World News

Italy highway operator scraps tolls for ambulances after bridge collapse

ROME (Reuters) - Under fire from the government after a highway bridge collapsed two days ago, killing dozens, Italy’s biggest toll-road operator said on Thursday that ambulances no longer would have to pay to use its network.

The collapsed Morandi Bridge is seen in the Italian port city of Genoa, Italy. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

While ambulances were already exempt from paying tolls when responding to emergency calls, most were forced to pay a toll when ferrying patients to other types of treatment, such as kidney dialysis.

The change of policy by Autostrade per l'Italia ATL.MI comes after a rebuke from the government, which has already threatened to revoke its concession or impose a fine as it said the company had failed to ensure the viaduct's safety.

“Today they (Autostrade) make emergency vehicles pay the toll. That’s where we are,” Deputy Transport Minister Edoardo Rixi told Reuters.

After the criticism, Autostrade, part of the international toll-road group Atlantia owned by the Benetton family, quickly announced the new toll regime.

“To favour the precious rescue activities, Autostrade per l’Italia announces that ambulances will no longer pay the toll on our network, starting immediately,” it said in a statement.

Autostrade said the exemption was national, covering all 3,000 km of road it manages, but it did not say whether it would be permanent.

Rejecting the government’s criticism over the bridge, Autostrade has said it made regular, thorough safety checks on the 1.2 km-long viaduct in Genoa and had used world-leading experts when conducting the tests and inspections.

Anpas, Italy’s largest association of ambulance operators, applauded the move on tolls - especially for region of Liguria, where the bridge collapsed, because the hilly terrain makes local roads too slow to use.

“In certain parts of Italy, and especially in Liguria, highways are fundamental for ambulances,” Anpas President Fabrizio Pregliasco told Reuters.

Most ambulance operators had to signal whether they were using the highway for an emergency or not after the fact, which involved a lot of red tape, Pregliasco said.

“The anger about the collapse of the bridge meant that the institutions heard our voices on this issue,” he said, estimating it would save ambulance operators “millions of euros” per year.

Reporting by Stefano Bernabei and Steve Scherer; Editing by Alison Williams