For decades, a starlit stroll along one of the planet´s most beautiful bridges has been one of the highlights of a visit to Prague. But now, thanks to Prague City Hall, tourists could end up paying for the experience.
Yesterday, a spokesman for Prague City Council announced plans to charge tourists for crossing the Charles Bridge. “This solution would be a significant revenue source and help us maintain Charles Bridge,” said the official. He added that charging would also help regulate the constant throng of pedestrians crossing the bridge.
Under the plan, City Hall would install turnstiles and manned booths at each end of the 650-year old landmark. Tourists would pay a proposed fee of CZK 50 (USD 2.5) for a “single” crossing, a “return” would cost CZK 70 (USD 3.5) and the turnstiles would be coin operated; return tickets would be valid for 105 minutes during peak tourist hours (10:00 – 16:00) and tourist season (most of the summer months), and 145 minutes during other hours. Short-term passes would be available to reduce the cost of multiple crossings.
For city residents, Opencards could also be used; although holders would cross for free, the card would record each time they pass through the turnstile. The Prague Transportation Company is considering supporting the Charles Bridge restoration project, and the amount donated would be based on how many times each month Opencards are used to cross the bridge.
The proposal is one of four options outlined in a 200-page report produced by a leading international advisory firm commissioned by Prague City Council. It asked the company to consider ways of generating more local revenue, and the consultants recommended charging “as a more efficient use of the monument as a tourist product.” They justified their decision by demonstrating that on average, the ratio of locals to tourists crossing Charles Bridge is 1 to 10.
“I know it´s going to be very unpopular, but we need to charge tourists because they are the biggest users of the bridge, which inevitably suffers from wear and tear after a while. Tolls will help with vital repairs and keep our most famous landmark safe for future generations,” said the City Hall spokesman. “The Charles Bridge needs constant maintenance,” he added.
But key players in the capital´s tourist industry say the proposals are counter-productive. A British hotelier, who wished to remain anonymous, described them as “bureaucracy gone absolutely bonkers”. He said that the scheme was “self-defeating and asking for trouble, especially if stag parties are crossing the bridge.” The owner of an upscale accommodation agency, who also wanted to remain anonymous said, “If the City Council wants to scare away tourists, it´s certainly going about it the right way. I´m all for saving the bridge, but there are plenty of other ways of doing it.”
The proposal, which is said to have strong support at Prague City Council, will be put to a vote later this year. If approved, it´s expected that the turnstiles and booths will be installed by the Old Town and Lesser Town bridge towers by March 2012, in time for the high season.