Venice's Famed Gondolas To Carry GPS Tracking Devices

File photo of gondola at a canal in the Venice lagoon. REUTERS/Paolo Cocco

Once again, modern technology has removed another piece of charm and romance from our lives. Venice's famed gondolas will now be fitted with Global Positioning System devices to prevent accidents like the one that killed a German tourist two months ago and to alleviate the heavy traffic that clogs the city's waterways. The Local reported that Venice's municipal officials became concerned about maritime safety when a German professor died after the gondola that carried him collided with a "vaporetto" waterbus, a much larger vehicle that is operated by Azienda del Consorzio Trasporti Veneziano, the city's public transportation system. Joachim Vogel, 50, was killed on Aug. 17 on the Grand Canal near the famed Rialto Bridge while riding on a gondola with his wife and three children. In the wake of that tragedy, two gondoliers and three vaporetti pilots were placed under investigation by police. There have reportedly been several other near-misses since that deadly crash.Sera newspaper of Milan. "We are continuing to reduce water traffic by 50 percent [at] the crucial point of the Grand Canal, that which comes from the municipality of Pescheria and which includes the Rialto Bridge." Under the new policies, about 5,000 vessels — including water taxis — will be mandated to have the GPS devices installed. Bergamo noted that prior to the new measures, gondolas were only identified by numbers located inside the craft which could not be seen by surveillance cameras. "Gondoliers will also have to have an identity card. The GPS will serve to control speed, but also to leave a trace of the journey they have carried out," he added. The Independent newspaper of Britain reported that Bergamo also will request that gondolas cease lining up in rows to solicit tourists and intends to remove jetties that protrude too far into the canals. Corriere della Sera described the heavy traffic that typically plagues tourist-choked Venice. Every 10 hours, some 1,600 boats – including 700 taxis and 200 gondolas – pass under the Rialto Bridge alone. The mayor of Venice, Giorgio Orsoni, has warned that water traffic has reached dangerous levels, particularly during the busy summer tourist season. "There's a problem over the regulation of water traffic that needs to be addressed," he said. In addition, given that the gondolier involved in the August fatality, Stefano Pizzaggia, was found to have cocaine and cannabis in his system, other gondoliers may face regular blood and urine tests. It is unclear how the gondoliers themselves will respond to the new measures. But Venice, which attracts some 60,000 visitors daily in the summer, is facing even bigger problems: City residents have long complained about the huge cruise ships that enter the lagoon from the Adriatic Sea. According to a report from Deutsche Welle of Germany, over the past 15 years, Venice has witnessed a 439 percent increase in cruise dockings. "Tourism is a double-edged sword," Peter Debrine, head of the World Heritage and Sustainable Tourism Program at Unesco, told DW. "You can't have those kind of [tourism and cruise ship] numbers come into a [port] and not have a negative impact." But Debrine said Venice's dependence on tourist revenue makes it difficult, if not impossible, to ban cruise-liners entirely. "Venice's economy is almost entirely dependent on tourism," he said. "They need the tourists. But, it is also essentially a museum that needs to be preserved. A balance has to be struck."