In any city, a large part of the carbon output and energy draw can be accredited to the transportation network. In inefficient cities (read L.A.), transportation is burdened by heavy individualized and long distance traffic. This results in people driving alone, in automobiles, for an excessively long period of time. Efficient transportation cities (read New York), are characterized by a large use of public transportation coupled with convenient amenities within close access.
Often times, this is the result of a combination of factors including cultural and economic. However, a large part in determining whether a city’s transportation network is an efficient system depends upon simple infrastructure planning. With that said, we must acknowledge that some infrastructures are easier to plan than others. A developing city such as Lagos or Nairobi has room for intelligent planning and infrastructure plotting, allowing for it to be developed in an effective and intelligent way.
Yet some cities, such as Paris and Rome, are thousands of years old. For these systems, retrofits and delicate city surgery is necessary to input the infrastructure necessary to thrive.
However, some cities are simply unable to adapt new technology to their infrastructure by any feasible means. In our case study, Venice, geographical and cultural reasons inhibit any radical alteration to their infrastructure, yet they still have been able to adapt over time to cope with increased traffic as well as an aging infrastructure system.
For those of you unfamiliar with Venice, it is a city built upon a grid of canals and waterways. These water systems provide the primary means of movement around the city and as such, most people do not own a car or even a bicycle for that matter. As such, the average carbon emissions incurred per person accredited to travel is dominated by the water bound transportation.
If everyone was to have a boat, the canals of Venice would be overcrowded, full of the smell of gas, and burdened by reckless and unregulated drivers. To solve this, the city has established two public infrastructure systems: the water busses (vaporetti), and the water taxis (traghetti also known as the traditional Gondola).
The vaporetti are large motorized boats owned by the public transit authority of Venice (ACTV). The offer shuttles around the Grand Canal as well as through a series of smaller channels. However, due to their size and clearance they are unable to traverse some of the smaller Venetian passageways. They use a series of numeric and alphabetic identifiers to indicate what line the vaporetti is running. Some lines stay around the central city, including line 1 which is essentially a tourist shuttle along the Grand Canal, whereas others reach the exterior of the metro area even making stops on the outside of the main Venice island.
The vaporetti is impressive for a few reasons. The first of which is its novel route system. Many cities around the world operate water based transportation out of necessity; however none has one as elaborate as the vaporetti. The vaporetti must change its service lines as a function of the tide levels. During high tide, it goes into a simpler designation that is strikingly different than the normal routine. This is an active way to adapt to Venice’s ever changing infrastructure constraints that are a function of its sea-tied position. For a comparison if the difference in scheduling, contrast the maps found here: http://www.actv.it/pdf/navigazione/Mappa_linee_2nov.pdf and http://www.actv.it/en/movinginvenice/emergencyserviceinfoggyconditionsandduringhightide.
It should be noted that the Venice water bus system also changes routes when fog conditions are high or when algae blooms occur. The ability of the vaporetti to adapt, and adapt with preemption rather than response, is a testament to the intelligent and organic nature of the Venice infrastructure system.
Secondly, the vaporetti has adopted a dual payment scheme that works for the advantage of many different users. One can either purchase a set number of rides at a fixed price per ride, or, one can purchase a blanket commuter pass ranging anywhere from 12 hours to 12 months. Both of the payment schemes have pros and cons for various users. As such, the vaporetti is remarkably successful from a financial perspective. Although, it should be noted that the vaporetti’s finances are undoubtedly bolstered by overly ambitious tourists filtering through this city year round.
From a carbon perspective, the vaporetti are amazingly efficient since each boat is (almost always by most accounts) jammed to the brim with passengers. Although this makes riding conditions not always entertaining, it does reduce individual carbon output significantly.
The second main form of transportation around Venice is to use the gondola water taxi system. These are long, narrow boats that are licensed to be piloted by a certified gondolier. The city of Venice has amazingly harsh constraints on the licensing process for gondoliers: so harsh that if even one mistake is made during the licensing test, the gondolier fails and must wait four years before retaking the exam. The harsh licensing criteria allows for the ACTV to both limit the number of vessels along the canal, but also make sure that no one is crashing into the delicate canal infrastructure.
The gondola system acts as both a set-ferry service for those wishing to avoid the crowded vaporetti, as well as a set-price taxi service for those looking to go to some of the more reclusive or specific locations within Venice. However, because gondolas are strictly manpowered, the carbon offset per individual ride is limited. However, because of the minimal number of gondolier licenses issued, the price for a gondola ride is usually economically viable.
The important point is that the city of Venice, although not a particularly large city, has developed an infrastructure that is both effective and environmentally conscious. It made due with the constraints it had from the canal network, and shaped its modern transportation tactics accordingly. Furthermore, it has left room about upgrading the vaporetti lines to be solar, natural gas, or even EV based in the future.