Sunday, 11 December 2011

ITTP TEFL Prague: Getting around Prague - discovering the city by public transport

Prague has an almost excellent public transport system. It's reasonably safe, reasonably clean (although a bit shabby around the edges), and very affordable. It isn't exactly fair to compare the public transport system of Prague with the much larger cities of New York and London, as Czech language students sometimes do, but if there is one aspect of Prague which all expats agree on then it is that getting around Prague on the public transport system is hands down excellent.

Forms of public transport in Prague are: Metro (Subway/Tube), Tram, Bus, Funicular, Ferry, Train.

There are 3 Metro Lines: A (Green Line), B (Yellow Line), C (Red Line).
The metro operates from 4:45am to midnight and the metro closes at 1:00am. Metro is the quickest way of getting from A to B, where there is a metro station. There are plans currently to extend the Green Line to the airport and a Green Line extension is currently being constructed past the current end station (Dejvicka).

Trams criss cross the city and always have right of way, even over pedestrian crossings - don't expect a tram to stop at a pedestrian crossing!!! There are a few of the newer Skoda trams in operation around the city but the majority of trams are of the iconic Tatra T3 variety. The Day Tram schedule operates from 4:30am to 1:30am. There is a limited Night Tram schedule which operates from 12:30am to 4:30am. Night tram schedules usually incorporate 1 or more day schedule routes and often run every 30 minutes only - they can be a much-welcomed early morning ride home but also often a round-the-houses detour and you will be sharing the ride with the party crowd, for better or worse. The Lazarska tram stop is the central night-time transfer point.

Busses tend to focus more on serving the outskirts of the city and tend to be more in use funneling passengers from metro and tram stations to other built-up parts of the city where there are no metro or tram connections. The bus day schedule runs from 4:30am to 12:15am, with Friday and Saturday services operating until 1:30am. Limited night bus operations run from 12:30am to 4:30am, with weekend services: 1:30am to 4:30am.

The Prague Funicular runs a daily operation from 9:00am to 11:30pm. In Summer the funicular runs every 10 minutes and in Winter every 15. The Funicular Railway has just 1 line which runs from Ujezd up to Petrin Hill and although it is technically Prague public transport it is really only used by the tourist crowd. In my 16+ years of living in Prague I have used the funicular railway once, and that was only because my parents were here from England visiting.

There are some Ferry routes served by the Prague public transport and the most notable of these are the Podoli-Smichov and Podbaba-Prague Zoo ferry routes (weather permitting).

It is also possible to use regular trains for their stops within the city. For example, you can hop on a Beroun bound train at Hlavni Nadrazi and hop off again at Smichovske Nadrazi (Nadrazi = Station). A very picturesque train ride is from Masarykovo Nadrazi to Dejvicka, which winds over the river - great views of the Prague Castle - and through Stromovka Park. It is only possible though to use trains which include the Prazska Integrovana Doprava or PID (Prague Integrated Transport) train system.

Buying and validating tickets
Prague public transport tickets are sold in ticket machines - at any of the 32 metro stations (located in the metro station vestibules), and also at some tram and bus stops. Tickets can also be bought at the Funicular Railway counter and at train stations. It is also possible to buy tickets through sms, and at magazine kiosks/newsagents (Trafika) but this can be complicated and time-consuming for a Prague newbie. Best to stick to the ticket machines. The other reason to buy your tickets in the ticket machines is to avoid fake* tickets (*see the Safety and Dangers section below).
To validate your ticket for the metro or train you must stamp your ticket once only in the yellow validating machine upon entering the metro or train system. The same applies for all other forms of public transport - you must stamp your ticket immediately when boarding the Tram/Bus/Funicular/Ferry.

4 Ticket machines and 1 Open Card validator (far left)

Yellow validating machines.

Ticket machine operation instructions
1) Select your required ticket.
2) If you make a mistake or are unsure, press the button labeled storno (cancel) and start the process again.
3) Insert coins into the slot. Ticket machines give change but don't accept notes.
4) If you make a mistake or are unsure, press the button labeled storno (cancel) and start the process again.
5) Collect your ticket, and any change that may be due to you, from the large slot at the base of the machine.

Ticket control
Unlike the UK public transport system for example, you don't technically need a ticket to enter the Prague public transport system, and Prague has it's fair share of people who ride the system without a ticket. Uniformed ticket inspectors roam the system, routinely checking passengers for valid tickets. Inspectors have the right to check and if asked to they must prove their identity by showing their official badge. Their system is unpredictable and you can be checked anywhere within the system but you are most likely to meet an inspector at the Malostranska/Staromestska/Mustek/Muzeum Metro stations, and on the number 22 tram on the Malostranska-Prague Castle route. If you are caught without a ticket then it is best to accept guilt and responsibility and pay up the fine and learn from the experience - if you cause a scene then the police are often called and you might make the situation worse, for yourself. You will be charged the fine, plus the price of the ticket which you should have bought and/or validated properly.
The fines for being caught without a validated ticket are:
800 CZK - when you pay the fine on the spot.
800 CZK - when you pay up until the 15th of the next calendar month at the Transport offices close to IP Pavlova (only applicable to residents).
1,000 CZK - when you pay the fine at a later time after the 15th of the next calendar month (again, only applicable to residents).
If you are traveling with a dog without a transportation box, or with a piece of luggage then there is also a fine for traveling without a valid ticket for your dog or suitcase: 100 CZK on the spot fine (200 CZK if paid after the 15th of the next calendar month).

The Basic public transport ticket is 32 CZK and from the moment of validation is valid on all types of public transport for 90 minutes travel - you can use any combination of form of public transport for 90 minutes.
24 CZK will buy you a Short-term ticket which is only valid on 1 form of public transport and for 30 minutes only.
This means that with the Basic ticket you have 90 minutes to travel on metro/tram/bus/funicular/ferry/train, but with the Short-term ticket you can only travel on 1 type for 30 minutes. With a Short-term ticket it is also not possible to change lines - meaning for example that on the metro you can't change from the Green Line to the Yellow or Red Line (same applies to Tram/Bus/Train).
If you are traveling with a dog without a transportation box, or with a piece of luggage, then you will need to purchase an additional ticket for 16 CZK. Bicycles go free on the metro, ferry, funicular railway, and trains (they also go free on trams 'within the designated times on selected Tram segments').
Longer term tickets are also available:
1 day (24 hours) is 110 CZK
3 days (72 hours) is 310 CZK
1 month (30 days) is 670 CZK.
Please note that the 3 day and 30 day tickets are not available in ticket machines. To buy these tickets you need to purchase at a central public transport information office. My advice is to visit the office at the Muzeum metro station, located before the metro vestibule entrance and on the left - open Monday to Sunday and public holidays (7:00am - 9:00pm).
1 month with an Open Card ID is just 550 CZK.

Safety and Dangers on the Prague public transport system
Generally speaking the Prague public transport system is safe. I have never experienced any issues myself but I have heard a few reports of people falling asleep on late night trams and then waking up to find their wallet or purse is missing. Groups of pickpockets do work the public transport system and tend to focus on the tourist frequented stations or routes, such as the Malostranska/Staromestska/Mustek/Muzeum Metro stations, and in particular the number 22 tram from the center up to the Prague Castle. When I was living at IP Pavlova I did notice the same group of pickpockets everyday and I also noticed this activity at the main Andel tram stop. Pickpockets who work the trams take advantage of their victims when they are trying to board a busy tram - the focus of the passenger is to board the busy tram and get a seat, and the focus of the pickpocket is to rummage through a bag, purse, or pockets when that person is trying the board the tram. If you spot someone at a crowded tram stop with what looks like one arm then it could be that the hidden arm is hidden under the jacket and being used to grab people's belongings (a commonly used ploy). Christmas time is the worse time of the year for this type of criminal activity, especially in crowded metro cars full of happy shoppers tipsy on Christmas mulled wine. Prague's Main Train Station (Hlavni Nadrazi) is a hotbed for criminal activity and the park immediately opposite is locally known as Sherwood Forest because of the high level of petty crime incidents in the area.
You needn't be overly cautious of safety or dangers on the public transport system in Prague but petty crime is an annoyance and taking care of your belongings when boarding public transport, and not flashing expensive belongings will significantly lower the risk of being a victim of this type of petty crime.
The other safety and danger issue concerns fake tickets. A few weeks ago I took my son into the center and stopped off at the Dejvicka Metro station to buy a ticket. A well-spoken young guy approached me and said he bought a ticket but didn't need it anymore and would I buy the ticket from him instead of from the machine. I was just about to but then Judge Judy flashed into mind with her words of wisdom: 'no good deed goes unpunished'. I bought my ticket from the ticket machine. It happened that I needed to go into town again the following day and lo and behold I was again approached at the same place (but this time by a different person), and asked the same request. I asked around and was surprised that there are fake tickets floating around and fake ticket scams - these are typically used tickets, bleached to hide the validation stamp. If you are ticket controlled with a fake ticket, even if you were unaware that it was fake, you will automatically be charged the full ticket fine, plus the price of a new ticket.

Getting to and from the airport using the public transport system
The number 119 bus shuttles between Prague airport's Terminal 1 and 2 to Dejvicka Metro Station and a single ride will cost you the 32 CZK Basic ticket fare plus 16 CZK for each piece of large luggage. A taxi will cost approx 10x as much and will save you 10x the hassle of traveling this very busy route.
The number 100 bus also plies the airport route and covers the Zlicin Metro station route. Zlicin is one of the end stations on the Yellow Line. There is also an Airport Express Bus which links the airport with Hlavni Nadrazi - the fare is 50 CZK and the schedule coincides with the departure and arrival of SuperCity (Pendolino), EuroCity, and InterCity trains. There are other public transport options to and from the airport but these are the main options and the most newbie-friendly options.

Additional Prague transport points
- A nice perk of the system is heated tram seats in Winter.
- An unwelcome intrusion of the tram system is the waft of body odor permeating most tram carriages at the height of Summer.
- It seems like all bus drivers are grouchy as hell and drive as if they were ambulance drivers on extreme caffeine highs.
- There has recently been a recruitment drive for tram drivers and as a result not all Prague tram drivers have depth of experience in driving a tram around the city of Prague (or any city).
- Food and drinks can't be consumed on the public transport system and there is of course a strict no-smoking policy throughout.
- There are designated seats and areas for passengers with babies and children, also for the Elderly and handicapped. The back of trams are official designated areas for passengers with strollers/pushchairs/trams (on newer trams this area is located towards the front of the tram).
- Tram surfing. Tram surfing is a great way to tighten your leg muscles and train up for wave surfing - just stand at the back of the tram, without holding on, and 'ride' the tram up and down the city hills and through Prague's winding cobbled roads.

Neville :-)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I found this post on the Prague public transport system as incredibly helpful. The ITTP TEFL Online blog is as a whole a vital resource for anyone visiting Prague for the first time.