March 1 marks the beginning of the end for Prague’s Opencard, a multipurpose transit pass dogged by controversy, not least for its more than billion crown price tag. On Tuesday, Prague authorities began issuing its replacement, the Lítačka; all the same, it will be some time before the Opencard is fully phased out.
On Tuesday, the Prague authorities began issuing the new Lítačka electronic pass, to be used by commuters on Prague’s transit system. The release is part of a pilot project to continue until June. Eventually, the new card will replace the Opencard introduced a decade ago – the source of numerous legal clashes since between former operators eMoneyServices and Prague City Hall.
All the same, it will be some time before the red card (illustrated with a simple gothic arch) is phased out completely. More than one million are in the hands of commuters and most will wait for the expiration dates to run out, rather than foot a 100 crown service fee for the replacement. On Tuesday Václav Strnad, the head of Operátor ICT, the company overseeing the new Lítačka, discussed the situation.
“Right now it’s cucumber season because most [commuters] still have valid transit passes. It isn’t the start of a new university semester so there won’t be an influx of new students [wanting the card]. We expect some consumers who have used paper tickets until now, who like the look of the new Lítačka, to buy it, but we don’t expect dramatic numbers.”
Czech TV reported that a modest line of between 35 – 50 people formed in front of Prague’s Škodův Palác to pick up their new card before it had even opened. Eligible for the new card are those with Opencards expiring over the next two months, as well as those who never bought the transit pass in the first place. Consumers who bought new Opencards recently, Czech Radio reported, won’t have to trade it in for another four years. But no new ones will ever again be issued; slowly but surely closing the door on a project dating back to the era of former mayor Pavel Bém.
As for the new Lítačka? The authorities have said the new card will cost millions of crowns but far less than the previous system. The name Lítačka is Czech slang from the word lítat – to run-around, capturing the essence of cross-town travel. The name proved the most popular among participants in an internet poll, but not all are fans: some linguists were quick to criticise, suggesting a more formal name for the new pass would have been more appropriate.
Regarding its use, the Lítačka will remain a simple transit pass for now, but the head of Operátor ICT Václav Strnad told Czech Radio that if the city wanted to expand options, that was a possibility at some point in the future.