Letter from Prague Fare’s fair
There was a story in the news lately about a new mobile phone app to help people avoid paying for public transport in Prague and some other Czech cities. Called FareBandit, it allows users to share information about the whereabouts of inspectors. The app won a local industry award, and the subject received quite of a lot of attention. But it instantly struck me as being one of those ideas that’s only “cute” for the short period it takes you to actually think about it.
First, surely it would take a great number of people to install and actively use FareBandit for it to be in the least bit effective. I mean, apart from at a few usual spots – like the bottom of the escalators at city centre metro stations – the inspectors are always on the move, frequently hopping from one tram or bus to the next. So unless an incredibly dense network of users develops, what good will it do you to know there was one on the number 9 tram between Hlavní nádraží and Lipanská even five minutes ago?
Second, Prague’s transport system is great. It’s as reliable and easy to navigate as any you will find in any city anywhere. Call me old-fashioned, but why shouldn’t people pay for such a fantastic service? For those living locally willing to buy a long-term card the price is reasonable to say the least. I’ve got an annual ticket and I pay around CZK 90 a week, less than USD 5. Which, by any standards, is peanuts.
Perhaps it would cost even less if people didn’t abuse a system that is largely based on trust. We are forever hearing about how public transport is good for the environment, good for cities, and good for the people who live in them. Prague’s system is I’m quite sure already subsidised by the city, but why, pray tell young bandits, should it be completely free?
I’ve been told that one reason for the apparent warm welcome for the new app is that Czechs have traditionally hated revizoři (ticket inspectors). I can understand how they could perhaps have been seen as one more figure of authority in the bad old days. But, come on, it’s over 23 years since communism came to end, is it not?
Frankly, as a long-term resident I am annoyed and even embarrassed when I see revizoři – as they frequently do – obviously targeting and extracting fines from tourists, for whom Prague’s complicated ticket machines have clearly not been designed. But in my experience most aren’t ogres. Just (almost invariably) middle-aged men with an unpleasant, thankless job.