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Rome Is Burning (or at Least Its Buses Are)

May 9, 2018

“The fire didn’t cause any consequences to the passengers,” it added. “The vehicle was completely destroyed.”

The city offered no explanation, and officials could not be reached for comment.

The cause, however, is self-evident: The buses are too old and almost certainly too little serviced. The two buses that burst into flames on Tuesday were built in 2003 and in 2004. On average, public buses should be in service for six to seven years, not 15, transportation experts say.

Rome Is Burning (or at Least Its Buses Are)Rome Is Burning (or at Least Its Buses Are)

“Old buses simply break more easily and even finding components to replace becomes a challenge,” said Gabriele Grea, a professor of economics and management of local public transportation at Bocconi University in Milan. “These kinds of fires are rare, but generally depend on the poor maintenance of antiquated vehicles.”

After years of little funds and scarce attention, the center-left national government launched in 2017 an ambitious plan to renovate the public transportation fleet across the country. Yet the process takes time and Rome finds itself in an especially awkward position.

ATAC, the company for bus and rail transport in the city of Rome, has a national reputation for passengers who fail to buy tickets — and jump off as soon as ticket collectors, who are rarely spotted, come on board. Drivers, many of whom have little problem multitasking on their cellphones, are not asked to check tickets. The company’s employee absence rate is well beyond the national average.

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