Venice's Canal Delivery Traffic to Be Cut 90% With WPI Plan

Student/Faculty Plan Reduces Damage to Canal Walls From Motorized Boats

Contact: WPI Media Relations, +1-508-831-5706

WORCESTER, Mass. -- May 25, 2004 -- Venice's battles with Mother Nature and rising tides are well known. What few people realize is that the "Jewel of the Adriatic" is also in jeopardy from man-made forces. The biggest culprit is the cumulative effect of wakes from more than half a century of motorized boat traffic that has greatly accelerated erosion of and damage to Venice's canal walls, bridges and other treasures.

Two teams of Worcester Polytechnic Institute students, led by faculty advisor and native Venetian Fabio Carrera, have developed a plan currently being implemented that aims to reduce the quantity of wakes by dramatically decreasing cargo-boat traffic in the city's canals.

The plan calls for cargo to Venice's shops, stores and businesses to be delivered based on its destination in the city rather than by product, the current method. A WPI team calculated that cargo-boat journeys would be cut down by about 90% by making this change in delivery method.

While monitoring boat traffic in Venice, the WPI students discovered that the cargo delivery system was extremely inefficient. Venetian cargo-boat drivers currently deliver cargo by product. In a simplified example, individual wine boats make dozens of stops all around the city every day to deliver wine to different establishments. Similarly, individual water boats and bread boats ply the canals and often deliver to exactly the same stores.

Using the WPI method, boatmen will deliver goods by destination. Wine, bread, water and other products will be assembled together according to their destination before being loaded onto cargo boats, and delivered all at once to the same island.

"Changing to delivering cargo by destination is a relatively simple idea," says Carrera, "but it really works, and it is becoming a reality. For instance, deliveries to the island of San Luca will see the number of cargo boats drop from 96 to fewer than five."

However, the real challenge in developing the new traffic plan was not the plan itself, but convincing the more than 300 licensed delivery boatmen of its merits. There was concern that cutting boat trips by 90% would lead to a loss of a similar percentage of jobs. So, another WPI team did an additional study in cooperation with the boat drivers specifically to find out their perspective on how to make the destination-based delivery plan work.

The WPI students found that delivering cargo by destination will require about the same number of workers as the current product-driven system -- the same amount of cargo will still need to be delivered. There will be fewer boats plying the waters with the WPI destination-based plan, but this will be compensated by more work and new jobs on land. More workers will be needed "upstream" at the warehouse, where goods will be sorted and loaded onto boats for their various destinations. At each destination, cargo will then need to be unloaded at the dock and distributed to the island's stores and shops.

"Initially, we were skeptical of this plan," notes (through a translator) Luigino Vianello, president of Venice's former boat drivers consortium, Consorzio Trasportatori Veneziani Riuniti. "But the more we looked at it, the more we saw it made sense. We will be doing maybe slightly different types work with the new plan, but we will have about the same number of workers. These changes also promise a much better quality of life for us."

WPI's plan for canal delivery traffic is one of nearly a hundred academic projects the university's students have completed in Venice since 1988. In that time, WPI students have tackled assignments such as helping reduce damage to canal walls, cataloging the city's endangered public art, and recording the sounds of Venice via an audio catalog. These projects challenge students to solve real-world problems, and investigate issues that arise when science or technology interact with societal structures and values. The work is done through WPI's Venice Project Center, one of more than 20 WPI project centers on five continents.

Academic projects like the ones in Venice are a key part of WPI's project-based undergraduate educational curriculum. They exemplify the university's long-held belief that undergraduate students learn best when they apply knowledge gained in the classroom to the solution of important problems in the real world. WPI projects are rigorous, academic exercises that are typically a student's sole focus during the 7- to 10-week period of study. They count as a full term's academic credit. All global projects have a local sponsor and are overseen by a faculty advisor. At the end of each project, student teams prepare a report and deliver a presentation of their findings.

About Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Founded in 1865, WPI is a pioneer in technological higher education. WPI was the first university to understand that students learn best when they have the opportunity to apply the knowledge they gain in the classroom to the solution of important problems. Today, its first-rate research laboratories support master's and Ph.D. programs in more than 30 disciplines in engineering, science and the management of technology.