Prague - A report ordered by Transport Minister Aleš Řebíček (ODS) has shown that taking public transport generally does not pay off in the Czech Republic.
Environment Minister Martin Bursík (Green Party) has called on the government to change its investment plans and pledge to support public transport, especially railways, more than individual car transport. But Řebíček has no such intentions.
Trains take too much time
The report, compiled by the Transport Research Centre, shows that only passengers with lots of free time will want to take the train to go from Prague to Liberec, Zlín or Karlovy Vary, or from Brno to České Budějovice, Plzeň or Olomouc. On these routes, the travel time is about twice as long as for those who drive.
The government ordered the report in September last year and was supposed to redesign its planned transport projects based on the findings. Řebíček has now presented the findings to the cabinet but says no changes to investments are necessary. He has merely suggested a non-binding resolution asking his ministry to "use the findings for further planning".
But Bursík insists the transport policy should change. He says the government should support investments that will help railways compete with individual road transport.
Fighting over billions
The dispute over the transport analysis is just a prelude to a more serious discussion on which specific transport projects should receive state and EU funding in the following years.
A schedule of public investments in transport infrastructure was designed by former PM Miloš Zeman's government and has been continuously updated. It comprises a list of individual road and railway segments which are to be assigned financial amounts to be invested in the next few years.
So far, Czech governments have made the construction of new motorways a priority. The Greens say more money has to be invested in railways and ring-roads. Řebíček, on the other hand, asserts that it is more important to repair existing roads, which are often in emergency condition.
Auditors advise caution
Independent experts, including František Dohnal, head of the Supreme Audit Office (NKÚ), warn that building according to the schedule may not pay off, since no one has yet found out which transport projects will most benefit the country's economic development and which will least damage the environment.
Řebíček's report, comparing travel times for road and rail transport, was commissioned in response to NKÚ's requirement that further investments should be based on a more detailed study.
The Greens want the government to use the findings to change the schedule of transport projects for next year. For now, Řebíček has sent the schedule to other ministers, and the cabinet should make a decision in September.
Adapted and republished by Prague Daily Monitor.