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.