Italy’s Government Takes Aim at Taxi Shortages

on Aug12
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This summer, countless tourists, as well as residents of many top Italian destinations, found themselves in the fruitless pursuit of elusive game: a taxi.

In Italy, where ride-sharing services like Uber, Lyft and Bolt have been met with strong resistance and are heavily restricted, social media sites channeled tirades describing hourslong taxi lines at train stations and airports. Callers to taxi dispatch numbers were put on hold for interminable waits. And regular taxi apps failed to find cars.

Returning to Rome from Naples one Monday afternoon in June, a train trip that takes just over an hour, Daniele Renzoni said that he and his wife waited for more than an hour and a half at Termini station for a cab under a blazing sun.

“Just image a long line of grumbling, frustrated people, complaining, cursing. Hot day, angry tourists, there’s not much else to say,” said Mr. Renzoni, who is retired. “Taxi drivers will tell you there’s too much traffic, too many requests, too much everything, but the fact is, the customer pays.”

The government lost an opportunity for real change, said Andrea Giuricin, a transportation economist at a research center at the University of Milan Bicocca. He said the best way to meet consumer needs would be to increase the number of licenses for Italy’s chauffeur services, known as N.C.C., which work with Uber.

“It’s very difficult in Italy” because “there isn’t a culture of liberalization in general,” creating little opportunity for competition, said Professor Giuricin. Taxis “are a small but powerful lobby” that easily influences politics, “which is very weak” in Italy, he said.

Angela Stefania Bergantino, a professor of transportation economics at the University of Bari, pointed out that previous governments had tried to open up the taxi market. But they failed.

“The problem is that taxis are regulated by municipal governments, which can find themselves captive in the sense that it is difficult for City Hall to implement policies that the cab lobby doesn’t like,” she said. “These are lobbies that have effective strike tools,” like wildcat strikes or traffic blockages that can paralyze entire cities, she said.

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