A Fine Tradition of Bureaucracy


Perhaps here in Franz Kafka’s home city of Prague I shouldn’t be surprised by unduly complicated process. Process, after all, held together the vast Austro-Hungarian Empire into which he was born. But since1992, when I first came to live here, three years after the fall of state socialism,  I’ve enjoyed seeing a gradual loosening of the old ways, where form trumped content, and where complex procedures were executed stubbornly and rigidly, regardless of their usefulness.

But let’s compare what you have to do to buy an annual season ticket for the Metro here in Prague and what you have to do in London.

In London there’s something called an Oyster Card onto which you can load, electronically, the value or credentials that enable you to use tubes and buses. You walk to your nearest tube station, ask for an application form, fill it in there and then, get your card, and buy whatever you want to buy – a pay-as-you-go value, a monthly pass, an annual pass and so on. Five minutes, if there is no queue. And you can usually expect courtesy.

In Prague there’s something called an Open Card onto which you can also load, electronically, the value or credentials that enable you to use the metro, trams and buses You go to just a very few eligible offices in the centre of the city, you wait in a fairly substantial queue, you fill in a substantial form (in duplicate), you supply a passport photo and you show your ID card or passport. Then you wait two weeks for the card to be delivered to your nearest post office, you pick it up and then take it back to the Metro office to load onto it the value or credentials you want to buy. Two weeks at least. And you can usually expect impatience.


I can’t understand who benefits from this quite unnecessarily complex and time-wasting process. Or if there are some small benefits (avoidance of card misuse?) the costs of administration are surely greater.

But this is the long hand of Hapsburg bureaucracy, reaching out from the 19th century. It survived, perhaps it even enjoyed, communism, and it’s still alive and kicking.

2 thoughts on “A Fine Tradition of Bureaucracy

  1. Hi,
    Actually you can get the Opencard immediately same as the Oyster card. You just have to pay 250CZK instead of 100CZK. Also, you can get an anonymous version of this card with none of your personal details or photo as long as you are willing to pay more for the monthly, quarterly or annual pass. On the other hand, the anonymous version of the card has one advantage over the standard one. Since, it is not bound to you anyhow it can be used by anyone.
    No matter whether the standard one or the anonymous, today (1st half of 2015) might not be the best day to get the Opencard since it seems that the Prague city will replace it with something else and you would have to queue, fill in a new form and wait for a card once again very soon.
    Regarding the bureaucracy.
    Here in Czech Republic, we have a habit of having a form for everything and over the years a mildly rude saying was born from this habit. This saying can be translated something like “give a moron an authority and he invents a bumf (form)”. I may be proven wrong but I don’t think this has something to do with the Austro-Hungarian Empire and I think that this saying can be applied to any country all over the world.
    In the end, we all are just descendants of one Eve (no matter whether you believe in the one created by a divine entity or the one born in Africa)


  2. Petr, thanks. You must be right. It is my own British Imperialism, perhaps, that is at fault, in that I haven’t learned Czech well enough to understand the rules. I didn’t know you could get it immediately for a higher payment.

    But, actually, that is still a bit silly!


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