In Italy, it’s often repeated that under Mussolini, at least the trains ran on time. You may hear oldtimers mumbling this adage today when trains are running a few minutes late. It’s an unfair assessment of a system that is, for the most part, efficient, cheaper than many of its continental counterparts, and yet close to the European average in terms of safety. It’s hard to say just how well the state railway performed under Mussolini, though it almost certainly had an occasional delay. Even the Swiss railway isn’t perfect, and it serves a smaller country. What is more likely is that no one dared complain to the Fascist dictator about the train being a few minutes late, and certainly no one was getting a refund, as they do today. Similar slander has been thrown at the state airline, Alitalia, over the years. Passengers can decide for themselves what sort of service they are getting for the money. Like any other major carrier, it has been hurt by Internet ticket sales and given a run for its money by upstart discount carriers. British airlines like Ryan Air, Go, and bmibaby have almost taken over the Italy London route, for example. Smaller domestic rivals such as VolareWeb have also taken a slice of the pie.

It would be hard to ignore some of the more obvious complaints, however, such as the recurring nightmare that leaves Alitalia passengers stuck at the airport due to a strike, with no airline personnel to be found. While the recently privatized carrier has made an effort to improve its image, Alitalia’s customer service sometimes still feels as if it were being managed by the state. The stereotype about Italian drivers is probably the closest to the truth. Italy is a nation of fine race cars and speed demons, traffic laws that are considered negotiable, fiery tempers behind the wheel, and lots and lots of accidents. The problem is so persistent that Pope John Paul II used to appeal to the faithful to pray for those killed on Italian highways. There are some 8,000 9,000 traffic fatalities reported in Italy every year. Old-timers can say what they will about today’s trains, but annual deaths on the railways barely make it out of the single digits.



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