Gregory Peck loved one, particularly with Audrey Hepburn perched on the handlebars. Jennifer Lopez hopped aboard at least once, as did the classic American cowboy John Wayne. Who doesn’t look cooler aboard an old Vespa?
The Genoese, that’s who, at least according to the government of that northern Italian city. In December, the mayor of Genoa okayed smog-reduction measures that would prohibit residents from driving scooters produced before 1999 in the city’s downtown area. Mayhem ensued, for Genoa is not just any old scooter-loving Italian city. It’s the birthplace of the Vespa.
“This really shouldn't be happening," Vittorio Vernazzano, who coordinates the Genoa chapter of the Vespa Club of Italy, told the Italian paper Corriere Della Sera. “Especially not in 2016, the 70th anniversary of the birth of the Vespa, and in Genoa, where it was produced in 1946 by a Genovese entrepreneur, Enrico Piaggio.”
Agence-France Presse reports that Genoa has fewer cars than any other Italian city aside from gondola-heavy Venice. The anti-Vespa measure would put an estimated 20,000 Genoese off their bikes, more than enough angry Italians to generate a specialized hashtag, #lamiavespanonsitocca or #handsoffmyvespa.
The outrage has been powerful enough to force Genoa’s government to delay the implementation of the Vespa plan from early February to at least April. But the city’s environmental officials assure locals that the ban is coming.
“I love the Vespino, I used to have one myself,” Genoa environmental assessor Italo Porcile told AFP. “But the Euro 0 [a model produced before 1999] pollutes terribly and public health is more important.”
These Vespas are, in fact, pretty bad for the environment. A 2014 University of Cambridge study found that these scooters’ engines inefficiently burn fuel and create exhaust fumes with high levels of lung-crippling organic aerosols—more than even some diesel trucks. ”[I]n contrast to the general belief, scooters can be a dominant source of air pollution, including soot and organic particles, in urban areas,” one researcher told The Telegraph.
The Vespa manufacturer Piaggio cleaned up its act by 2000, installing engines that decreased contaminants by 90 percent compared to 1990 levels. Vintage may be cool, but newer scooters smell so sweet.