Why Prague has one of the best tram systems in the world

I boarded a tram this morning here in my new adopted hometown of Prague and as usual it whisked me away quickly and quickly to my end point.

I did some work ahead of time. After leaving my apartment, I opened my smartphone and typed in the destination. There were trams from three different lines that soon stopped near my house. In two minutes, I was on the tram I had chosen.

No turnstile or price checker slowed my entry. I had previously bought an annual pass that cost me 1280 Czech crowns, or crowns, or about $ 65, or about a third of the regular price of $ 165, because I was what you might call “Senior light ”, between 60 and 65. Students aged 15 to 26 pay the same price I paid for an annual pass, while those under 15 and over 65 travel for free.

If you want to buy a one-way ticket, you can buy a ticket with a credit card from a small machine hanging from a pole in the streetcar aisle. These are $ 1.50 for a 30 minute ticket; $ 2 for a 40 minute ticket and $ 6 for a 24 hour ticket. You can also buy them on your phone. These individual ticket prices are quite high for a city where the standard of living is about half of ours.

Prague is doing something cities in the United States should have done a long time ago, making it easy and inexpensive to get a long-term pass, while charging much more for full-price passes. single or short term. By doing this, the city is making more money from its huge volume of tourists, who, having spent thousands on plane tickets and hotels, don’t really care about the price of a tram ticket. And more importantly, it pushes locals to think long term, which helps the transit system and reduces excessive car travel.

The system basically works on the Ronald Reagan system of “Trust, but verify”. An inspector with little visible markings will occasionally board a streetcar and check to see if everyone has a pass or ticket. If you don’t, the smiling inspector will tell you that you can pay 1000 Czech crowns – around $ 50 – right away, or pay later by mail which will cost 1,500 crowns, or $ 75. It happened to someone I know here, who was trying to get one more round on a 30 minute ticket. She paid the fine of 1,000 crowns on the spot.

All of this is a prelude to saying that Prague has the best tram system I have experienced. Many European and Asian cities have them, and there are certainly more good ones. But Prague is on several lists of the best public transport systems in the world. It is clear that the city is working hard to improve and keep up to date a system that dates back to the 19th century.

What makes the Prague system so good? Well, for starters there are a lot of lines with a lot of trains that come frequently and reliably. It has 26 lines operating during the day and nine throughout the night. During the morning rush hour, more than 400 trams run, the largest number in Europe.

This is the advantage of the material. But the operating methods, the software, are just as important. Uncontrolled boarding and inexpensive long-term subscriptions speed up trams and integrate them into the lives of citizens. I see no reason why our cities cannot do this.

Trams have a downside. Prague has few cycle paths of any kind, and all tram tracks create gaps between the track and the sidewalk that can catch a bicycle wheel and knock a cyclist down. I see people on bicycles, but not that many. I don’t know if there is an easy answer here.

Besides trams, Prague has buses and an excellent metro-metro system, built by the Soviets in the 1970s. Prague Public Transit manages everything, and one fare or pass covers everything. In the city center, personally, I don’t use these deep tunnel subways very much, because the tram network is very good. It seems to me that the metro system, similar to that in Washington, DC, operates more like a commuter train service, with individual stops farther apart, carrying people from the suburbs in and out. outside.

Public transport is a lot like health care. Its institutions vary greatly because each has been shaped by the unique history of a country or city.

Here in the Czech Republic, the Prague Public Transit Company dates back to 1897, when it was a company under the “royal capital of Prague”, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Trams continued to run during the Nazi occupation which began in 1939 and the Communist-Soviet era from 1948 to 1989. For a time under the Soviets, the same company handled trams, subways and transportation. freight and passengers by water.

The current excellent tram system is in part an unwitting gift from the Soviets. Central Europe under communism was economically stagnant, so the system was left in place, while other cities tore theirs away or shrank it to make room for more passenger cars. When the Soviets left after the Velvet Revolution in 1989, the streetcar was there, ready for modernization. European Union money contributed to this over the following decades. Since 2007, the Czech Republic has been a member of the Schengen area, the 26 EU countries without border controls between them. The Czech Republic always keeps its own currency.

There isn’t much of a technical distinction between a streetcar, streetcar, or streetcar system, although there are usually stylistic distinctions. But whatever name we use, these trains get me where I want to go quickly, while blending in nicely with the streets and sidewalks. I suggest we learn from them.

Berta D. Wells