Palermo's new tram took eight years and €320 million to complete, and is finally up and running – but there's a hitch.
It's a ghost tram, making its daily 15km journey and stopping faithfully at each stop – but without a single passenger able to board, because city authorities have not yet made their minds up about who should be in charge of running and financing the new service.
The city's mayor, Leoluca Orlando, had told residents the tram service would be up and running by the end of 2015, and with just 11 days left to make good on that promise, he said he will resign if no agreement is reached.
“If the contract is not approved straight away, I'm going,” he told the city council, according to La Stampa. This ultimatum came a day after the contract with Amat, the local transport authority, was rejected by three separate city committees.
City meetings to renegotiate the contract began on Monday and are set to last until Wednesday, but it is unclear if Orlando will be able to unite councillors' views on the project.
The key question hampering discussions concerns the issue of who will fund the tram. The annual cost is estimated to be €22 million, including staff wages, cleaning and electricity charges, and paying the Austrian firm Bombardier to maintain it.
Orlando had planned to put Amat, which is already struggling, in charge, and to raise the money by launching a limited traffic zone in the city’s historic centre. He aimed to receive €30 million each year by charging 250,000 drivers an annual fee of €120.
However, in order for the plans to go ahead, Orlando will need to reach an accord either with the Democratic Party, which has 11 councillors in Palermo, or Forza Italia, which has six.
“They will never convince us on this matter,” said Rosario Filoramo, the local head of the Democratic Party, in reference to Orlando's proposal of a limited traffic zone. “In the historical centre only residents should enter – and for free. The tram? It should be financed by a policy of season tickets.”
Another city councillor, Filippo Occhipinti from Gruppo Misto, said the introduction of a limited traffic zone would “exacerbate the smog and pollution” – one of the things the tram is supposed to be helping to prevent.
The tram cars, which are white with blue seats, were delivered by Bombardier back in 2011.
The service is set to cover three lines, the first of which – between Roccella and the Central Station – is completed, while the other two are set to be ready by the end of January.