E la Nave Va
Venice historic centre urban grid has a well known peculiar features, common streets mixed with canals and waterways requiring to use marine navigation even for the most common public transport. Here, instead bus, they call it vaporetto.
The ship approaches and seems ramming the floating dock that serves as station, the frame reverberates with a serious and forceful sound, but the manoeuvre is perfectly calculated and the passage hardly stirred, after the first blow come a softer reply, an echo. The public transport official hurries with mooring the rope tracing on the air several quick moves that end up in a knot around the mooring pole, an operation that has been repeated thousands of times, knotting on arrival and unknotting in the departure. Between both she made another operation with the same alacrity, sliding the bar that allows the passage of passengers and warning about the gap between the deck of the ship and the surface of the platform while announcing the name of the stop. Everything happens in seconds and people come and go. E la nave va. And the Ship Sails On.
This kind of ships is popularly known as vaporetto, it comes logically from the first water buses that were powered by steam engines. Caorlin, sandoli, viperi, peate, bragozzi and gondolas and other sail or oars vessels facilitated the movement of passengers through the canals of the lagoon city until the fall of 1881, coinciding with the Congress of Geography, a vaporetto, named Regina Margherita sailed by the first time by Grand Canal waters. Previously there had been connections with other places: the Lido and Chioggia. On 27 May 1858 the newspaper Gazzetta Ufficiale di Venezia announced that these links would be served by the Royal gunship called Alnoch, which could accommodate up to two hundred passengers. Since 1868 some private companies established lines with the seaside resorts of Lido. Hasselquirst and Neville with the steamboats San Marco and Principe Umberto; others start the lines between the northern islands and, in the south, with Pellestrina.
On 12 January 1873 is created the Società Veneta di Navigazione a Vapore Lagunare, SVNVL, and four years later the council approves to allow navigation along the Grand Canal, for which charge the French company Oriolle, located in Nantes, the construction of several steamboats similar to Regina Margherita and the needed engines for others that were built in Trieste shipyards. The vaporetti sailed from the port of Rouen to Venice through the Languedoc canal and surrounding the Italic peninsula. From that year, 1881, the fleet grows progressively, in number of vessels and lines.
In 1903 was created the Azienda Comunale per la Navigazione Interna, embryo of the current ACTV, Azienda del Consorzio Transporti Veneziano, which would manage the fleet, by then twenty ships carrying 2860 passengers daily. In the twenties begins the rehearsals with diesel engines but will not be introduced until 1935. During World War II much of its units were requisitioned by the navy. It would not be until 1950 when it would be restructured the service in the city. Currently, since 1978, ACTV manages one hundred sixty boats and one hundred fifty floating stations.
The main lines are those that run along the Grand Canal. Line 1 stop at every station between Piazzale Roma, near the bus station and only road access to the old town, to Santa Maria Elisabetta, on the island of Lido. Line 2 runs the same route but restricting stops, so it’s therefore faster. Other lines circumnavigate the city also serving La Giudecca and from the Fondamenta Nuove start the lines that reach the islands of Murano, Burano, Torcello and even Treporti, north of the lagoon. Usually, vaporetto isn’t a fast transport, as some lines, particularly along the Grand Canal, can be traversed quicker simply going on foot.
Venetian public transport fleet uses different types of boats propelled today by diesel engines. Ships now circulating on the Grand Canal are the single bridge motobatelli with a large cabin with windows and seats fitted to accommodate the passage. The front platform facilitates loading and unloading and in the rear, there is a small deck with some seating space. The most common among circulating motobatelli are those of the 80 and 90 series. The first were built between 1974 and 1988 and can carry up to 234 passengers, 90 of them sitting, some in the bow area. The 90 series introduced improvements in the water displacement, since it’s one of the Venice degradation causes, the impact of the waves against the foundations of the city. In the 90 series bow seats have been removed and the pilot deck is advanced.
Circle lines that also serve the Giudecca and Murano are covered by foranei, sleeker and less bulky than motobatelli the have the pilot cabin in an upper position as they are not subject to the limitation required by the height of the bridges. There are still some two-story motor boats as the Torcello serving the route of the islands to Punta Sabbioni, at the northern end of the lagoon.
New ship prototypes with more efficient and less polluting fuels and simultaneously reducing the impact caused by navigation to the city are currently being studied. Landing on water.