public transportation

I’ve had a draft post on public transportation waiting for me to expound on it for months — I use it whenever I travel and it has a sameness/ foreignness from place to place that begs comparison. the more I travel, the easier it become to adapt to different systems and, whether because of that or not, the public transportation systems of the Czech Republic were the easiest I have ever navigated. despite the occasional language barrier (most window clerks understood English), I always got to my destination — more or less leaving and arriving on time.

the systems are a public-private hybrid that offer a quite a variance in speed, comfort, and accessibility. the ones most heavily patronized by tourists were often much nicer (the train to Karlstejn versus the local I rode from Olomouc to Prague, as seen to the left, illustrates my point), which makes sense for an economy that relies as much on tourism as that of Czech. the one to Karlstejn reminded me of riding the Metra into Chicago from the nicer suburbs on a Saturday; on the ride from Olomouc I had the car to myself until a Czech woman with a fully-stocked traveller’s backpack joined me. (she chatted to people on the platform before the train departed, and then picked up a Czech romance novel once we got going.)

in the two larger towns I visited — Prague and Olomouc — there is a combination of buses, trams, and (in the case of Prague) metro. for the trams and subways, fares are collected on a kind of honor system. passengers are expected to purchase tickets from tabacs or yellow fare machines in stations for the correct fare, and then validate them upon boarding the tram or train. there aren’t any turnstyles in the metro stations, just validation machines, which struck me as rather odd after experiencing the lengths to which other cities go to prevent people from skipping turnstyles.

I say it’s regulated by a kind of honor system, though, because there are routine checks by transport police, who stop passengers and demand to see validated tickets. I encountered them twice while I was traveling, once on the Prague metro and once on the tram in Olomouc. the guys in Prague were standing in the exit tunnel in obvious police garb, trying to catch as many people as they could streaming up from the station platform. in Olomouc, a couple of (rather ratty-looking) plainclothes officers got on the tram before a long stretch between stops to check tickets, then got off. that pair even dutifully validated their tickets on boarding the tram, then tucked them away as they got off. (tickets are usually good for 60-75 minutes, to allow for transfers — I wonder if these transport cops validated new tickets every time they got onto a new bus or tram?)


apparently there have been problems (whether past or present) with non-police types taking it upon themselves to check passengers for tickets — and then collecting the fine of upwards of 500 crowns (around $30) for not having a validated ticket. to rectify that, legit officers carry silver-dollar sized, red shields that identify them as such. I had no idea what the guy who stopped me in Prague wanted, until I realized that he was half-heartedly holding up his transport badge, not just holding his arm at an awkward angle by his belt.
(the issue of transport police doesn’t arise on longer-distance buses, as you purchase your ticket from the driver, and then it’s on your honor to get off at the destination that you paid for.)

is the honor-system profitable? probably not as much as the tightly regulated systems of London or New York, but it does make for easier ingress and egress and an overall faster metro or tram ride.