The Guest Blog

Guest blog post by Jiri Dosly, Head of International Affairs, DPP.

Prague is the capital and the largest city in the Czech Republic. Prague covers an area of 496 square kilometres and with a population of 1.25 million inhabitants is the 14th largest city in the European Union. Almost 200 thousands commuters and 20 thousands visitors travel to Prague daily. This amounts to 1.5 million people and every day ensuring the seamless movement in the City of people, including those with special needs, is a big challenge for the Prague Public Transit Company (Dopravní podnik hl. m. Prahy, a.s., hereinafter “DPP”), the dominant public transport operator within the City of Prague. The European Accessibility Act will certainly support further accessibility improvement of the network – as long as it leaves running ongoing, successful initiatives, such as those undertaken by DPP since the 1990’s.

During the period since the shift from socialism to capitalism in 1989, the Czech Republic has been experiencing profound political, economic and – of course – public transport changes. Prague has one of the highest modal shares for public transport in the EU. In fact, 57% of all journeys are realized by means of public transport. Public transport is provided by door-to-door mobility services combining metro, bus, tram, waterborne and funicular transport with emphasis on accessibility.

Metro, with the first line opened in 1974, is the most important public transport mode and represents the backbone of the public transport network. Almost 50% of all public transport passengers use the metro as the main public transport mode. The other important public transport mode is tram transport, which carries almost 30% of all passengers.

Until 1991, accessibility of public transport was taboo. Improving conditions for travel by public transport also for passengers with reduced mobility has become, today, the main part of public transport strategy. It consists both in preparation and implementation of additional barrier-free access to metro stations and in other issues related to barrier-free travel of trams and buses of public transport (vehicles, stops, information system etc.). Metro in Prague was not initially constructed in a manner that made it accessible. That is why metro stations in Prague (excavated very deep under the street level up to 53 meters) were constructed without relevant equipment to be fully accessible. As a consequence of this, in 1989 all 36 metro stations offered restricted accessibility for persons with reduced mobility and/or orientation. The new stations built after 1991 are all equipped with lifts and/ or with special platforms. Barrier-free access routes to some of the selected older stations are additionally being established. Today, 43 of all 61 metro stations are fully accessible.. In accordance with the municipal policy for removing barriers in public transport system, it should be entirely barrier-free by 2025.

Significant efforts have been devoted by DPP to facilitating public transport for persons with reduced mobility and/or orientation in order to travel not only safe, but also with all the requisite services and information. After 1989 DPP started to intensively examine the barrier-free means of public transport and the new low-floor buses for passengers were introduced. Currently only low-floor vehicles are being purchased, both buses and trams, and the proportion of modern low-floor vehicles and the number of barrier-free metro stations are gradually increasing.

Transportation for persons with visual impairment requires a special approach. DPP is a world leader in regard to the deployment of an information system for persons with visual impairment travelling by surface transportation vehicles. By using the remote control this system enables activating a device that informs the passenger about the number and the direction of oncoming vehicles. Simultaneously the driver also receives an audible confirmation of the intent of a person with visual impairment to board the vehicle. The automatic announcement of stations in vehicles also makes it easier for all passengers to become oriented on the route. Special acoustic beacons are installed in every metro station for the purpose of improving orientation. They guide those passengers with visual impairment through the subways and the vestibules to the platform. These acoustic beacons can be activated by remote control as required by passengers. The stations are additionally equipped to meet the needs of persons with visual impairment with, for example, emphasised safety zones or guide lines on the platforms.

DPP understands that the sustainability of public transport in the City goes hand in hand with the accessibility. Accessibility is not only about offering low-floor buses and trams, but it is also about barrier-free stops and metro stations that enable comfortable transfers between different public transport modes. If there is enough space, up-dated technical parameters, safety etc., common bus and tram stops are being built. Wheelchair access points represent a large and visible effort by the DPP to provide a maximal degree of service for accommodating the needs of passengers with reduced mobility and impaired orientation.

Accessibility is based on sustainable urban public transport and, vice versa, public transport accessibility represents an aspect of sustainability – i.e. it is a full circle. With additional investment in the public transport system including accessibility the City will become more and more attractive. Measures that have been implemented in recent years have resulted in an increase of public transport riders from 1.03 billion trips in 2000 to 1.19 billion trips in 2016 (i.e. 15% more). Prague is the example of a successful local accessibility strategy; the final text of the European Accessibility Act should be realistic and flexible enough as to help us further improve the accessibility of our network. Only then will the Act be useful to the users of the Prague transport public system.

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