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While Italy is a First World, EU-member country, its infrastructure sometimes falls short of the generally accepted EU standards.
Italy’s national train network is highly developed throughout the country. The national bus system is also top-shelf, and, sometimes, a better option for direct travel than the train.
If you’re planning a long visit or a permanent relocation to the country, Italy’s infrastructure status will become a big part of your daily life. Here are some of the major elements of Italian infrastructure to keep an eye on, including a few of Italy’s infrastructure problems that travelers and expats should watch out for.
Italy Infrastructure Issues
While Italy long ago recovered from the devastation of World War II, the country continues to face a number of infrastructure issues. While there have been major improvements in recent years, Italy’s occasionally chaotic political climate and its economic difficulties have stymied development efforts, for example with the long-suffering Naples metro system.
The biggest challenge expats will discover is the large difference in infrastructure development between different parts of the country. Infrastructure in Rome and the rest of the Italian North is heavily developed, while the poor and less influential south of the country has received less investment.
Italy’s water and sanitation systems offer generally high-quality services, with prices that are significantly lower than in similar countries. For example, recent residential water service bills in Italy are up to a third cheaper than in France. Overall, the system is clean, safe and efficient.
Italy produces most of its power from fossil fuels, although renewable energy sources now make up a significant percentage of the total. Unlike many other European countries, Italy uses no nuclear energy, since a 1990 referendum led to the shuttering of all nuclear stations. Overall, the country is in 15th place worldwide for total electricity production.
Prices for consumers are high by European standards, standing at 5th-highest in the EU as of 2010. Italy is highly import-dependent for electricity generation since the country lacks any major sources of fossil fuels. Gas prices are also high, with 2010 figures putting them almost 50 percent more expensive than UK gas bills.
Public Services in Italy
Italians justifiably pride themselves of their modern and well-organized health care infrastructure, which the World Health Organization rates as the second-best in the world. Here too, however, regional levels of development will vary.
Italy spends 9.2 percent of its GDP on its health system. As of 2012, there were 3.76 doctors for every 1,000 people. The national health care service (Servizio Sanitario Nazionale, SSN), is organized on a regional basis. It provides free, universal coverage to all Italian citizens and eligible foreigners.
Infrastructure for the Disabled
Unfortunately, despite its modern health system, Italy lags behind in accessibility and services for the disabled. Tourists and expats with special needs should carefully choose their residences since not every area of every city can guarantee access. Public transportation is only incompletely adapted for wheelchair access, while private transportation service for the disabled is often quite expensive.
Transportation in Italy
Italy has a very well-developed transportation infrastructure, and almost all areas of the country are connected by land, sea, and air. Although development lags in some areas, there is connection by modern transit to all but the most isolated towns.
Public Transit and Railways
Seven of Italy’s major cities have modern metro systems, including Rome, Milan, Turin, and Naples. Other cities also have efficient light rail and commuter train systems. Buses operate within some cities. For buses between cities, travelers must rely on networks maintained by regional operators, since there is no national bus system.
Many visitors to Italy take home fond memories of a trip through the Italian countryside on one of the nation’s many rail lines. The heavily-subsidized rail system has over 16,732 kilometers of active lines and has recently expanded to include a high-speed network. State-owned Ferrovie dello Stato operates a major portion of the system; regional governments control the rest. Overall, the Italian rail system is one of the country’s infrastructure success stories.
There are more than 136 airports in Italy, a number of which are significant international terminals. A large share of the country’s air travel is local, especially between Sicily and Sardinia and the mainland, although many travelers within Italy now opt for high-speed rail instead of flying.
The national carrier, Alitalia, transports over 25 million passengers every year and offers flights to more than 60 countries. The airline has had major financial problems over the years, however, and there are now a number of other airlines operating out of the country.
Highways in Italy
The Italian highway system is also a national strong point and has benefited from major improvements over recent decades. Italy now has over 487,700 kilometers of roads, of which 6,758 kilometers are major motorways.
The highway system has now replaced seaports as Italy’s major commercial transit system. Car ownership is also extremely common in Italy, with some 690 vehicles per every 1,000 people in 2010.
Communications in Italy
The Italian communication system is well-developed, but some more modern services are not yet up to North American standards.
Italy boasts a fully-modernized and very reliable telephone system. There are at least 20 million telephone lines in the country, and cities still feature a significant number of public telephones. There are now more than 95 million cellular lines in the country. Coverage and quality are generally very good, although there may be great variations in prices among different domestic and international carriers.
Broadcast media include some 5,000 radio stations and 358 television stations. Two major companies (RAI and Mediaset) dominate the market, although there are many other smaller providers, including satellite networks.
There are over 25 million Internet users in the country, with 54 percent of families reporting access to the net. Despite this, Internet service in Italy is still notoriously slow, with recent assessments putting speeds among the slowest in the entire Eurozone. ISPs vary in price and quality, but plans are generally expensive compared to comparable services in the US and Northern Europe.