Strike called off against canal regulations imposed by Venice City Council
After a 3-day strike by commercial transport boats and taxis in Venice in protest against new regulations for Grand Canal traffic imposed by Venice City Council, an agreement was reached late afternoon on 15 November 2013. The strike started on 13 November and the strikers had indicated they were prepared to persist. A meeting between City Council representatives, merchants and taxis drivers was held on 15 November and an end to the strike was announced. The agreement eased the restrictions for commercial traffic, especially rejecting the ban under the Rialto Bridge and reducing limitations under the smaller Cerva Bridge. A one-way system was agreed between the Fontego dei Tedeschi and San Salvador canals. But no change to the GPS and CCTV controlling of traffic was announced, although another meeting was arranged for 26 November. The initial agreement was reported here:
Merci e taxi, sciopero sospeso accordo raggiunto con il Comune
The agreement came after Venice’s Grand Canal had been unusually calm over three days, as explained and photographed by the Venice newspaper Il Gazzettino here:
A Venezia un Canal Grande deserto: acque immobili e nessuna barca
Only the delivery of milk, school meals and medicines for hospitals were assured. Hotels were reporting shortages of fruit and vegetables. This led to considerable short-term disruption of the city. Nevertheless, this was a brave and necessary action to challenge the more significant, costly and long-term disruptions that could result from the new regulations. In addition, the new regulations will reduce freedom of Venice’s waterways by introducing identification plates on gondolas and tracking them with GPS and CCTV cameras. As Silvio Dal Zennaro, one representative of the strikers, commented, “they want to control with the GPS”. This quote and the details of the strike can be viewed by clicking on this link:
Fermo barca, città senza merci: garantiti solo latte e medicine
The proposed regulations followed the tragic crash between a gondola and water bus on Venice’s Grand Canal on 17 August 2013. Then Venice City Council proposed 26 new regulations on 26 August. The accident killed German university lecturer Jaochim Vogel and threw his family into the water, leading to minor head injuries to his 3-year old daughter. This was a terrible accident for the Vogel family and improvements to Venice’s busy canals are needed to reduce the chances of future accidents. Yet the 26 proposals by Venice City Council and Venice Mayor Giorgio Orsoni will make life more difficult for people in Venice without addressing the problem of congested canals.
Firstly, it is important to note that the gondolier, Stefano Pizzagia, who was navigating the gondola in which Vogel was crushed to death, tested positive for cocaine and hashish at the time of the accident. Therefore, irresponsible drug-taking by Pizzagia seems likely to have been a factor in the accident as he failed to guide his gondola away from the water bus. The dynamics of the accident are still being examined using video camera evidence and there is also the possibility that another gondola made a manoeuvre which contributed to the accident, as discussed in this article in the Venetian newspaper La Nuova Venezia on 27 August 2013:
Incidente in Canal Grande. C’è un altro indagato: è un secondo gondoliere
However, it is already clear that Pizzagia should be severely punished and people navigating boats in Venice should not be under the influence of drugs. Moreover, this rare accident and irresponsible behaviour should not lead to widespread regulations that will affect all those who use Venice’s canals.
Venice Mayor Orsoni told the BBC “we need some discipline” on 26 August after announcing 26 new regulations. “These measures will require some sacrifices for citizens,” added Orsoni, as quoted in this BBC article:
Venice seeks safer canal traffic after fatal gondola crash
These 26 regulations include proposals to:
* Reduce ACTV water bus services with the prospect raised of cancelling the fast Line 2 service and increasing the slow Line 1 service
* Ban private boats from the Grand Canal between 6 am and 12 am
* Gondola boats will only be able to operate after a certain time in the morning (probably 10.30 am). They will no longer be able to navigate the Grand Canal in a multiple ‘caravan’ formation
* Gondolas will be fitted with identification plates using identification numbers. GPS trackers will check if gondolas are where they are meant to be and CCTV camera operators will be able to observe if gondoliers are breaking any rules, as discussed here:
Venice in reflective mood over gondola safety changes
* Boats collecting trash will only be able to operate during the night
* There will be fixed hours for commercial boats delivering cargo
* Remove some small docks to create more canal space
* Regular drug tests for gondoliers with fixed police check points at the Rialto Bridge and Punta della Dogana
* Ban the use of cell phones and other hand-held devices while navigating a boat
* Restrict navigating particular canals by commercial traffic, large tourist boats and water taxis, especially on the Grand Canal, Rio di Noale – Rio Novo and the Punta della Dogana
Details of the proposals are in this article in La Nuova Venezia on 26 August 2013: Canal Grande, la rivoluzione del traffico acqueo. Representatives of gondoliers, labor unions and citizens’ groups have challenged the imposition of the regulations that will not improve the safety of citizens, as outlined here:
Sciopero di taxi e trasporto merci a Venezia Il prefetto allerta la polizia: “Garantire i servizi”
While objections have been voiced about details of these regulations, the long-standing proposal to construct a subway as a solution to canal congestion and environmental damage is being ignored. As explained in my book, Venice in Environmental Peril? Myth and Reality (2012), an underwater subway train system has been debated for many years. In 2008, a design was submitted to Venice City Council for tubes through the lagoon to connect the Lido, Murano, Tessera near the airport, the Arsenal and Fondamente Nuove. Plans for 12 proposed stations were exhibited at Venice’s Santa Marta in 2010. A subway train system would reduce the need for public water buses, water taxis and some cargo could also be transported by trains. In addition to reducing congestion and the risk of accidents, the subway would diminish lagoon erosion and wave damage caused by tens of thousands of boat trips every day. Yet environmental activists have consistently campaigned against the subway and the Nosublagunare committee collected 12,000 signatures to put pressure on Venice City Council to ignore the project.
Instead of seriously considering the subway, Venice City Council has increased boat traffic by introducing ‘Art’ water buses, which are notoriously sparse of passengers. Also, allowing private water buses to compete with the state-owned ACTV water buses has increased congestion; there should be one publicly-run water bus service.
Venice City Council and Venice Mayor Orsoni have established a clear policy orientation based on more regulation and competing services. This will not significantly reduce congestion or reduce the risk of accidents. Indeed, the day after commercial traffic on the Grand Canal resumed after the strike, a water bus crashed into a gondola near the Rialto Bridge:
Vaporetto urta una gondola: turisti con il fiato sospeso in Canal Grande
Thankfully, no one was hurt this time. Yet, in the aftermath of August’s tragic accident, reducing congestion in Venice will require bold proposals for infrastructure development. The strikers should be commended for challenging Venice City Council’s new regulations, but we should also be suggesting more ambitious changes to transporting cargo and passengers around the city.