The last rant of 2012, I promiseBy
I can’t resist — well, I don’t know if I can’t, because I haven’t tried — recounting the latest arabesques from the ACTV. And lest you think I am obsessed with the public transport system here, let me defend my little manias by saying that it’s not so much the ACTV that I’m obsessed with so much as I am with absurdities and preposterosities. They have a fatal fascination for me. My father was the same way. And the ACTV is the Venetian equivalent of Old Faithful, gushing an unfailing flood of reckless absurdity over the the lives of innocent, unoffending travelers who have paid their money to go somewhere and have found themselves instead on the road to the looney bin.
Christmas Day. I thought everybody knew that the entire world has important plans which involve some sort of travel. But if you were to have been so ill-starred as to need to go between the Lido and Tronchetto (d/b/a/ the mainland) on the morning of our Saviour’s birth, you’d have spent all morning praying in your car. A car almost certainly loaded with children, gifts for relatives, and perhaps foodstuffs not packed for long-term transport.
According to the report in the Gazzettino, the reserved spaces for cars on the ferryboats for Christmas Day had been sold out almost a week earlier. Which meant that — not to put too fine a point on it — the ACTV had time to prepare reinforcements, because it is obvious to anyone who has ever been alive on Christmas Day that masses of people who needed to travel but hadn’t managed to book a space would just show up. And so it was: On the morning of one of the busiest travel days in the year, hundreds of cars were lined up, at the Lido and also at Tronchetto, just waiting.
This was Olympics-level waiting, waiting on the grand scale. Because the ACTV had put only two (2) ferryboats into service that morning. One (1) going each way.
The two “flagships” (“Lido di Venezia” and “San Nicolo'”) were out of service for scheduled maintenance work. Not emergency maintenance, which would be moderately excusable, but work that had been scheduled by some large intellect for the holiday period. Not only does this border on madness from the public-service point of view, it’s also insane because who would be working over Christmas? Except, I mean, in an emergency capacity.
The enraged would-be passengers began a surge of protest on Facebook and (I suppose) Twitter. The ACTV, roused by this from its torpor, launched extra boats — the two smallest ferries, “Marco Polo” at 12:05 and “Ammiana” (no heating, but who cares at this point) at 12:20. For someone who might have had a two-hour trip ahead of them, this wouldn’t translate as “Way to go, ACTV, you’ve saved the day,” but “Thanks, ACTV, you’ve dismembered my Christmas.”
Note: Due to the “excellent work” of Mauro Minio, may his tribe increase and all go to work for the ACTV, the “Lido di Venezia” was sufficiently repaired in order to begin service that afternoon at 4:00 PM.
All this needs no comment from me, but why should that stop me? The ACTV isn’t expected to stop the war in Syria. It isn’t expected to eradicate malaria. It isn’t expected to adopt Ukrainian orphans. It isn’t expected to anything but provide the means, for payment, by which the public may go from here to there. But that seems to be too much to expect. Pay, yes. Transport you to where you’re going? In the immortal words of Jack Benny, they’re thinking about it, they’re thinking about it.
Breaking news: The ACTV has announced a severe crackdown on scofflaws who ride for free. Naturally there are people who skip the ticket-buying process. The company makes cheating irresistible, what with gouging the passengers with the price of tickets and then not bothering to maintain any system of checking them (I cannot remember, even if you promised me a house in Aspen, the last time a ticket-checker appeared).
Furthermore, ever since the new, computerized system of electronic tickets replaced the old paper version, you’re required to “beep” your ticket on a little machine before climbing aboard. Even if you have a month’s pass, you’re required to “beep.” Anyone caught with an un-beeped ticket is counted as someone who didn’t pay.
No one has ever understood why a person with a once-beeped monthly pass has to keep beeping it or be punished. The ACTV says it’s to get accurate statistics on ridership.
For a while, the ACTV put posters up in the vaporettos and buses complimenting themselves that the percentage of freeloaders had dropped from 8.20 percent to 1.16 percent under their intense vigilance. But the numbers conceal an unpleasant fact, which is that the directors’ bonuses are directly linked to the percentage of deadbeats they catch. In the real world, that would make sense. Prizes are supposed to be given for performance. But wait.
Davide Scalzotto wrote about this in the Gazzettino a month ago, headined (I translate): “The mystery of onboard evasion, and the mystery of the company’s bonuses.” It was inspired by the press conference held to announce the new program to install turnstiles on the docks (there already are some in operation) and buses, turnstiles which are going to stop freeloaders forever. But the company didn’t give specific numbers to delineate the dimensions of the problem, making it impossible to know how efficient they actually have been and, more to the point, how necessary these expensive turnstiles really are.
As Scalzotto points out, the ACTV is stuck. If they admit that evasion is high, they don’t have any basis for awarding bonuses. But on the other hand, if they say evasion is low (“We did it!”), they don’t have any basis for justifying the new turnstiles.
The data provided by the ACTV shows that in 2009 (one year after the electronic, or IMOB, system was instituted), the rate of evasion on the vaporettos was 0.49 percent, and on the buses was 1.72 percent. In 2011 the rate was 0.64 percent on water and 2.12 on land.
The limit below which bonuses are automatically awarded is fixed at 0.70 and 2.0 percent. This is extraordinary: The numbers given for diminished evasion are just a squeak under the limit which permits the bonuses. I’m not sure how they got around the 2.0 ceiling, but bonuses to the ACTV are like rain in Cherrapunjee, India: Inevitable.
Now a city councilor, Sebastiano Costalonga, has opened an inquiry which will seek to obtain the certifiable passenger/evasion numbers from 2010 to today, and discover the parameters which are used to determine the bonuses.
But keep this in mind. The ACTV has declared that they’re 8 million euros in the red. The turnstiles will cost around 5 million euros. Apart from the fact that these turnstiles will create a sack of problems, as we say here, for the passengers, how can the ACTV keep raising ticket prices because they’re broke, if at the same time they’re so ready to spend money they don’t have?
For something which — if their own numbers are to be believed — isn’t necessary in the first place. Because if they really have driven down the percentage of cheapskates with hardly any turnstiles, what’s the point of adding more turnstiles?
I promise to change the subject in 2013. Not for the entire year, but at least for a little while.
Happy New Year.