The future of Kraków's public transportation has been in question for several months. How to deal with the financial deficit problem? What's next for the Clean Air Zone, the new urban bicycle or transforming Kraków into Copenhagen? We discuss all this with Lukasz Franek, director of the Public Transport Authority of Kraków.
Wiktor Bochenek: Deputy Mayor Andrzej Kulig has indicated that there is a shortfall of up to PLN 400 million for public transportation in Kraków. Every now and then, Kraków residents learn either about possible increases or drastic cuts in courses. What is really in store for residents in the coming months?
Łukasz Franek: We do not hide, since the valorization of transportation rates, the increase in costs is really radical. The rate, which has reached 26 zlotys for streetcars, has practically doubled in a few years; just five years ago we paid less than 14.5 zlotys for a kilometer of streetcar. And we have ticket prices at the level of 20 years ago.
Both at City Council meetings and in the public space, we reiterate that this is a huge challenge faced not only by Kraków. The problem affects all of Poland, as evidenced by the recent saga with PKP train tickets. Everyone faces the same challenges.
We are aware that this budget has to be assembled from a number of smaller sources, which will end up giving us the missing funds for transportation. If we have a deficit of more than 400 million, increases will not solve this 100 percent. On the other hand, we want to fill this hole from every source. That's why we have asked the Council to raise ticket prices, which unfortunately is still not agreed to.
We have to consider all scenarios, including cutting the transport work, treating this as a last resort. There is no good answer to what will happen. The only thing is that we declare that we don't want to lower either the standard or the capacity. That would be a big step backwards and a set back in development. Right now we want to assemble a budget and pin down these radically rising costs.
What will be the future of transportation in Kraków?
© Public Transport Authority of Kraków
Wiktor: There is also the question of whether the cuts and increases will affect the implementation of the Clean Transportation Zone? If the city has to cut certain courses, this will affect choices and opportunities.
Luke: The Clean Transportation Zone is planned for 2026. What will come into effect in a dozen months or so is the first step, which does not significantly interfere with the city's operation, as it concerns a percentage of the oldest vehicles. In 2026, the public transportation offer must be a viable alternative for those who will not be able to replace their vehicle. But that is three years from now, and we assume that this year's situation is temporary. We are talking about the 2023 budget, of course, thinking about the outlook for future years. For the moment, ticket prices and accessibility cannot be tied to SCT.
Wiktor: In addition to the current problems, there is the issue of metropolitan assumptions. Won't what is happening now affect the realization of such assumptions? Again, the issue of the connection to the railroad is coming back, won't this be halted?
Łukasz: I hope not, we are sticking to our plan all the time - we are coming back with the tariff resolution and the metropolitan ticket at the next session of the City Council on February 22 or March 8. The councilors did not agree to adjust the price of the integrated ticket with the railroad in Kraków. We are implementing the plan agreed with the province for metropolitan tickets for connections to municipalities with which we have agreements. We are committed to introducing such a solution in the metropolitan area. There are no plans, either on our side or on the province's side, to reduce transportation work in connection with their budgets. The municipalities are not sending, for the time being, a signal about their desire to reduce their offerings for other reasons either.
Wiktor: Where does the Public Transportation Board see opportunities to optimize costs?
Łukasz: There is no such area where we are able to reduce costs, because the component of transportation fares that we pay to carriers are three basic elements: fuel and electricity prices, labor and salary costs and other costs such as depreciation and technical facilities.
The city has been consistently replacing bus and streetcar fleets for years, so I don't see such fields on the savings side.
I am in favor of making transportation reasonably priced. In the case of the City Council, there is a political aspect here, due to the election calendar. A ticket in Kraków costs less than 20 years ago, when the minimum wage was 800 zlotys, and today it is more than 3,000.... To say that access to public transportation in the second largest city in Poland at 100 zlotys per month is expensive and hitting the pockets of residents is incomprehensible to me. In a situation where bread starts to cost more than ten zlotys and fuel costs more than seven zlotys, to me this is demagoguery.
I understand that a monthly ticket can't be expensive, but a ticket at more than a hundred zlotys a month, which we requested, is actually reasonable. The remaining amounts must be sought in the budget, here there is nothing to hide. Public transportation is one of the most important aspects. This is a challenge they face in other cities - we are at a point where we do not want to cut jobs and are looking for funding sources.
The city will develop premetro
© Public Transport Authority of Kraków
Wiktor: What was the basis for the decision to purchase used streetcars fromDüsseldorf ?
Łukasz: MPK is responsible for the rolling stock policy. They buy the vehicles, agreeing with the regulatory bodies and reviewing with us. The rolling stock policy is based on the ability to buy as many modern low-floor streetcars as possible. The last 60 streetcars delivered and another 60 in the pipeline. This is still not 100% low-floor streetcars, so the carrier is looking for other solutions, acquiring used streetcars.
These are vehicles that can be adapted at a low cost and can quietly run for several years. They are more modern than the so-called Viennese, i.e. E1C3 and 105N. I think this is a rational choice and MPK is moving in the right direction.
Wiktor: On the occasion of the debate on public transportation, the topic of bus stop tickets came back again. On what principle could they work and is it a better solution than the current one?
Łukasz: The bus stop ticket is not a good solution. Of course, today's situation with a timed ticket at a time when many areas of the city are congested is unfair to the user. It shifts the cost of standing in traffic jams onto the passenger. With this we agree and do not argue.
However, in our opinion, a distance fare should be introduced instead of a stop fare. We have many accelerated lines in Kraków, such as line 572, where one stop on this line is sometimes half a city, and for other lines in parallel it is 5-6 stops.
Dynamic distance fare is fairer and we are working on it. We cash the ticket for the subsequent kilometers traveled, in the process of reaching the ceiling of the daily ticket, we stop paying. We are charged for the entire distance - the more we travel, the more it pays off for us. We want to implement such a fare this year and are working on it.
Wiktor: Such a fare could be implemented this year, or at least presented?
Luke: Yes, we are working on this solution. Since the pandemic, we also see that paper tickets are going away to the so-called lamppost. Applications have grown in strength. We are working on a pay-as-you-go MTT system, which would be based on the application of a phone, watch or payment card. This is the so-called bounce back.
Kraków faces the problem of backfilling a financial deficit
© Public Transport Authority of Kraków
Wiktor: Such a system as in Tarnow or Wroclaw?
Łukasz: There, there is a ticket that is simply punched. The means of payment makes us bounce - we erase the ticket with a card, without physically getting it. We are talking about a dynamic fare, such a solution is in London. You apply your phone, and the fare is charged throughout the day. After three trips, there is an erased day ticket.
We would like to try to introduce this system this year through an app. Other systems require several thousand new devices in the city, which will take at least several months.