In Business News this week: Mining group NWR comes up with better than expected results but crunch meeting over restructuring still looms; tax offices are getting tough over dubious breaks for research and innovation; |Slovak government jumps in over Slovenské Elektrárne sale; Swiss developer plots arbitration over Prague land purchase; and Czech Railway showcase service could hit rails.
Prague has recently become the latest city where the smart-phone based car-hailing service Uber has become available. Since its launch in San Francisco in 2009, the app has become popular around the world. However, in many cities, the company faces protests by disgruntled taxi drivers as well as official bans over safety concerns. I sat down with Uber’s head of expansion for central Europe Patrick Studener, and first asked him why they picked Prague as their first location in the region.
More, and older, cars are crowding Czech roads according to figures released Tuesday by the country’s Automotive Industry Association. The number of new registered cars rose by just under 72,000 to total almost 4.6 million in the first six months of the year. But an increasing number of those cars are ageing bangers. The average age of cars on the roads has gone up to 14.29 years from 14.20 years. That is the highest figure for the last 20 years. The association said that the number of motorcycles had risen by 21.000 to exceed the one million mark.
Seeking to secure an additional CZK 600 million in revenue for road-building projects, the Ministry of Transport is set to increase toll fees for transport trucks by up to ten percent, reports Czech Television. According to the ministry, the time to raise the fees is ideal in order to prevent a fall in available infrastructure funding. The changes would come into effect next year.
The country’s biggest railway traffic closure this year will take place on Saturday. The main railway connection between Bohemia and Moravia will be disrupted, with nearly all trains delayed or suspended. The operation on one of the busiest of Czech railways between the towns of Dlouhá Třebová and Ústí nad Orlicí will be limited to one line only, due to a planned reconstruction of one of the train stations. Czech Railways will provide replacement bus service.
The country’s supreme state prosecutor, Pavel Zeman, has made clear he does not think that the more broadly applied confiscation of vehicles from drivers caught behind the wheel after drinking or taking drugs would offer long-term solutions. On Thursday, he voiced approval instead for stiffer penalties for repeat offenders, including jail sentences and mandatory rehab for substance abuse. The supreme state prosecutor was reacting to a plan floated earlier this week by the interior and justice ministers to try and clamp down on reckless drivers. Both would like see courts order the confiscation of vehicles more often than is currently the case, as punishment as well as a deterrent. Mr Zeman expressed skepticism over the idea, suggesting solutions needed to vary from case-to-case, and would not be effective across the board.
The president on Wednesday signed a bill aiming to speed up transport,
water and energy infrastructure projects under which the state will be able
to increase the estimated price of agricultural and forest land for road
and motorway construction up to sixteen-fold. The bill should able the
state to more quickly reach deals with landowners by being able to
compensate them more generously for their property. In the past, the Czech
Republic saw the building of new infrastructure halted for years as
landowners held out for better deals – a case in point being the halting
of the D11 highway to Hradec Králové.
Owners who decide to sell agricultural land stand to receive 535 crowns per square metre as a bonus on top of the price set by specialists. Now they get double the estimated price, between eight and 35 crowns per square metre of agricultural land. The amendment to the law on agriculture, including the law on the State Agricultural Intervention Fund, corresponds with changes to the Common Agricultural Policy and also modifies land use and registration, Mr Zeman's spokesman Jiri Ovčáček said.
The authorities are looking at new means of clamping down on reckless, drunk or aggressive drivers, known in the Czech press as ‘pirates of the road’. On Tuesday, the country’s ministers of the interior and justice announced they had launched a review into how reckless drivers were most often sentenced when found guilty, as well as whether their vehicle was confiscated. The idea is to test whether existing legislation is too lenient and – if so – to introduce tougher measures.
Czech Railways is planning to introduce new trains in December, the news website iDnes.cz reported. The German-made Rx branded express trains should be deployed on routes currently served by old East German trains with leather-covered seating. Twenty-seven modern, air-conditioned trains will carry passengers between Prague and two destinations, Cheb and Železná Ruda in West Bohemia. Czech Railways plans to introduce more Rx trains on other routes in future, iDnes.cz said.
Ticket inspectors on Prague busses and trams, as well as on metro lines, will begin using audio recording devices to capture on tape dealings with passengers, not least those caught without paying or failing to provide documentation. The head of the city's transit company has said he hoped it would lead to fewer complaints over inspectors' work, adding it would protect passengers as well. A similar system is already in place in České Budějovice and saw a drop of 90 percent in the number of complaints. Inspectors in Prague will begin using the devices over the course of August, Lidové noviny reported; 150 ticket inspectors are currently employed by Prague's transit company.
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