High temperatures bring annual bus problem

The vast bulk of Prague's transit fleet lacks air conditioning

The higher temperatures expected this week highlight the fact that most older buses and trams lack air conditioning.

The last few years have seen long spells of record high temperatures, which were not foreseen when the city made long-term purchases of buses and trams.

Some newer models of buses and trams do have air conditioning, which reduces sweating and also helps to circulate fresh air into vehicles, but the backbone of the Czech fleet is still older vehicles.

The city had some 1,175 buses of various types as of 2015, and the average age is nine years old. They carry more than 371 million passengers per year. There are also about 950 trams, carrying over 325 million people per year.

Buses in particular can be hotter and stuffier than the outside, and on crowded lines the smell of perspiration can become quite thick.

Compounding the problem is the widespread belief especially among older passengers that open windows lead to colds, so seeing elderly and middle-aged people slamming the bus and tram windows shut or asking younger people to do it for them is still common. It is not unlike the belief in parts of Asia that electric fans left on at night can lead to “sudden fan death” syndrome.

Personal hygiene standards in Central and Eastern Europe have made strides in catching up to the west, but there are still gaps and it takes only one or two people out of hundred plus that can ride on an extended bus to make the situation unpleasant.

Prague Public Transport Company (DPP) spokeswoman Aneta Řehková said she is aware of the issue. The company has tried cinnamon and lemon air fresheners in the past, but the experiment was not successful. In 2011 the air fresheners were used for a month on route 125 between Jižní Město and Smíchov, but did not prove effective. The buses reportedly smelled like sweaty mulled wine, and allergy sufferers reported problems breathing, according to daily Pražský deník.

The cost of the project was also prohibitive, costing some Kč 25,000 per year per vehicle. Public response was also negative to indifferent. No future programs to alleviate the problem in older buses and trams is on the horizon.

The resolution will come in the long term as older unairconditioned trams and buses are replaced with newer ones. Until then, the older buses and trams will rely on ventilation, if people can manage to keep the windows open.

Air conditioned Škoda 15T (aka Škoda ForCity Alfa) trams with WiFi were introduced in 2015, but the numbers are very limited and they are only on some of the most-used lines in the city center such as routes 9 and 22.

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