to explain the reasons behind her proposal.

“There are actually two points. The first is that this perk actually violates ownership rights. The Prague transportation company cannot take the costs of free use of public transport by a certain group of individuals. It is impossible. The second thing is that deputies and senators get the cost of travel covered twice. They have travel allowances and they can use public transport free of charge. I don’t think this is right.”

The proposal to make deputies pay for city transport is based on the verdict of a Prague court from last November, which ruled that elected officials have no right to use the services of public transport companies for free. However, having paid the money out of their own pocket they can then request that the state reimburse them. According to the estimates of the Prague Transport Company, lawmakers’ exemption from having to pay fare costs the company more than one million crowns a year. But according to Markéta Reedová, money is not the main issue:

“What is the most important thing is the principle. I don’t think that senators and MPs are entitled to travel for free. That’s in violation of the Constitution. They are actually pushing transportation companies to cover the costs. They should change the law themselves and not to wait for somebody else to force their hand.”

Lawmakers have reacted with some hostility to the proposal, warning the Prague Transport Authority that without a change of legislation they are not entitled to fining MPs and senators. Markéta Reedová counters that with a bit of goodwill the law could be amended in a matter of days:

“If the senators and MPs say that a change of legislation is needed, then they should make that change. In 2006 we proposed a change of the law and they failed to approve it. So obviously they are the obstacle and I don’t understand why, because most of them say that they don’t use public transport for free anyway…”

If lawmakers are not willing to amend the law, Mrs Reedová says ticket inspectors should go ahead and enforce their rights by giving them a fine.