“Strike” Zone

image of Campidoglio and the cordonata in RomeI don’t like to get political on my blogs, so for those of you who do not like these kinds of issues, I apologize, but I think that it is important to bring this to your attention because I know that many people who follow my blog travel to Rome regularly.

Today, there is a transport strike in the city.  This means that the metro lines A, B and B1 have reduced service.  The train that runs from Rome to Ostia is not running at all (that means, if you wanted to go to Ostia Antica, you would need to take an expensive cab ride in a lot of traffic because everyone is on the road today).

I live in Rome 11 months of the year, and I tend to go back to the United States to visit family.  This year, I do not intend to return to the United States as I finish up my thesis and begin work in finding a PhD program here in Europe.  I love my experience and the opportunity that has been afforded to me.  I worked hard to get here, and my efforts have paid off.

But the transportation strikes in Rome the last few months have been atrocious.  I live in Ostia so I am not in the city center.  I rely on the train from Ostia to Rome to run regularly enough so that I can get into the city to attend classes and have somewhat of a social life if nothing else: I just like being in the city and exploring it. I am just like any other citizen of Rome except that I do not have a voice — I do not get to vote.  I can complain until my voice is shot, and it will do nothing.

I often wonder what rights do visitors to a particular place have, if any?  Think about your last trip to Rome.  How much money did you spend here?  If we take my numbers — not exact, mind you, imagine that I spent $12,000 here last year on rent, food, books, clothing, travel, and other necessities.  I paid taxes on all of my purchases: none of which I got back (nor did I ever want or ask for it back).  I buy monthly transport tickets for the public transport system: I am not a free-rider.  I pay my way. I pay the necessary local taxes for things like garbage collection, I pay the necessary fees and taxes that go with renewing my residents permit every year, and I recycle.  I contribute to the local economy and buy almost everything I need (apart from my laptop) here in Italy.

The point of my post is that, while an amazing place, Rome suffers and makes those who live here suffer.  Most tourists probably never see or experience these problems unless their stays are long or happen to be here during a transport strike. Most tourists probably get around by foot.  When I lived in the city center, I could walk to my university (3km), but it was doable. I have thought about moving, but I like the idea of living outside of the city because I enjoy being around the local populace and experiencing life the way they do.  I love going to the supermarket and hearing only Italian spoken, or being able to tell the old woman trying to use the broken produce scale that it doesn’t work and to use the scale on the other side of the aisle, or trying to buy shrimp at the fish market, or getting the butcher to slice me up some prosciutto.

The city has ignored its problems far too long.  Cronyism, corruption and apathy are destroying the very city that we love. The transportation system is not free. It should be sustainable through the money that we all pay to use it, yet the system is almost bankrupt. The city recently accepted money from Vodafone which was used to make some refurbishments to Termini Station (and now Termini is like a big Vodafone store…but, hey, money talks, right?).

On your next trip to Rome, keep some of these things in mind as you enjoy your stay because I want you to love Rome and Italy just as much as I do.  Beneath the surface, there are problems with no easy answers.

Thanks for listening!

PS:  In December, I started a petition to improve the conditions of Rome’s transportation system.  Please consider signing if you have been to Rome or plan to come:  tourists pay and use the transport system, too!