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New mayor derails capital metro development

As real estate developers and commercial tenants gag on exhaust fumes and honk their horns on their drive out of Bratislava's increasingly congested center, the city's new mayor says he will postpone funding for what his predecessor hailed as the great traffic solution: a metro.
A rapid-transit rail system was the pet project of outgoing mayor Peter Kresánek. Kresánek, a passionate historical preservationist, had hoped to complement his legacy of restoring Old Town's beauty of the 19th century with a transit system for the new millenium.
That vision involved the allocation of billions of crowns. "For the confidence of infrastructure projects like this, it is necessary to show the national budget is prepared to participate in the project," said Kresánek's spokesman, Milan Vajda.

As real estate developers and commercial tenants gag on exhaust fumes and honk their horns on their drive out of Bratislava's increasingly congested center, the city's new mayor says he will postpone funding for what his predecessor hailed as the great traffic solution: a metro.

A rapid-transit rail system was the pet project of outgoing mayor Peter Kresánek. Kresánek, a passionate historical preservationist, had hoped to complement his legacy of restoring Old Town's beauty of the 19th century with a transit system for the new millenium.

That vision involved the allocation of billions of crowns. "For the confidence of infrastructure projects like this, it is necessary to show the national budget is prepared to participate in the project," said Kresánek's spokesman, Milan Vajda.

Typically in western Europe, one-third of the finances for projects like this one come from the national budget and the rest from loans or other sources, according to Vajda.

But incoming mayor Jozef Moravčík, who was elected on December 18, says the national budget is not prepared to participate. "It is not possible for the national government to give a guarantee in the next two years," said Moravčík. "I consulted with Mrs. [Finance Minister Brigita] Schmögnerová and the response was very negative."

Moravčík, a former Prime Minister, agrees that the Slovak capital needs a metro badly, but he says the country simply cannot afford to pay for one for at least a couple of years.

Vajda, who described Moravčík as a "more of a technocrat and more pragmatic" than Kresánek, said the hold on public funding "sets [the project] back two or three years."

Great expectations

The plan that Kresánek had been hoping to make progress on was a 30-year, 60 billion Sk project that would have given the city 12 metro stations along 32 kilometers of tracks divided into two intersecting lines.

The so-called Line A would start in the northwestern district of Dúbravka, wind through the center, and then finish in the northeastern district of Rača.

Line B would begin in the southern district of Petržalka, cross the Danube and intersect twice with Line A downtown before ending in the eastern district of Ružinov.

These two proposed lines would be able to transport 22,000 passengers per hour. That is roughly one-third the volume of commuters who currently use the city's public transportation. Vajda said an average of 58,000 passengers now use the city's trams, trolleys and buses each hour, with a peak of 66,700 passengers during rush hour.

The investor in this project is a joint stock company called Metro Bratislava, which is wholly owned by the city. Last autumn, that company was scheduled to sign a basic agreement with a consortium of three suppliers, the French firms Matra Transport International and Campenon Bernard and the German firm Siemens. The agreement got stalled and has yet to be signed.

For his part, Moravčík does not sound ready to endorse the existing proposal. "Some parts of the concept may still have to be changed," the new mayor said. "We will look for a cheaper concept." But the proposed metro is a relatively small system, and Moravčík concedes he does not yet know where savings can be found.

Currently, 75% of all of Bratislava's commuters use public transportation, according to Vajda. That is down from 80% five years ago, before Parliament passed legislation to make automobiles more affordable. Today, Bratislava, a city of 450,000 people, is home to 145,000 licensed cars. Of those, more than 40,000 were bought in the last three years.

Moravčík, who drives to work from his home in Dúbravka every day, said his administration will focus on relieving the city's present public transport woes with solutions like more frequent connections to more parts of the city. This, he said, will cost 7 billion Sk over the next four years.

Once those measures have been taken and the country is on more secure financial ground, he said he fully intends to move forward with building a metro. Moravčík said he could imagine commuters getting their first ride in 2007.

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