Passengers on Prague’s public transport system may find these days that they are waiting longer than usual for trams, buses and underground trains. Operators say they have been forced to launch a short-term reduced service as – with worker shortages hitting many sectors – they simply cannot find sufficient drivers.
In July and August every year, when many residents get away from the Czech capital, Prague’s transport authority runs a reduced service. Fewer buses, trams and Metro trains are deployed and intervals are longer.
Now, in an unusual move, the system’s operators ROPID have begun running a “holidays” schedule during the year.
ROPID spokesman Filip Drápal outlined the changes to Czech Radio.
“The restrictions are only planned for the first two weeks of January. We’re just cutting back services at peak times on working days, in total by about 15 or 20 percent. No lines have been discontinued and people won’t have to walk to other stops. The main change is that intervals will be one or two minutes longer.”
The reason for the fortnight of restricted service is a shortage of public transport drivers in the capital and Central Bohemia.
Many drivers reached set over-time limits during the busy holiday season and, as in sectors across the Czech economy, there is a glaring need for more staff.
“We estimate several hundred more drivers are needed in Prague and the Central Bohemia region. That doesn’t mean that every day buses, trams and Metro trains don’t leave their depots. It’s more that we need a base of drivers so that drivers don’t do too much overtime and can take holiday time when they need to.”
Mr. Drápal says cutting services in this relatively quiet period of the year should help Prague’s public transport system cope at busier times.
“The number of passengers is low in January and people shouldn’t feel the restrictions so much. And we would like to build up some reserve so that we can offer full services at times when people travel a lot, such as in spring, in autumn and in winter, when we actually increase services.”
On its Facebook page the Prague transport authority writes that low unemployment is making it extremely hard for the organisation to find new drivers.
The Czech Republic has the lowest unemployment rate in the European Union, with just 2.7 percent of the country’s workforce jobless in October, according to Eurostat.
Data published by the same organisation last month also showed that the Czech Republic had the EU's highest percentage of job vacancies, with 4.1 percent of positions unfilled.