Lights are on, but transport coffers dry

Bratislava commuters are finding it frustratingly common to start their day on avenues jammed with inoperable trolley buses and finish it on pitch-black lanes devoid of street lighting. Are these breakdowns in the capital's infrastructure likely to cease soon? Yes and no.
The future is bright for the city's public lighting system, but the public transportation is not likely to get back on the right track anytime soon.
Since January, the German electric company Siemens has been at work on its five-year, 1.9 billion Sk ($60 million) project to overhaul Bratislava's entire public lighting network. The city found money for the project through the Japanese investment firm Nomura-sponsored bond issue in December 1995.

Bratislava commuters are finding it frustratingly common to start their day on avenues jammed with inoperable trolley buses and finish it on pitch-black lanes devoid of street lighting. Are these breakdowns in the capital's infrastructure likely to cease soon? Yes and no.

The future is bright for the city's public lighting system, but the public transportation is not likely to get back on the right track anytime soon.

Since January, the German electric company Siemens has been at work on its five-year, 1.9 billion Sk ($60 million) project to overhaul Bratislava's entire public lighting network. The city found money for the project through the Japanese investment firm Nomura-sponsored bond issue in December 1995.

The project's first stage, expected to take a year, involves removing faulty lighting and installing new lamps, lamp posts, and switchboards. At the current pace of about 1,000 lamps a week, the city should have 30,000 new lamps by the end of December, according to Siemens spokeswoman Mária Szilárdová. As the mayor's spokesman, Milan Vajda, said, this will make good on City Hall's public promise to "have the city alight again by the end of the year."

Perhaps the new lighting will help to cast more light on the city's blacktop, a battlefield on which the capital's transportation system continues to fight a severe lack of funding. Dopravný Podnik Bratislava (DPB), the city-owned joint stock company that operates the capital's buses, trolley buses, and trams, has run at a deficit for the last several years.

And its 1997 budget of 1.2 billion Sk ($38 million) only covers operational costs, leaving no cushion for capital investments. "This is the most terrible thing," Vajda said. "The system desperately needs new vehicles and reconstructed tracks." But the city has a hard enough time just keeping the system running, he added.

The capital's city council recently allocated 134 million Sk to cover DPB's debts from the past two years. That was on top of the 220.5 million Sk originally budgeted by the city for transportation in '97, which was 84 percent more than last year.

Despite that boost from the city, DPB struggles to cover costs, because the company's other two major revenue sources - national government subsidies and self-generated fees - are hardly rising at all. According to Vajda, the last fare hike was in 1995, when ticket prices rose from 5 to 7 Sk, and state subsidies have remained at 434.7 million Sk annually for the past three years. Neither of those sources are likely to yield any more until public spending power rises and "the government's view [towards funding city infrastructure] changes," Vajda said.

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