Prague may introduce toll in city center

A toll for nonresidents is one idea to reduce traffic downtown

Prague is looking at ways to reduce traffic in the city center. Options that could reduce traffic include tolls or fees for driving in the center, and a ban on older vehicles. There is also decreasing interest among young people in owning a car. The toll, which could be introduced sometime during or after 2018, seems to be the most viable option.

Several smaller foreign cities have already banned car traffic in their centers, and bigger cities such as London and Oslo may soon join them. Prague 1 Deputy Mayor Richard Bureš said that before Prague could join other cities in limiting traffic in the center, the ring roads around the city would need to be completed, and that is not going to happen any time soon. The ring roads have already been under construction for decades and are only partly finished.

The Institute for Planning and Development (IPR) in Prague however maintains that progress can be made even before the ring roads are completed. IPR spokesman Marek Vácha said that much of the traffic in the city begins and ends in the city, and the ring roads would not affect it. He said that the way to reduce traffic is to increase the quality, speed and capacity of public transportation.

Vácha favors tolls for cars using the city center. “A toll usually ensures a reduction in traffic by 10 percent and also encourages people to use other modes of transportation,” he told the media. “Thanks to this, noise can also be reduced.” Tolls also make it easier to maintain roads, as the reduction in traffic helps the roads to last longer and the money from the tolls can go toward repairs.

The Prague 1 administration also favors a toll for nonresidents who want to drive in the city center. The idea is not new. It was first proposed by the Civic Democrats (ODS) in the 2006 municipal elections, but it was not implemented due to concerns over where to divert traffic.

The current city leadership is interested in reviving the idea and will have all of the paperwork ready by 2018, Prague Deputy Mayor Petr Dolínek said.

The city has also been considering the introduction of a low-emission zone in the city center, but it have been postponed indefinitely. It would have taken effect in 2017. The zone would have banned cars with diesel engines manufactured before 2001 and cars with gas engines manufactured before 1993. The ban would have effected a small number of vehicles. Deputy Mayor Dolínek said the reason for the postponement was, again, the lack of an inner ring road to divert the traffic. City districts on the right bank of the Vltava were concerned about the lack of alternative routes.

The city in cooperation with Prague 1 is looking at other ways to lessen traffic. One idea is to build a traffic circle at the end of Národní near Jungmannovo náměstí and changing several streets into two-way so cars would not have to drive around a complicated network of one-way streets.

Among younger people in the Czech Republic, owning a car is no longer seen as a status symbol. This same trend can be seen in other western countries. Over the past seven years the number of new driving licenses issued in the Czech Republic has dropped by one-third, according to Ministry of Transportation statistics. The decreasing number of cars due to lack of interest in young drivers could help to resolve many of the city's traffic problems.

Prague is still heavily caught up in car culture. For the 1.2 million inhabitants of the city, there are 1 million cars. In cities like Copenhagen, roughly one in 10 people have cars. This is due in part to high taxes on cars there. Some 60 percent of people there commute by bike.

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