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CITY AND STATE MIRED IN QUARREL OVER FUNDS

Bratislava metro plan stalled

Bratislava tried to build its metro twice before 1990 with heavy Soviet technology, but never found the money to make the project a reality. With a recently completed study and light French technology, City officials now believe it can be done. But a quarrel with state officials keeps the necessary funds tied up. On one thing all seem to agree: the third attempt better do it, or it may never happen.
Commuters coming from the outskirts of Petržalka or Dúbravka to downtown Bratislava during morning rush hour, now have to either get up half an hour earlier than they did seven years ago or skip breakfast. If they want to park downtown after 9 a.m.? Forget it.
Rising automobile traffic in post-communist Bratislava is clashing with the city's socialist -era public transportation network. Streets are more and more crowded and cars have to fight for space with scores of bus, tram and trolleybus lines.


"More buses would make traffic denser and even slower during peak hours. We have to go underground, where we won't depend on the capacity of surface lines."

Dušan Šamudovský, Director of Dopravoprojekt Bratislava



"The state should be interested in the growth of productivity here. If the government does not make a fundamental step forward, I believe Slovakia's overall economic figures could be jeopardized."

Roman Vavrík, Bratislava First Deputy Mayor



"In 1997, the government offered a certain amount of money to improve the transportation situation in Bratislava. It was not accepted."

Prime Minister, Vladimír Mečiar


Bratislava tried to build its metro twice before 1990 with heavy Soviet technology, but never found the money to make the project a reality. With a recently completed study and light French technology, City officials now believe it can be done. But a quarrel with state officials keeps the necessary funds tied up. On one thing all seem to agree: the third attempt better do it, or it may never happen.

Commuters coming from the outskirts of Petržalka or Dúbravka to downtown Bratislava during morning rush hour, now have to either get up half an hour earlier than they did seven years ago or skip breakfast. If they want to park downtown after 9 a.m.? Forget it.

Rising automobile traffic in post-communist Bratislava is clashing with the city's socialist -era public transportation network. Streets are more and more crowded and cars have to fight for space with scores of bus, tram and trolleybus lines.

"The introduction of more bus lines is not a solution at all," Dušan Šamudovský, the director of the construction engineering company Dopravoprojekt Bratislava, told the economic weekly Trend. "More buses would make traffic denser and even slower during peak hours. We have to go underground, where we won't depend on the capacity of surface lines."

Šamudovský's company recently completed a complex plan for metro construction in the Slovak capital. Bratislava City Hall, which commissioned the study, believes that a metro will help sustain the whole country's economic growth.

"Bratislava produces some 35 percent of the country's gross domestic product, producing a significant tax income for the state budget," said Roman Vavrík, the first deputy mayor. "That is why we believe the state should also be interested in the growth, and not stagnation, of productivity here. If the government does not make a fundamental step forward, I believe Slovakia's overall economic figures could be jeopardized."

Plans for a metro have cruised around Bratislava for the past 20 years, but due to a lack of money, they never got off the drawing boards. Altogether, some 750 million Sk on the 1975 price level were invested, the only useful results being a partly completed geological survey.

Seven years ago, City Hall invited entrepreneurs to work out a new project for a metro. The tender was won by the French company Matra Transport, which came up with a so-called "light metro" project, using the VAL (Véhicule Automatique Legére) 208 system. The project suggested that 60 percent of the investment would go to Slovak construction companies, another 30 percent would cover the technology. Vavrík said the total investment would be 36 to 38 billion Sk.

The Dopravoprojekt study confirmed that downtown metro lines would have to run underground, and it recommended that other public transport lines be linked to this backbone.

The estimated length of the network is 32.5 km. Construction of the first 9.7 km part is scheduled to begin in May 1998 and finish in 2003.

The network is expected to have two lines: one connecting Dúbravka and Rača will be 18.9 km long, while the other connecting Petržalka with Ružinov will be 13.6 km. The lines will cross twice, near the Tesco department store and the Istropolis cultural center.

City Hall signed a contract with Matra Transport in June 1992. If not extended, the contract will expire in 1997. Over the past five years, the metro project has not moved a single foot closer to realization. Back in 1992, two things were missing: a complex analysis of the city's public transportation system, and the government's guarantee of the project's financing. Now, the analysis is on the table, but the Slovak government has moved in slow motion, despite French government promised that it would help arrange the loan via French banks, Vavrík said.

With the cabinet's lukewarm approach, the City has to pull for it. Vavrík said City Hall paid 4 million Sk for the analysis and covered project's preparations from a 200 million Sk city bond issue. "The preparations will cost some 250 million Sk," Vavrík said. "Once they are ready, we want to present the project to the cabinet and we are convinced it then will provide a loan guarantee." Vavrík's conviction is based on previous cooperation with former transportation minister Alexander Rezeš, reportedly an avid supporter of the Bratislava metro idea.

But the Slovak capital's transportation problems have been kept off the cabinet's agenda for the past three years. Peter Kresánek, the opposition candidate for mayor, won the municipal elections in late 1994 and the cabinet responded by turning off the money faucets. For three consecutive years, the budgetary cuts for Bratislava forced the city to gradually strangle transportation spendings, which led to a bus and tram drivers' strike in early June that paralyzed the city for several days.

Mečiar told parliament at the July session that the Bratislava Mayor's office has not submitted a single piece of paper during the current term addressing city transportation problems. "In 1997, the government offered a certain amount of money to improve the transportation situation in Bratislava. It was not accepted," Mečiar added.

According to Vavrík, the mayor's office turned to the Ministry of Transport and Telecommunications several times. "Even a joint commission of experts was set up to evaluate these matters." Vavrík said the panel had members named by the ministry plus two appointed by City Hall. "This group of experts also included French experts from Matra. Documentation about all this exists, so, as usual, Mr. Mečiar was lying," he added.

Vavrík said the city does not have the resources to afford a loan for building metro alone. "We operate on a 3 billion Sk annual budget," Vavrík said. "One billion comes from the state, and half of that is allocated for public transportation. The rest of the money comes from property rents, and especially sales." Adding that this reservoir is not bottomless, Vavrík said, "We cannot imagine covering the payments for such an important thing as metro construction by selling off property."

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