Pula Promet: Driving forward with modern transport solutions for Pula, Croatia

By Claire Ricklefs

Pula Promet provides modern public transport solutions for historic city in Croatia

The EBRD and the government of the Netherlands are funding a sustainable transport strategy that will bring modern traffic solutions to the historic city of Pula, Croatia . Reforming Pula's public transport system - a crucial part of the new strategy - is key to alleviating the city's traffic problem, especially during the summer tourist season.

Situated on the southern tip of the Istria peninsula in Croatia lies the city of Pula, surrounded by the turquoise waters of the Adriatic and speckled with ancient remains. Towering over the city is the first century amphitheatre, the Arena, the only remaining Roman amphitheatre to have four side towers and all three Roman architectural orders entirely preserved.

Such rich natural beauty and architectural heritage regularly draws in scores of tourists over the summer months. The draw-back: congestion. An estimated 13,500 tourists visit Pula each day during the summer months, only a third of whom use public transport. About 15,000-20,000 cars enter the harbour area each day, blocking the narrow streets in the historic centre.

To tackle these issues, the city is working on a sustainable transport strategy which the EBRD is supporting with €250,000 in Technical Cooperation (TC) funds. Another €50,000 in TC funds have been provided by the Government of the Netherlands as part of the Croatia Small Municipalities Grant Fund for project preparation and for the evaluation of the current traffic and parking management in Pula.

Key players

Under an innovative agreement the city of Pula and the public transport company Pula Promet have entered a public service contract which defines the roles and obligations of both parties, arrangements for service payments to the company, and the quantity and quality of service provided by the company, allowing for increased transparency and accountability.

“We certainly shouldn’t let thousands of people come and look at our beautiful Arena in Pula and let them park for free,” says Igor Škatar, director of Pula Promet, which has been working on the new traffic management strategy together with EBRD and Dutch consultants.

It also doesn’t help that there are no underground parking solutions as Roman remains make it virtually impossible to dig deep in Pula. “We need to redirect traffic via a planned ring road and close the centre to cars to let only buses and taxis through,” Mr Škatar stresses.

While work is under way on two new overground multi-storey car parks, the consultants also recommended implementing three different parking price zones, as well as a park and ride scheme. Under this scheme, visitors would be able to purchase one card with which they would receive discounts for parking and at certain restaurants, shops and museums. The scheme has been recommended to the city, but legal procedures mean its approval and implementation could take several years.

Modernizing public transport

A fleet of new buses has already provided some much needed improvement in the public transport system. Thanks to a €5 million EBRD loan, Pula Promet could replace their old and tired buses, with 22 brand new buses, as well as new software and hardware programmes for traffic management. The new fleet will significantly reduce the emissions of pollutants and noise and improve environment and living conditions in the city. “The new buses gave our customers 90 per cent better quality”, says Mr Škatar.

The company has also introduced a ‘smart card’ system, which allows them to track exactly how many passengers use their buses each day and between which stations. “This is important for planning routes and the amount of buses needed. You cannot rely on bus drivers for such data; if you ask them they will always say ‘Yes, I have passengers on the bus’ as they don’t want their route to be cut down,” Mr Škatar explains. Much like the Oyster card in London, fares are cheaper with the smart card, students travel for less and the over 65s go free.

“We have seen a clear increase in passenger numbers thanks to these new measures,” says Mr Škatar. The company currently counts around 3.6 million passengers per year and has seen a steady increase of 2-3 per cent over recent years. “Once the historic centre is closed to ordinary traffic, we naturally expect more passengers and income.”

The wider, necessary transport reforms are, however, now out of the company’s hands as it is unlikely that any crucial reforms will be discussed or approved before the local elections in May this year. “We need the support of all parties in government,” Mr Škatar emphasises. “But I am certain the new Mayor will make traffic in Pula a priority and that in two years' time our traffic woes will only be a distant memory.”