Italy's most famous scooter banned in Genoa

03 October 2019 - 11:58 By Michael Taylor
Genoa previously tried to ban the scooters which provoked enormous waves of anger in the port city.
Genoa previously tried to ban the scooters which provoked enormous waves of anger in the port city.
Image: Supplied

The home of the world’s favourite scooter has banned … the world’s favourite scooter.

Genoa, the Italian coastal city that spawned the eponymous city scooter, plans to ban older Piaggio Vespas from its city centre to curb air pollution problems.

The one-time City State will ban all two-stroke Vespas, built before 1999, but most pointedly the classic 125 and 150 Primavera models, after years of back and forth between the city and the scooter enthusiasts.

The law was ready for a green light, Mayor Marco Bucci announced last month, and was waiting on approval from the Giunta (council).

Genoa tried to ban the scooters in 2016 but aligning a ban with the Vespa’s 70th birthday in the city where it was designed and built provoked enormous waves of anger in the port city.

But new Mayor Bucci isn’t so easily cowed, and plans the ban as part of pushing a transition to electric vehicles, promising to deliver subsidies for clean replacement vehicles.

“Let me be clear, many other Italian cities including the capital have banned the use of the most polluting two-wheeled vehicles, but it is only in Genoa that a normal municipal ordinance has taken the character of anti-Vespa crusade,” the mayor said.

It’s a significant crusade, too, with the hashtag #lamiavespanonsitocca (“Don’t touch my Vespa”) flooding Twitter in Italy, driven by the city’s three Vespa clubs.

The clubs insist the city has only about 3,000 of the older Vespas and they emitted just a fraction of the pollution of the enormous cruise ships that dock in Porto Antico.

The pre-2000 Vespas use two-stroke engines with a mix of petrol and oil, which are estimated to pump as much pollution into the air as between 30 and 50 of the four-stroke Vespas. Vespa (“Wasp” in Italian) also makes an electric scooter.

Genoa, clinging desperately to a tiny area between the mountains and the sea, has virtually no public transport and crowded streets. Even its metro line has just eight stops.

“We want to adapt to be among the best cities in Europe with regard to respect for the environment,” he said. 

“Here, the number of vintage Piaggio scooters that circulate is enormous and — in fact — there are no two-stroke old scooters apart from Vespas.

“No one says there should be no bikes, but they must be four-stroke,” he added.

Genoa might be the first Italian city to ban the two-stroke Vespas, but it’s not without precedent in Europe. Amsterdam banned pre-2011 scooters this year and Paris banned all pre-2000 scooters and motorbikes on weekdays three years ago.

The inspiration for the Vespa came from the American Cushman Airborne steel motorcycle, dropped from the air into Milano and Turino for resistance fighters.

Piaggio, the railway and aircraft industrial company, was in a difficult position post-war, with Italy banned from aircraft research or production for 10 years, so it turned to the motorbike scene. Except its designer hated motorbikes and put the engine in a covered area beneath the seat to stop oil getting on riders’ clothes.

The Vespa helped Italy’s postwar economy boom, with enormous help from Hollywood. The Vespa was used by Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday and Anita Ekberg in La Dolce Vita and it even appeared with Matt Damon in The Talented Mr Ripley.

Italy is still the biggest Vespa market in the world, followed by the UK, and Vespas are built in India, Indonesia and Taiwan. They’ve built more than 18-million of them so far.