Letizia Moratti, the new, centre-right mayor of Milan, took careful note of London’s congestion-charging scheme during a trip to Britain in late June, as she is preparing to introduce a similar toll in Milan in January 2007. Ms Moratti, who was elected in May, campaigned on plans for what she calls a “pollution charge”. Her predecessor, Gabriele Albertini, a member of the Forza Italia party, was prevented from introducing such a fee by opponents in his own administration, who argued that the charge could hurt the economy by discouraging consumers from driving in the city. But by the end of his term the charge was raised again as a way to combat the city's pollution problems.
The cost for cars entering the city is expected to be around €2 ($2.50). Ms Moratti said the charge, from which city residents will be exempt, would be accompanied by measures to strengthen Milan's much-maligned public-transport system. The hope is to cut traffic levels and bring in about €150m each year, to be used for transport and environmental initiatives. The city has also begun experimenting with a new type of asphalt that absorbs airborne pollutants.
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Back on the rank
Taxi drivers in Milan and other Italian cities ended more than two weeks of strikes on July 18th, after the government agreed to tone down a plan to liberalise the sector. Politicians had hoped to increase competition and reduce notoriously high taxi-fares by making new taxi licences cheaper and easier to obtain. But after protests from drivers, which caused traffic chaos, the government agreed to scrap a measure that would have allowed a single person or company to buy multiple taxi licences. This would have forced independent drivers out of the market, opponents argued. Italian taxi drivers pay high fees to acquire licences, which they sell when they retire. The value of these licences would surely collapse if more were on the market.
Nonetheless, some progress was made in improving the taxi service: drivers agreed to let local administrations issue temporary permits during periods of high demand. And a single licence can now be shared by more than one person, allowing a particular cab to circulate for more hours during the week.
Uncovering the past
Archaeologists digging near Porta Romana, an ancient city gate, have found a common grave containing the skeletons of 157 people. They are thought to be victims of the bubonic plague that afflicted Milan between 1629 and 1631. The Lombardy archaeological authority made the discovery while surveying the site of a planned car park. The archaeologists—who also found pottery, rings, crucifixes and rosaries—will now study the bones to confirm the causes of death and reconstruct the victims' lives.
Archaeological finds are not uncommon in Milan, and often date from the period when the city was the capital of the western Roman Empire. The archaeological authority routinely conducts surveys before construction work begins on sensitive sites throughout the city. This particular discovery is not expected to slow the building of the car park.
(Source: The Economist Cities Guide newsletter)