July 30, 2017 / 12:48 PM / 2 months ago

Beleaguered Rome faces transport meltdown, puts 5-Star in difficulty

A public bus is seen in downtown Rome, Italy July 30, 2017. REUTERS/Tony Gentile

ROME (Reuters) - Rome’s transport system is suffocating under debts and should declare bankruptcy, the outgoing head of the public company said at the weekend, piling pressure on the 5-Star Movement which runs city hall.

Bruno Rota quit Atac on Friday, just three months after taking charge of the Italian capital’s bus, metro and tram network, saying he was unable to salvage the firm and feared possible legal action tied to any eventual collapse.

“It is an appalling scandal,” said Rota, who was called down to Rome after helping to turn around the transport system in the northern city of Milan. “The situation is worse than you can imagine,” he told la Repubblica newspaper.

Rota’s dramatic departure has triggered yet another crisis for the city’s 5-Star administration, which won power last year in what was seen as a litmus test of whether the anti-establishment group was ready to run Italy.

Since taking office, the 5-Star has been in constant tumult, with more than a dozen senior city officials either being sacked or quitting in just 12 months, while Rome’s infrastructure continues its inexorable decay.

On Friday, the city, which is suffering a prolonged drought, narrowly managed to avoid water rationing but the Atac strife and internal 5-Star battles meant Mayor Virginia Raggi had no time to celebrate.

“We need a change of direction. If we carry on like this we will fall apart. The whole city will fall apart,” Andrea Mazzillo, Rome’s third budget chief in a year, told la Repubblica.

In a statement on Facebook, Raggi ordered her team to stop complaining and promised to sort out problems at Atac, which has suffered from many years of chronic neglect and mismanagement.

The company has some 1.3 billion euros ($1.5 billion) of debts and a rate of absenteeism amongst its 12,000-strong workforce of 12 percent, company records show.

Earlier this month, a woman suffered severe injuries when she got dragged down a platform after her handbag was trapped in the door of a metro train. Videos showed the driver was eating his lunch at the wheel of the train and did not notice.

According to an internal Atac report, 36 percent of all the company’s buses are blocked in garages because they have broken down or are undergoing maintenance, with the figure rising to 50 percent for the city’s creaking fleet of trams.

“The company is unmanageable. It doesn’t have any money left in its accounts,” said Rota, adding that Atac was no longer able to guarantee the regular payment of salaries or to buy the spare parts it needed to repair its ageing buses and metro trains.

Italian newspapers reported that broken down buses were being left in the street because Atac had not paid the private contractor which it uses to pick up its stranded vehicles.

“The situation at Atac is serious, but we are not frightened by adversity and we will move ahead,” said Raggi on Facebook.

($1 = 0.8512 euros)

Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Keith Weir

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