Post by Steven Bochenek
After ugly mobile homes die they could become ACTV vaporetto stations, but no one is calling this transit system an eye-soar. Image by Steve Bochenek.
If you’ve ever been to Venice, you know that it is always busy and getting around is never easy. There are no roads, just canals and walkways between buildings which can suddenly shrink by 80%, courtesy of the unique and quaint if frustrating urban planning. If you’re in a hurry, learn to say ‘Permesso’ while gently pushing your way through the crowds — or travel by water on the vaporetto.
A vaporetto is a waterbus, part of the ACTV transit system. It boasts 19 lines and is well loved by locals and tourists alike. Venetians carting bags of groceries on vaporetti sit cheek by jowl with international visitors. You are continually reminded that, though this town’s biggest industries are tourism and art, people do live here and Venice is not just some huge wet marble museum.
Great views, mildly interrupted by cheap and practical infrastructure (on the left). Image by Steve Bochenek.
Like any public transit system, you have to buy tickets, struggle with complicated route maps and endure advertising. Unlike many systems, this one’s infrastructure is simple with tiny costs, yet is a huge draw for locals and visitors alike.
For travelers on a budget, vaporetti are the best way to see Venice on the cheap. (Gondolas — the kind not typically promoted on this site — may be romantic and famous but they’re slow and instantly impoverishing.) The babble of languages I heard included French, German, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, Tagalog and of course English in American, Australian, South African, Scots and English varieties.
A rhetorical question: Do you think this highly practical form of public transport is an eye-sore and destroys views of Venice? Probably not, even though those diesel engines spew fumes and blast harsh noises that carry over the water and bounce against the marble palazzo, back in your ears. Imagine titanic bolts rolling around in a massive dryer. The vaporetto stations, squat yellow boxes of Plexiglas and metal, look like what mobile homes become after they die. And heaven knows the advertising for cosmetic dentistry and health insurance can be annoying.
Enjoy the view while waiting for your stop — or read the ads! Image by Steve Bochenek.
Quick, spot the eye-sore! (A vaporetto is on the right.) Image by Steve Bochenek.
None of these annoyances were here hundreds of years ago and they do regularly interrupt a lovely vista — but clearly they’re not harming tourism.
In fact, the ACTV and its vaporetti are a vibrant and living case study of how interesting yet low-cost transit can also become a crowd-pleaser and moneymaker.
A mode of transportation loved by tourists and locals. Image by Steve Bochenek.
The word ‘eye-sore’ is a common complaint we hear in NIMBY meetings when the gondolas we do promote here are proposed — especially in North America. We think they’re practical with simple low-cost infrastructure and, drawing tourists and commuters alike, a boon to the economy. Just like Venice’s vaporetti.