Poor service, overcrowding, insufficient staff. Alberto Cancian, a long-time pilot for the Venetian transportation company ACTV gives an insider’s account of a badly deteriorated situation.
By Barbara Marengo
6 June 2022
[Ed. Note: I am publishing this article in the wake of ACTV’s recent announcement that it was increasing fees for tourists from 7.50 euro to 9.50 euro. Though the article is a month old the situation it describes has not changed, and as an acquaintance pointed out, a few round trips on a vaporetto will now potentially be more expensive than your flight to Venice.]
On the Sunday of the Vogalonga “I was running ten minutes late, I avoided I don’t know how many accidents in the water with the kayaks coming out from every canal and the shoals without any control, at Piazzale Roma it took me ten minutes to execute the stop because there was no space. Today a colleague leaning on another boat broke a window because he had no place to dock without risking hitting a kayak – the anarchy is total”, relates an agitated Albero Cancian, a pilot for ACTV.
“It’s a social experience getting around on a vaporetto, a natural prolonging of everyday life for all Venetians” wrote Cancian for our journal on 8 May 2020, when in the middle of the Covid pandemic the transportation company ACTV took emergency measures to deal with the crisis. Today Cancian, a pilot with long experience in the company who since 1999 has driven boats on lines 1, 4.1, 5.1 and 5.2, is the union delegate for USB Lavoro Privato Venezia and takes part in the national transportation coordination for the union itself.
The resumption of tourism in the city has coincided with big problems for urban transportation, which is absolutely indispensable for the city residents. The islands in particular, Murano, Burano and Lido are penalized by the crowding of the boats, which have not been increased as happened before the years of the pandemic. Everyone can see the long lines at the vaporetto stops, the delays caused by overcrowded vehicles which very often are not able to take on passengers (as happened Sunday afternoon at San Tomà with the docks full), the ticket booths that remain closed and the complications of tourists who not surprisingly ask for explanations.
Cancian says that it has become a “nightmare” to take a vaporetto, with
“the city administration, which aims to reduce holiday time for the workers, reduce shifts and days off along with summer holidays. The company must guarantee decent service to the citizens, it is not a problem of economic or financial sustainability, because if it is just a question of profit, then I say open all the ticket offices, even at Piazzale Roma or at the airport, when the ACTV ticket offices close early in the morning, unlike those of the competition with active personnel for the passengers on buses that depart at the same time. The number of tourists is greater than that of 2019, it’s fine to want economic sustainability, but my union is not willing to make the workers pay the bill.
At this point the service is indecent, they should apologize to the users, and consider putting more vehicles in the water and on the streets, hiring more young people, who have been hired but don’t know if their employment will be extended. But we need staff in every season, not only the seasonal peaks with the highest numbers of visitors. In two years of pandemic we have taken a step backwards with services that are not able to satisfy the clients; various lines that were vital have been done away with and a new replacement route has not been started. The service is not worthy of the good name of the company that I have the fortune to represent. We were hopeful after the pandemic, but every day we crews experience verbal attacks for the inefficiency and mismanagement.
In our opinion there is a clear intention to downsize the transportation company in order to give a bigger piece of the service to the best or worst offer: over the years Venice has had a transportation service that was the pride of the city, but now they only talk about profits. It is the Administration that is reducing ACTV to a small and badly functioning company. I, as a union member, defend ACTV, I must defend it from interference that means the users and workers are disrespected, favoring private business. The reduction in staff (people retiring are not replaced) and the inadequate hiring of seasonal help makes it so that we have five fewer holidays with compressed shifts. Apart from the question of the union (which has dealt with the company for years at a negotiating table which, for better or worse, has always resolved problems with mutual practical compromises) and the customers are seriously dissatisfied, citizens and tourists. It’s happening in plain sight – the long lines at the stops, the packed boats, the reduced schedules, the protests and the staff on board subjected to considerable tensions between checking masks and managing tourists with luggage, but also faced with dangerous situations such as the fights that frequently break out on board.”
The protests of the customers vary from Giudecca to the islands: and due to the economic crisis and the increase in the price of fuel there are many tourists from neighboring mainland areas who come to the beaches at Lido, especially on the weekend: and the nightmare of returning home boarding a crowded vaporetto is by now a habit.
Barbara Marengo is a Venetian who graduated in Political Science with a contemporary history thesis about press censorship in Venice under Austrian rule, freelance journalist, she has collaborated with various publication and press agencies in Italy and abroad where she has lived for many years. Her research is focused on Venetian history, the subject of conferences and classes.