Thoughts from a carless one:
As someone who doesn’t drive, I’m pretty much dependent on mass transport to get around the Czech Republic. In the six years I’ve lived here, I’ve been fairly satisfied with the general standard of services available. I’ve been able to get a bus or train to and from points. Of course there have been delays and the quality of the vehicles varies, but I haven’t yet found myself desperately needing a car.
Planning your trips:
The handiest website for travelers is Jízdné Řády (formerly known as IDOS (www.idos.cz). Typing in the old address will still take you to the website. This website offers both train and bus schedules for the entire country. You can also get train times at the Czech Rail website (www.cd.cz) which also allows you to reserve tickets.
It is not necessary to use the Czech diacritic markings when entering a town. However, it may be necessary to select the town with the correct regional code. For example, if you want to go to Říčany, just south of Prague, it’s sufficient to write ‘ricany’ in the destination. However, the website will ask you to select either Říčany [BO] or Říčany [PH]. The two letters are the abbreviation for the region (okres) where the city is found. The Říčany I want happens to be in Prague’s east, and PH is the regional code for Prague East, so I would choose the second option. A list of regional codes can be found here.
The website is not perfect, and I along with other people, Czechs and expats, have waited for a bus or train that didn’t arrive. In the case of a train, it is most likely due to track work. With a bus, it could be that the schedule was changed and the company didn’t inform the website.
Apart from giving you the next available service, the website tells you when the timetables will be updated by clicking on the information about timetables section.
Traveling by Czech Rail can mean from the ultramodern to the almost ready for the scrap heap. Czech Rail offers services on its sleek Pendolino between Prague and Ostrava, Brno, Vienna or Bratislava. Not as fast, but still quite shiny and new are the so-called CityElefants which run with varying frequency along the 9 s-lines. According to the Czech Rail website, the intention is to have 50% of all services on s-lines serviced by these new trains. Villages are serviced by a motorák which is a smaller, slower vehicle – something between a tram and a train.
Fares on Czech Rail are calculated by kilometer. The rate depends on whether you travel first class or second and whether you are a child, student or retiree. There are also reductions for return and group tickets. If you know your trip in advance then it is possible to reduce the costs. If you know you will be returning by the end of the following day then it’s worth getting a return ticket (zpáteční jízdenka). Regardless of class or discount it is very important to say which route you’re taking, including transfer stations so the right number of kilometers is tallied. If you don’t trust your Czech, or the attendants English is not up to scratch, print your journey from Jizdné Řády and show the exact journey you want.
Another reduction is to get a group ticket (skupinová jízdenka). This is valid for groups from two to thirty. With group tickets for groups of three or more, two people travel at 25% off, others travel at 50% off. So the more people, the greater the reduction.
According to the person I contacted at Czech Rail, it is NOT possible to combine discounts. However, she said it is cheaper to buy a return group ticket than two one-way group tickets.
A slight variation on the group ticket is SONE+. This is for five people, including a maximum of two adults. The SONE+ is only for use on weekends and is restricted to ordinary trains (Os) of Czech Railways, Viamont lines, OKD Doprava lines, Connex Česká železniční lines and the border area near Germany, Austria, Poland and Slovakia. It is not valid for use on a so-called ‘fast train’ (rychlík). The cost is 130 CZK for one day.
For those of you who travel regularly by rail, there are two other possibilities. One is the so-called In-Karta / In-zákazník. For 990 CZK or 330 CZK for people between 15-26 years, the card entitles you to savings of 25% on rail travel. This card has to be shown at the time of purchase and inspection. During inspection, the conductor swipes it over a reader to check your details.
Another form of reduction is Kilometer Bank. For 1600 CZK, you can purchase 2000 km to be used within 6 month period. The bank can be used by up to three adults, or in the place of one adult, two minors up to 15 years or two dogs or one minor and a dog. I will leave it to you to draw your own conclusions about Czech comparisons of the young to canines; however, I can tell you the Kilometer Bank is transferable and it is valid on EC and IC trains. There are some restrictions to the bank. A journey must be at least 100 km and no more than 400 km for adults, half the distance for kids and pooches.
This means that if you are an infrequent rail traveler, the best deals are the return or group if you travel with a friend or two. If, however, you are a more frequent user, who travels long distances then it might be worth considering the Kilometer Bank or the card.
A full list of prices with discounts in English can be found here.
If you want to ensure that you have a seat, it might be worth making a reservation. Reservation tickets (místenky) can be purchased a maximum of two months before your trip on-line or at stations with electronic ticketing. The latest you can book reservation tickets is two hours before departure from the station of departure. Otherwise the latest is 24 hours. Reservations on the Pendolino can be made up to the moment of departure from any of the stations on the route.
The ticket is for a specific journey and you will be allocated a seat in a carriage. It’s important to be seated fifteen minutes before departure otherwise you will lose your seat. The cost for the reservation is 70 CZK on top of the cost of the journey or 200 CZK for the Pendolino. If you have any Rail Plus card you are eligible for a discount, but the card must be shown at the time of purchase.
The Kilometer Bank is not the only way to travel with dogs or any other animals. The animals must be in a cage with a fixed base unless it’s a dog, then it can be free but must wear a muzzle and be on a short lead. The animals must be on the owner’s lap or under where he/she is sitting. Dogs can travel first or second class for 15 CZK per train trip or 30 CZK for the day. They are not allowed to sit on the seats nor be in carriages with children under 10 years of age. Guide dogs are exempt from charges and certain entry restrictions
Most carriages have a luggage rack above the seat with room for two large back backs placed lengthwise. About four small suit cases should fit side to side. There is not charge for the luggage, but it is a good idea to place it as unobtrusively as possible. If you can’t manage to lift it, ask someone. And if they don’t speak English try this phrase: můžete mi, prosím, dát tašku nahoru?
For bikes there is a charge. Bikes can only travel on trains with a reservation ticket. There is no additional cost to the reservation, though you have to inform the vendor that you have a bike. Failure to do so can incur a 500 CZK fine.
Unlike rail, the bus services in the Czech Republic are privatized. This means each company will have slightly different fares and discounts. Some companies include ČSAD (which is broken up into separate regional companies), Jihotrans, ICOM, Transcentrum, Eurolines and Student Agency. However, all the information for buses can be found on the Jízdné Řády website.
Student cards (žákovský průkaz) are accepted on most buses, but you have to announce it before hand. Another form of discount is a prepaid charge card, sometimes referred to as an electronic wallet (elektronická peněženka). Each company issues its own and the card can only be used on the buses of the issuing company. The saving is about 5%.
Reservations are possible through this website e-AMBUS. The FAQ section gives you a clear explanation of how to order a ticket. You are required to register and reservations are only possible if the company makes reservations. This information will be made available when you do your search. Reservations can be paid for on-line, which means you can make reservations up to two hours before departure. If you want to pay in person, you must pay and pick up the tickets at least three days before departure. The website includes a list of outlets where tickets are issued.
Unlike rail, bus companies charge a fee for large pieces of luggage. The fee can be between 5 and 10 CZK. You are expected to inform the driver at the time you purchase the ticket. Depending on the bus and the driver, luggage will either be stored in the luggage compartment or on board. If the former is the case, you usually have to wait until those without luggage have boarded. If the latter, you can bring on with you. New buses have a section opposite the rear exit door to place bags, backpacks and the like. On older buses, or in the case of some inconsiderate passengers, bags may be stored right in the aisle. Bags cannot be stored on seats. Don’t be frightened to ask someone to move his/her bag if you have nowhere to sit.
General Travel Advice:
It’s common courtesy to ask people sitting on the adjacent seat, in buses and small trains, and in the same cabin, in fast trains, if the seat is free. The expression for this is: Máte tady volno?
It is strictly prohibited to place shoes on the seats. However, you can place your feet if you remove your shoes. For the comfort of other passengers, this might not always be recommended.
Trains and buses are heated in the winter. Unfortunately, they are also quite warm in the summer. This is not a problem if your train or bus has full opening windows, but it can be unpleasant if they are fitted with only the tilting windows. If you have any health conditions, exacerbated by the heat, and you’re traveling in summer, it’s a good idea to take water and to get a window seat.