Anyone who has spent time in the Czech capital will likely be familiar with the city's night trams - a dependable means of getting around the city in the late hours. Over the years the trams have proven exceedingly popular and efficient. All the same, the system has not been without its flaws: namely, the question of safety in the late hours, as well as representing a loss in revenues by non-paying commuters. As it stands, many currently travel without paying at night simply because they can, something likely to change when, in mid-January members of the municipal police will begin patrolling a number of late-night lines for the very first time.
I spoke to a number of people out-and-about Prague asking them what they thought of the plan:
Young Man: "It's good because, well, have you ever taken the night tram? So, you understand it's usually full of people who don't pay, who'd you'd rather travel without. It's good."
Woman: "No problem! Why not? Lots of people go out to booze and then think that they can behave any way they like just because they're drunk. Not worry about anything or even beat someone up."
Young Woman: "I don't see the current situation as a problem because homeless people also need to sleep somewhere. I pay because I have a year-long pass but I guess that many young people out drinking do not, going from pub to home for free because they can be pretty sure they won't be checked at night."
For the time being, officers on night tram lines will work only to maintain order, to keep some situations from getting out of hand. Prague Public Transit Co. spokeswoman Michaela Kucharova told Radio Prague in November such controls could be a big help:
"The situation is currently not ideal. When you take into account who uses night trams, the driver is not really able to intervene, though in cases of violence they can contact dispatchers who then call the police."
By estimates, changes on Prague's night trams will represent a fairly hefty investment. Still, it's one that many Praguers may consider worth it. Worse off will be people who ride the trams because they have nowhere else to go: there, the wider problem of homelessness often combined with substance abuse will remain. Such travellers could be ejected by patrols if those gain the right to actually check tickets - still a matter under consideration as that will likely require changes in current legislation. As for which night tram lines will be most heavily patrolled, mum's the word for now: city administrators like Councillor Radovan Steiner aren't saying for the moment. All he has stated in the media is that the first checks should begin around January 15th.
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