4 March 2020
At the heart of Prague's new transport policy is a more integrated, energy efficient and environmentally friendly public transport system
Interview with Václav Novotný by Alex Godson
Prague has recently made climate protection a political priority.
At the heart of the city’s transport policy is a more integrated, energy efficient and environmentally friendly public transport system. The focus is on electric rail transport, suburban railways, the metro, trams and new battery-powered trolleybuses, all connected via transport terminals which bring together different modes of transport, including buses and bicycles.
According to Zdeněk Hřib, the city’s mayor, “every Prague resident should conscientiously manage the space where they live and consider how to make changes in their individual lives that respond to the city’s climate pledge. It is never too late to start reducing waste or leaving the car at home and using public transport in the city centre so that we can all enjoy living in the city.”
To understand the direction of these developments, I spoke to Václav Novotný, who works on the city’s sustainable mobility plans.
Prague has committed to cutting CO2 emissions by 45% by 2030 and becoming carbon neutral by 2050 - what are you doing to achieve these goals?
While it is true that Prague recently adopted the climate pledge with clear objectives for carbon neutrality, it has been working on these targets for a long time.
Prague also has a strategy for developing the metropolitan railway system and park and ride schemes, as well as a strategy for the further development of tram lines.
In reconstructing its city streets, Prague is paying ever more attention to public space by supporting more vegetation, permeable street paving for rainwater drainage, and safe and comfortable travel for pedestrians and cyclists.
Every year, Prague also constructs several sections of new cycling paths and provides support for bike-sharing by installing new bike racks. In residential parts of the city, we are trying to ease the volume of car traffic.
The transport policy also includes the expansion of paid parking zones throughout the city, which seek to regulate traffic by optimising prices and enforcing more effective parking fee collection.
Last, but not least, Prague is supporting the construction of charging stations for electric cars, and allowing electric cars to park in paid zones either free of charge or for an annual handling fee of four Euro.
What are the main actions you are taking?
Prague is a major inspiration for its extensive, high-quality and cheap public transport. Through major subsidies of our public transport - the city pays up to 80% of its operating costs - we provide very frequent connections in all directions using modern means of transport. The metro runs every two to three minutes at peak times, and trams run every 4 to 8 minutes. Many bus lines run at intervals of 10 minutes or less during peak hours. An annual public transport ticket within the city costs only EUR 140, and can be supplemented with additional zones, enabling commutes by train or bus from suburban areas.
Could you please share some more examples?
Certainly. Prague has been gradually upgrading its fleet of public transport equipment. For example, the average age of tram cars is 11 years, and while we are buying new articulated low-floor trams, we are also refurbishing the older wagons, which are being rebuilt to provide low-floor access and utilise more economic electric engines capable of regenerating energy. Today, we are at a point where almost all of our trams can regenerate electricity while they drive.
In addition, the metro has safety equipment which can optimise the movement of trains with respect to optimal consumption of traction energy. We are also replacing escalators with more energy efficient equipment. Prague is also very carefully selecting routes for developing electric bus lines, and lines serviced by electric buses with dynamic recharging capability (battery-powered trolleybuses). These buses use electricity from tram power lines to recharge and regenerate as they move downhill.
Prague is currently in the process of preparing a modern transport terminal at Smíchov, which is already a busy hub where people can transfer between suburban trains and city trams and buses. The new terminal should speed up these transfers considerably and offer new and sufficient Park and ride capacities. This terminal will be a modern, attractive place offering a host of services to commuters and other travellers. We are currently in the preparation stage, with project documentation being drawn up.
How are you making public transport more effective and attractive?
One of the successes we are proud of is the extension in 2015 of the metro A line, which is being used by more people than we ever expected. Another success is the Prague Transport Authority successfully testing battery-powered trolley buses; we are currently preparing to construct permanent traction power lines. Prague operated trolleybuses until 1972, and since the 1990s, there has been much speculation about bringing them back. In 2019, we also started a geological survey for the new metro D line, which has been in the planning stage for decades.
Prague Integrated Transport, the regional coordinator of transport, is striving to improve the quality of public transport, and continuously monitors quality standards. More and more vehicles are being equipped with air-conditioning, but only those with manually operated doors, so that losses of warm or cold air, depending on the season, are limited. We are also equipping more stations and metro tunnels with LTE network access, with plans to have full coverage for the metro by 2021. We are also installing automated ticket vending machines which accept credit and debit cards directly in tram cars and buses.
Every year, Prague designates new dedicated bus lanes and introduces preferential bus passage at intersections managed by traffic lights. It also makes signal preference improvements for trams. 83% of intersections with traffic lights already have preferential access for trams, and buses are detected automatically at 238 intersections throughout Prague. In 2018, the total length of dedicated bus lanes in the city was almost 47 kilometres.
Why should people follow this plan? How are you encouraging a shift in the types of transport people use?
Convincing residents and visitors to start using low carbon transportation is relatively complex, but it must be done; the city simply cannot do it without changes to our individual lifestyles. It is also true that while many Prague residents already use public transport, the situation is different for those commuting from suburban areas, of whom up to 80% continue to commute by private car.
In addition to building up public transport capacities, including infrastructure for cycling, which is still significantly lacking, we are also trying to enlighten the public. My colleagues at City Hall are preparing numerous educational campaigns under the slogan ‘Zero-Emission Prague’. This includes an initiative called ‘Fighting Smog with Beer’ since Czechs love beer so much. The beer is named ‘Prague Pedestrian’, and the challenge for drivers is to leave their cars behind for an afternoon, go out with their colleagues for a beer and take public transport back home. The aim is to persuade companies, which can win this beer, to encourage their employees to leave the keys to their company cars at home or at work. Another initiative involves selling packaged, clean air at a drive-in kiosk on one of the busiest roads in the city. In this way, drivers realise that they are breathing very polluted air in their cars.
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