Our Hungarian tour guide said, “Our country is 15 centuries old and we have had a revolution during every one of them.” There is a lot our young country can learn from the experiences of Europe and that includes much to be copied as well as much to be avoided.
The goal of transportation seems to be to move thousands of people as quickly and efficiently as possible. In Budapest, the LRT shares the road with cars, buses and pedestrians and, of course, there are bike lanes. We learned bikes are supposed to play by the same rules as the rest of the system, even to the point that the police conduct regular breath tests on cyclists. If you test over the alcohol limit, you are fined 500 euros, just like car drivers.
The same thing applies to public transit riders, who are only charged two euros to ride the train, but if caught without a ticket, also receive a huge fine. One comment that was repeated often was that public transit is very safe and tolerance for crime is very low and dealt with severely. There are some lessons there for Calgary.
In a discussion about taxes, I was told that income taxes are assessed in the 10 per cent range as a flat tax, but that sales taxes are in the range of 27 per cent. As the individual I was speaking to stated, “This way, our visitors share the burden of our costs as well as our citizens.”
Like everywhere, there is loud debate about political leadership and in Hungary the opinions of their prime minister, Viktor Orbán, are wide-ranging. His cozy relationship with the Russians is a regular topic of conversation but the buoyant turnaround in the Hungarian economy seems to overshadow everything.
In Budapest, we toured the new Hungarian House of Music, an absolutely gorgeous building that rivals our own National Music Centre. Set down in the middle of a large park, the development was so opposed that the mayor of Budapest wanted nothing to do with it and, in the end, the Hungarian government stepped in and paid for its construction. Two years since its completion, it is a stopping point for every tour bus and a great source of pride for the people.
In Vienna, we were told that the architects of the Vienna State Opera both committed suicide because the design and appearance of the building were so widely criticized that they were humiliated. A 150 years later that same building is revered by the population and is spoken about in almost religious tones.
The importance of infrastructure, whether for culture or transportation, was undeniable, if not immediately appreciated.
It is said that travel broadens the soul and it certainly broadens the waistline and the perspective. There are always a lot of ways to approach the same problem and we would do well to look at solutions and ideas from around the world. The only constant is change and it takes women and men of vision to press on, often in the face of overwhelming criticism. There is so much to learn from the Old World, but just like with our own parents, sometimes the lessons are on how not to do things.
George Brookman is chairman and company ambassador of WCD Ltd.