Water to be a bigger part of city transport to relieve tourist crush
Along with high rent, there is another price residents of Prague 1 pay to live in the beautiful middle of the old city.
Each summer they must wade through a tide of tourists just to do everyday things like go grocery shopping or go to work.
This year a private company is looking to give them a little relief, as part of a longer-term initiative to integrate more water travel into the city’s transportation systems.
“Residents of Prague 1 are under the pressure of tourism and we want to compensate them. It is an uncomfortable situation, crossing Charles Bridge. It’s so overcrowded,” said Štěpán Rusnák, the manager of První všeobecná člunovací společnost, or First Universal Boat Company.
In fact, last summer the Czech Republic saw more tourists than ever, according to Karin Šeligová of CzechTourism.
Starting June 18, the boat company introduced free rides for downtown residents between the hours of 11 a.m. to noon and 5 to 6 p.m., when they are not packed with tourists. Rusnák said it takes about five minutes to cross the Vltava.
The boats depart every 15 minutes between the base of Charles Bridge, near the Charles IV statue on the eastern bank, and the water wheel in Čertovka on the western bank.
The company will expand the service, at a reduced cost of 50 Kč ($2.30), to all Prague residents July 1, he said. The normal fare is 290 Kč for adults and half-price for children.
The company is bearing the costs for this service and is not being reimbursed by the city.
Prague 1 Mayor Petr Hejma said he is trying to encourage businessmen in the area to give something back to the community, and that the free rides are a result of a joint initiative between the district and the boat company.
The company began in 1993 with open-boat service across the Vltava, at the base of Charles Bridge. Since then they have shuttled hundreds of tourists a day across the river. In 2001, they added covered boats to their fleet and began crossing in the winter, too.
Casting a wider net
The free rides are just the first step of a larger plan to introduce more water transportation into Prague.
Starting in the autumn, the company will also start a boat service to and from Žofín, Střelecký and Dětský islands. The service will be part of the city’s transportation service and require the same pass or 20 Kč ticket used on the metro and trams, Rusnák said.
But right now there are no plans to make this service free for all Prague residents.
Within the next five years, according to Hejma, the city would like to introduce water trams that would go from Prague 2 to Holešovice and stop at several places along the river.
Now the city has two water ferries integrated into the public transport system that connect Sedlec in Prague 6 to Zámky in Prague 8 and Podbabě in Prague 6 to Podhoří in Prague 8.