OPINION: Can Rome’s new mayor solve the capital’s traffic woes?

Cars drive past Rome's Piazza Venezia.
Heavy traffic is a fact of life for Rome's residents. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP
Rome's traffic and transport issues are longstanding and legendary, but the new mayor says he'll improve things. Could he succeed, and what's really needed? Rome resident Silvia Marchetti explains.

When in Rome, how often have you hopelessly searched for a parking space and in the end just given up? I once drove all the way to Pyramide from Tiburtina for an evening cocktail with friends, and then after an hour going around in circles I drove back home, furious, without even stepping out of my car because I couldn’t find a single spot to park it. I felt like a fool. 

Drivers in the Eternal City are stuck for hours in traffic jams on the Lungotevere and often cross the Tiber River more than thrice before finding a tiny parking spot, usually just as the former occupant drives away. And when it rains, it gets all the more hellish. 

Rome is not a metropolis; its historical center is tiny, with narrow roads and alleys crammed with vehicles of all sorts. Its suburbs are also getting very crowded. 

A lack of sustainable mobility is a long-standing problem: public transport is poor and not punctual, while tube trains and parking lots are too few. 

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Politicians have always attempted to solve the problem, but failed. Now Rome’s newly-appointed mayor Roberto Gualtieri is pledging a solution which might help in improving the outlook – but not in solving it all together.

Gualtieri plans to scrap many of Rome’s free parking spaces and increase fees to discourage car use and incentivize people to take public transport. I think parking fees should be raised to €5 per hour.

Photo: Andreas SOLARO/AFP

His local council has yet to fully become operative, but Gualtieri says his team has a hundred decrees ready to be approved to boost buses, trams and subways. In the first three months of his mandate, improving the capital’s mobility will be among his top priorities.

A special task force will be set up to discuss the challenges along with urban transport operators and taxi drivers. Gualtieri also plans to increase bike lanes and make them safer. 

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The truth is, I think Rome will always have a problem with traffic and urban transport, at least until air mobility substitutes ground mobility – which might not be such a distant prospect, if planned ‘air taxis’ become a reality.

Rome’s wonderful past can in fact often be a burden. The millennia-old city is built upon layers of archaeological sites dating back to different periods, and ruins are everywhere – mainly underground. 

It often happens that, whenever workers start digging to build a car park or a new subway, they accidentally unearth parts of an unknown treasure such as an ancient Roman tomb or temple. 

By law the works must freeze and the authorities step in to analyze and study the findings. The area stays cordoned off for months, if not years.

Photo: Andreas SOLARO/AFP

One way to partly bypass the ‘archaeological barrier’ is to build parking spaces outside of the historical center, possibly within reach of the GRA (Grande Raccordo Anulare. Rome’s ring road) which must be connected to the city via electric buses, trams and faster, ‘green’ trains. 

All this obviously requires massive investment, but the post-pandemic recovery fund is an opportunity which must be fully exploited. 

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Station hubs in strategic areas should also be reinforced with more connections and wider parking areas. It is unacceptable that, for instance, the railway from Piazzale Flaminio to Viterbo is still partly the same one built in the early 1900’s, with one single track allowing the passage of just one train at a time. Or that the train and bus station of Saxa Rubra, connecting the city with its northern suburbs and villages, is crammed with cars parked everywhere. 

Commuters coming from Rome’s outskirts face the greatest trouble. Residents need fast and reliable transport to take them to work on time but visitors would also be impressed if they found not only a mesmerizing city, but an efficient one too. 

It’s a matter of improving quality of life. If a Roman spends roughly two to three hours inside his car, this isn’t only going to impact his physical and mental health, but it also takes a toll on labor productivity levels.

Each time I exit the ring road and get stuck in the usual, daily traffic I long for efficient local transportation. I believe that if trains, subways and buses were more frequent, cleaner and on time and the network extended, that citizens would be more willing to leave their cars at home and take urban transport. Provided, of course, that they can also park their cars at the station in a safe area. 

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Without new wide parking spots I’m afraid cars will remain the main means of transportation among lazy Romans.

Surveys show that Rome is the European city with the highest use of private vehicles: 65 percent versus 26 percent in Paris and 38 percent in Berlin.

One could argue that an ancient Roman site could still pop out during the construction of a parking lot in the city outskirts, which is very likely. That is why it would be helpful to map the city’s potential archaeological areas yet to be unearthed with the help of historians and archaeologists. Once the ‘clear’ spaces have been identified then new subways, train stations and car parks can be more easily planned.

The global reputation of a city as important and unique as Rome cannot be limited to the wonders of the past. Rome must strive to build innovative and eco-conscious transport for the future.

Do you agree or disagree with the opinions expressed in this article? Leave a comment below and let us know your thoughts.


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