Archive for Transport
A few times each year, the subject of motondoso leaps into the headlines. I wrote about some of this phenomenon a good while ago. While I wait for more pressing news to emerge, I will add this post to the general fund of knowledge. Don’t be looking for a happy ending.
- Studies by the Venice Project Center have shown several facts in crisp detail.
- The height of the waves increases exponentially as speed increases. A small barge traveling at 5 km/h would produce a wake about 2 cm high. The same boat going at 10 km/h produces a wake of nearly 15 cm. (Multiply the speed by 2, multiply the wake by 7.)
- Virtually all boats exceed the speed limit. The average speed on all boats in all canals was 12 km/h, which is more than 7 km/h over the maximum speed limit.
- Therefore, reducing the speed of the boats would drastically decrease the size of their wakes.
The area available for waves to dissipate. This is a crucial factor because all these hydrodynamic formulas wouldn’t have to matter except for those pesky canals, whose walls trap the waves.
The waves travel till they hit a wall, then bounce back, then hit the other wall, and this continues till they wear themselves out and disappear. Depending on how much traffic passes in the canal in question, they might disappear sometime around midnight. Typically, enough boats a day(and it doesn’t have to be thousands) pass through so many canals making so many waves that they don’t have time to dissipate, so they just keep going, banging back and forth into each other and into each side of the canal. each time giving just another little hammer-blow to whatever building they reach. That probably didn’t need to be explained. The depth of the water also influences the waves in certain ways, but of course the depth varies according to the tide, so let’s move on.
Building foundations. This is obvious. Some Venetians have told me that they believe nothing will be done to resolve this situation till an entire building collapses. Stay tuned.
- The lagoon, more specifically the barene and everything that depends on them. I will say more on this on my page about the lagoon, but briefly, the barene (bah-RAY-neh) are the marshy, squidgy islets strewn about the lagoon.
They form 20 percent of the lagoon area, and their benefit is to the entire lagoon ecosystem: microorganisms, plants, animals, birds, fish. For millennia they also slowed down the speed and force of the tide, but as the waves continue to obliterate them (50 percent of the barene have been lopped away by waves in 60 years), their benefits are denied to everyone. So it’s not only the foundations of buildings which are under attack, so are the foundations of the lagoon.
People. Waves are a hazard to ordinary people in several ways. The most obvious is the risk of capsizing. Even on land, you can’t be sure you’re safe. The insidious subterranean erosion caused by the waves continually sucking soil out from under pavements means that sometimes a person suddenly falls into a hole. It happened to a woman walking along near the Giardini one day — she put her foot on a stone, it collapsed, she fell into a hole higher than she was. Nobody in the neighborhood was surprised; they’d been sending complaints to the city to no avail. Then there was the child playing on a stretch of greensward at Sacca Fisola facing the Giudecca Canal who suddenly fell into an unsuspected weak spot in the ground. If a man with quick reflexes hadn’t grabbed him, the child would have long since gone out to sea.
The Venetians have a saying: “Water has no bones.” This means that water can go anywhere it wants to. They should know — Venice has a long history of brilliant hydraulic engineering, up to and including cutting the river Po to re-route it southward, thus preventing the eventual silting-up of the lagoon. If they hadn’t done this in 1604, Venice would have long since been surrounded by cornfields. Or more probably by the world’s biggest parking lot. This knowledge and sense of self-preservation now exists only in a vastly sub-divided and disconnected form which only serves one tiny, specific purpose, usually unrelated to any larger context.
Division of jurisdiction. The term “battle against motondoso” is now a cliche. But exactly who is conducting this battle? By now there is “an exuberance,” as the Italians might put it, of agencies and organizations involved in some way in managing the lagoon. The Magistrato alle Acque was established in 1501 to resolve administrative conflicts and simplify redundancies. Now it’s just one more in the herd. The lagoon is divided into areas overseen by agencies representing a large array of sometimes incompatible interests, charged with enforcing laws which sometimes contradict each other. The waters lapping at Venice’s feet are subdivided according to their primary use: shipping channels, small internal canals, approaches, which are variously overseen by the Capitaneria di Porto, the Magistrato alle Acque, the city of Venice and/or the province of Venice. Parts of the lagoon have been designated as Special Protection Areas (SPA) under the European Habitats Directive, but they exclude the central part of the lagoon, the major shipping lanes, and the shoreline Industrial Area — just the places where motondoso is most likely to be found.
Everybody with a boat. Over time, the voices blaming everyone else blend like an entire city singing “Three Blind Mice.” (I would say “Row, row, row your boat,” but that would be silly.) The vaporetto drivers say it’s the barges. The barge drivers say it’s the taxis. The taxi drivers say it’s the private boats. The private boats say it’s everybody but them. And so it goes. I’m not sure what the legal value is of a defense strategy formed around “I did it, but he did it worse.” But whoever is in a motorboat for work reasons considers himself to have a free pass. And whoever is in a motorboat for fun automatically counts himself out because he’s not there every day, so how could he count as a culprit?
Studies by the Venice Project Center have revealed that the highest wakes are produced by the small barges (“topo-motore“). Next were the taxis. Vaporettos produced the least, but that doesn’t let them off the hook entirely, for two reasons. One, “least” doesn’t mean they produce no wake, so I don’t regard “least” as any kind of gold star. Second, instead of bigger waves they produce something which none of the other motorboats do, which is a powerful whirlpool.
Every time a vaporetto ties up to the dock to let passengers on and off, the motor stays in full-steam-ahead mode. The reason given is that it makes the boat more secure for the passengers in transit. I won’t contest that here, but will say that the vortex creates a kind of suction effect (think of rinsing out your mouth) which is also damaging to the nearby foundations.
What to do? Stricter enforcement of speed limits. It’s the most obvious solution, even to Venetians. Generally speaking, the limit in the small inner canals is 5 km/h, in the Grand Canal and some larger canals it’s 7 km/h, and in some others (such as the Canale di Tessera leading to the airport) it’s 11 km/h. But, as noted earlier, these are just numbers on a page. Many and varied have been the proposals, most of which have some merit but which frequently suffer from the fatal flaw of being unenforceable. Shortage of personnel, inter-bureau jealousies, and lack of consistency and simple lack of will on the part of everyone has shown this solution to be impossible. I don’t mean literally impossible, I just mean impossible here. Require hulls and horsepower to be changed to the minimum-wave-producing conformation. Nobody wants to pay to get a new boat with a less wave-inducing hull, though it occurs to me that now would be a brilliant moment to launch a “Cash for Clunkers” program for commercial boats. If cost is the only thing holding people back (it isn’t) this would be an intelligent place to start. If it’s not cost, what is it? Civic pride isn’t even mentioned as an incentive.
It’s Sloth. “We’ve always done it this way.” “It’s too much trouble.” “Why me?” How to overcome that? You can’t. It’s as difficult to convince workers-with-boats as it is poachers that they are gradually killing their source of livelihood. You can only create a new situation and then enforce it till it becomes habit. I have several solutions in mind, each of which would have an appreciable, even dramatic, effect on motondoso. The costs involved are all to be considered as investments in the future not only of the person using the boat, but of the city itself.
- Redesign the vaporettos. Actually, this was on the way to being done, then the project slowly sank from sight and history into the swamp that is the political biosphere here. You should have a look at the Mangia Onda (wave-eater) hull design, and the prototype airport launch. The prototype had the advantage of being paid for by its inventor, which got it very far down the road. That was in 2001. The documents must be in a drawer somewhere. Or as one site sums up: “Don’t even ask what happened.”
- While that is going on, reconfigure the timetables to impose slower — much, much slower — speed limits on everybody. I don’t know why this seems to be such a difficult idea; evidently the mania for speed has blinded everyone to the fact that these changes would only involve five or fifteen — let’s say twenty, hey — minutes more for each run. Passengers, be they residents or tourists, can’t plan for an extra twenty minutes in transit? Why? They do it on an unplanned basis on the mainland all the time — all it takes is an accident somewhere and traffic backs up forever. Why do water-buses have to go faster? To carry more people?
- There are already so many vaporettos in operation that, especially in the Grand Canal, they have to just float there in neutral, waiting their turn to tie up at the dock while the previous boat finishes and casts off. If we were to see buses on the mainland pulling over to wait until their stop became available on a regular basis, we’d think it was kind of nutty. Same for boats. It’s a sign of unintelligent management.
- Install permanent cofferdams to protect anything a wave can reach. This would be most of the city and its canals. Not pretty, perhaps, for tourists who like to think the city is still living in the 15th century, but then again, the same tourists use vaporettos, taxis, launches, and other motorized boats and don’t seem to find it aesthetically jarring. This approach has always been used in the short-term to make it possible to repair ravaged structures; 50 years ago, squads of men beat a row of tightly connected wooden pilings into the sediment, and blocked it with dense lagoon mud to keep out the canal’s water. Today, there are always places in the city where you can see iron cofferdams serving the same purpose. I’d say if you’ve got them, just leave them there. And add them to the rest of the city’s edges.
- Change human nature. (I’ll get right on that.) Or how about changing the political landscape? Not much easier. But the city government has a view of its purpose in life whose range is far, far too short. Grandiose goals, certainly, but they’re sliced and diced, doled out here and there, or left to rot. The political philosophy here appears to qualify as what Herbert Marcuse called “repressive tolerance.” A good example is when your father says, “Yes, you can have it, but not today.” You don’t say no, but it never happens anyway. The city government has become expert at this maneuver.
If I were in charge, I would add the following to all of the above:
- Require completely new hull forms for each category of boat (for instance, returning the taxi to its primordial motorized shape, with the motor in the center of the boat rather than the stern, which creates much more wake).
- Most, if not all, of these hulls would be of the “wave-eating” form, a heretofore experimental design invented in 1998 by Americans Bill Burns and Charles Robinson . Its few demonstration runs have shown it to be effective but nobody has studied the effect of large numbers of them. Still, it’s a dramatic start. There is a saga behind all this, too, because in 2001 the company announced that one of these boats would be in service by the end of that year. As another web-site devoted to this project put it, “As for what happened, don’t even ask.”
I would also stipulate a limit on the horsepower of each category, including pleasure boats. Since people can’t retain the concept of slowing down on their own, I suggest requiring their equipment do it for them. As for those who might protest, I would have a one-size-fits-all response: Do it or seek employment elsewhere. The world must be full of people who would be happy to work for even one quarter of what your average taxi driver (I refer to the legal ones, not the fleet of illegal ones) makes in a year. Or even what they make in a month. If this notion for some reason is deemed unfeasible (I can’t see why), I would suggest immediately hiring a large quantity of extra police solely to enforce speed limits, imposing fines so steep that a quick calculation on the back of an envelope would show that it made more sense to buy a new, non-wave-making boat right now than pay two fines. The vital element here is that a person has to be at least 99 percent convinced that he will be caught and fined, a certainty which can’t exist today when the forces of public order have been reduced to skeleton crews who mainly race around solving emergencies.
The councilor for Tourism and Decorum, Augusto Salvadori, made a proposal some while back (I think he even may have made it twice): Engage squads of volunteers from the ranks of the rowing clubs, whose job would be to row around and blow whistles at whatever transgressors they encounter. This might possibly work (I’m being generous here) if there were enough people, if there were immediate and drastic follow-up, and if the transgressors weren’t inclined to run you over. My sense is that none of these conditions apply. Well, there’s prayer. They’ve tried that too. A few years ago there was a big initiative to amass members of all of the rowing clubs at the church of the Madonna della Salute (Our Lady of Health) on November 21, her feast-day. Considering that she saved Venice in 1630 from the catastrophic plague which was destroying the city, there was some poetic power in the notion of everyone going to her church and offering a candle in supplication for salvation from this latest plague. Grand symbolic gestures are so much fun; they make everybody feel so good. Reminds you of why Italian opera is so impressive. Then it’s over, and everybody goes home. And tomorrow begins just like it did yesterday, and nothing has changed.
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.
Every time I tell an arriving friend that a single ride on the vaporetto here is going to cost 7 euros ($9.26), I stifle a shriek. Though if I were to let myself shriek, it might cover the sound of my friend’s shriek. Or gasp. Or disbelieving laugh.
Why vocalize at all? Because the city covers roughly a mere four square miles (ten square kilometers), and while ten dollars may not seem unreasonable if you want to travel the length of the Grand Canal on the faithful #1 from Piazzale Roma on to the end of the line at the Lido (apart from the crushing crowds, it could qualify as one of the cheaper scenic boat tours in the world, I guess), it seems a demented price if you only need to go four or five stops.
For the record, I have done some calculations, and the average distance between stops is 1,141 feet (348 meters). The time involved in each leg is usually around five minutes. If you only need to go a few stops, the price comes to a lot per minute. It’s true that you can often reach your destination faster on foot, but not if you’re lost, and dragging suitcases the size and weight of the foundation stones of the Great Ziggurat of Babylon.
Note to readers: There are unlimited-ride tickets available for specified lengths of time for much less per ride, but that’s beside my point.
Returning to my point: The cost of public transportation in the most-beautiful-city-in-the-world. It wasn’t always thus, back when there were more residents than tourists. But over the years, although the number of residents has fallen, the number of tourists has risen which, according to my primitive notion of economics, ought to mean that the price of a ticket should shrink. Silly me.
“We have no money” remains the one-size-fits-all justification given by the ACTV, the transport company, for anything it does or doesn’t do; it has adopted this motto from the city government as a whole (note: the city is a part shareholder in the ACTV).
But why do we have no money? One reason could be the effect of the thieving ticket-sellers; there was a lively period in which sticky-fingered employees were turning up all over, discovered selling tickets worth a fraction of the price they charged for them and pocketing the difference, or counterfeiting tickets (back in the paper-ticket days), or other simple little dodges that worked surprisingly well for a surprisingly long time, taking home what amounted to multiple thousands of euros.
Another reason for the belt-tightening which was given in the somewhat distant past (and my favorite): “Do you have any idea what a can of paint costs?” Visions pass through my mind of surging oceans of paint upon which little bits of tickets are floating.
But a new glimpse of why they have no money may be discerned in a recent series of detailed articles in the Gazzettino, and the reason is the simplest of all: The ACTV has no money because they’ve spent way too much of it, particularly on failed conveyances.
There was the revolutionary vaporetto dubbed the “Mangia-onde” (or Waves-Eater, a nice, Norse-saga sort of nickname) which was going to banish waves and make their destructive effects a fading memory. It was built by the M Ship Co, of San Diego, California. One craft was bought and came to Venice in 1999 to great fanfare and trailing clouds of glory and the promise of the salvation of the city from motondoso.
But it was too good to be true. Not because it created waves, but because it created problems. For example, it wasn’t adapted to lagoon conditions (I take that to mean it was unstable); it didn’t pass under the bridges, such as the Ponte delle Guglie, and also the hull wasn’t fireproof.
The Mangia-onde was taken to a shipyard in Castello where it sat, abandoned, for 13 years. A few weeks ago this once-proud herald of the future, which had cost 900,000,000 lire (464,811 euros, or $651,061) was sold to a private buyer for 20,000 euros ($26,465). Without the motor. Nobody seems to know what happened to it.
The current director of the ACTV, Maurizio Castagna, was also director in the late Nineties. He explained that the boat was put aside because “It didn’t meet the standards of the Italian Naval Registry, and also because of a series of onerous (that means “expensive”) maintenance interventions and adaptations of the boat to the lagoon area.” One certainly couldn’t be expected to know what the legal nautical standards were (I’m thinking of the fireproofing), or what characteristics a boat has to have in order to putter around the lagoon, especially if you’re in the aquatic transportation business. So that was that.
Bonus digression: The saga of the bargain ferryboat a few years back. Just more of the same old from the ACTV.
There is now the “Sandra Z.” to consider, a motonave which the Gazzettino has dubbed the “latest ‘hole in the water’ of the ACTV.” She too was built and unveiled to great pomp in 1999, and since 2006 she too has been nestling in mothballs.
She was built (in Messina, curiously, not at a Venetian shipyard, but let’s not get distracted) to carry 1,200 passengers — the perfect vehicle for the pilgrims traveling around Italy in the Jubilee year of 2000 (who never materialized, in Venice, anyway). But even if they had shown up, they’d have had to start a new round of prayers and supplications after climbing aboard.
The system of propulsion created serious problems of maneuverability. The “Schottel” (name of its German company) enables the propellers to work at 360 degrees, which — says the Gazzettino — transformed the ship into a sort of spinning top that couldn’t be managed by its captains, not to mention the unpleasant effect on the passengers.
I am not qualified to make any judgment on the qualities of this propulsion system; I have no doubt that it is excellent in many situations. Just not on a motonave. Which couldn’t have been tested, it seems, before it was too late.
Four months after its launch, it ran into the wall at the cemetery island of San Michele (four injured); not long after, it ran into the dock at Punta Sabbioni. The electronic system went crackerdogs. Finally, in July, 2002, the “Sandra Z.,” pulling away from the Ponte della Paglia by the Doge’s Palace, caused two gondolas to run into each other and their passengers ended up in the drink.
She kept on randomly running into docks until 2006, when the ACTV tied her up and turned her into a floating storehouse.
Cost: 7 miliards of the old lire (4,000,000 euro, or $5,293,000).
“No ghe xe schei.” We have no money. I begin to see why. And I begin to see why vaporetto tickets have to paid for with small gold ingots.