Prague’s Opencard payment system now ‘cardless’

The Czech capital’s scandal-ridden Opencard scheme faces fresh problems: Prague City Hall has no supplier of new cards 

Tom Jones 28.2.2012
Security questions aside, Opencard is unpopular with data privacy groups | na serveru Lidovky.cz | aktuální zprávy Security questions aside, Opencard is unpopular with data privacy groups | foto: © ČTKČeská pozice
Security questions aside, Opencard is unpopular with data privacy groups

Having cancelled dubious contracts with the nontransparent firm Haguess a year ago, Prague City Hall has still not found an alternative supplier of new chip cards for its ambitious, but costly, payment scheme for city services, called Opencard. As a result, some residents of the Czech capital are having to carry printed confirmation of payment for travel on the Prague’s public transport system, while some 300,000 wait for replacement Opencards.

“At the moment, an exchange of cards isn’t arranged, so we cannot carry it out,” Prague City councilor for information technology and EU funds Eva Vorlíčková (TOP 09) told the news server aktualne.cz, adding that only Haguess, the supplier of the chip cards, has access to the software required to issue new cards.

After paying over Kč 800 million to introduce the Opencard system, early last year Prague City Hall cancelled its contract with Haguess, which received over Kč 417 million for its services. In 2009 an audit conducted by the firm Nexia found that the project had broken public procurement law in that the order of cards and services from Haguess had been divided into a number of smaller contracts — purposely done so as to avoid having to call a public tender.

The Opencard scheme came under fire from civic rights NGO Iuridicum Remedium (IuRe) for its method of collecting personal information. The Office for the Protection of Personal Information responded to the complaints (ÚOOÚ) and the Prague administration was consequently forced to revise the system of processing information to guarantee holders’ anonymity within the service center system.

The cards issued by Haguess also contain RFID (radio-frequency identification) chips that enable the tracking. Some security experts warn that with the right card reader information can be read from these cards when in close proximity to a holder, though no incidents of ID theft involving Opencards have been reported.

Vorlíčková told aktualne.cz that although Prague City Hall has taken over management of the service center from Haguess, the nontransparent firm — allegedly part controlled by controversial ODS “godfather” and lobbyist Roman Janoušek — still holds the key to the software required to issue new cards.

Councilors are now considering postponing the replacement of around 300,000 cards and extending the validity of cards delivered by Haguess.

After cancelling the contract, Prague City Hall last year ordered a one-off batch of cards from the firm Monet, but these ran out last October. Since then instead Prague residents buying new travel passes have been issued with paper confirmation of payment, but no card.

The City has reportedly ordered a new batch from Monet and issued a tender for a permanent supplier. However, the tender commission has only met once.