Italian passion for cars ebbs as Milan warms to congestion fee

September 15, 2014

Photo: R. Ragu

Photo: R. Ragu

From Vespas to Ferraris, Italians have long had a love affair with motorised vehicles, but an urban transport revolution in their country’s second-largest city has caused many to ditch them in favour of public and shared transport options.

Commuters have been deterred from driving into Milan’s city centre thanks to a congestion charge scheme – similar to one in London – that levies a 5—euro (6.5—dollar) charge on drivers who enter a zone called Area C.

“Having a car is no longer a status symbol like it was in the past,” Mayor Giuliano Pisapia, 65, said.

“Young people have embraced this, even if it is more difficult to accept for older generations like mine or that of my parents.” Since the introduction of Area C in January 2012, the number of cars entering Milan’s downtown zone every day has dropped from around 130,000 to 90,000. Over the same period, the city’s car-sharing programmes have grown to more than 180,000 subscribers. “I hear more and more people telling me, ‘We don’t need a car,’” Damiano Di Simine, regional head of Legambiente environmental lobby, said. “Milan is de-motorising itself, it’s happening.” Almost 80 per cent of Milan residents voted in favour of the congestion charge in a non-binding referendum in 2011. But bureaucratic wrangling, popular protests and legal appeals against the scheme delayed the creation of Area C, Pisapia said.

The centre-left mayor, who unexpectedly beat a Berlusconi-backed conservative incumbent three years ago, said sceptics of the congestion charge had come around to the idea, pointing to a poll from last year showing that 58.5 per cent of residents backed Area C.

“At first, even I did not agree with the principle,” said Pisapia, a trained lawyer . “The horrific traffic jams that you see on the days Area C is turned off have convinced [the sceptics]. I am quite sure that any administration coming after me would not scrap it.”

Not everything is rosy in Milan, however. Critics say Area C needs to be expanded considerably to solve Milan’s endemic pollution problems, which have prompted threats of economic sanctions from the European Union.DPA


Source:The Hindu

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