PRAGUE – The good news for visitors to the Czech capital: the newly expanded A line of Prague's subway network that opened this week will comfortably take them from downtown closer than ever to the city's international airport.
The bad news: To board the No. 119 bus that covers the final 8 kilometers (5 miles) between the Nadrazi Veleslavin station and Vaclav Havel Airport, they have to climb 32 steep stairs from the subway station to the bus terminal.
The reason? The 20 billion koruna ($787 million) project didn't budget for an escalator there.
It looks like a detail, but tell that to some 3.5 million passengers of more than 11 million using the airport yearly, for whom the bus is the most convenient option.
Prague still lacks a direct train connection with the airport, so the options are to go by car or risk a rip-off by Prague's notorious cab drivers.
To solve the problem at the subway station, the airport has hired luggage porters to help travelers from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
"The missing escalator is the reason," said Prague airport spokesman Michal Rehorek. The service is provided free of charge.
One of the porters, Radek Mojzis, a 23-year-old student at Prague's School of Economics, said his motivation to do the job was "to stay fit and help the elderly."
The city's transport authority, the Prague Public Transport Company, said the Nadrazi Veleslavin station was planned to be a transport hub for the airport — for connections to trains, not busses.
So there is an escalator in place, connecting with the unbuilt train station.
The train project is delayed and "it became impossible" to change the original project, company spokesman Jiri Stabl said. "We don't feel it is a mistake of the transport company."
Meanwhile, authorities are considering adding an escalator or other means to help passengers, but it is not clear when that can happen. When the train project might be completed is also unknown.
Travelers might use a lift located at another part of the subway station to get to the surface. But then, they have to cross a busy road to get to the bus terminal.