ROME (Reuters) - Hundreds of tourist buses blocked Rome traffic for several hours on Thursday, as drivers protested a plan to ban their vehicles from the centre to reduce air pollution and noise.
The drivers and managers of bus companies held demonstrations in several areas of Rome, including the central Piazza Venezia, to protest against a ruling by Mayor Virginia Raggi and the city council due to take effect on Jan. 1.
Industry operators have complained that the new rules, which will also limit the movement of buses that pollute more, will hurt the city's vital tourism sector and will have a negative ripple effect on shops and restaurants.
City officials say something has to be done to curb air pollution and related damage to ancient monuments such as the Colosseum and the Forum. Fewer buses will also mean more security for pedestrians.
"The time for buses frolicking in the city is over," said Raggi, a member of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement.
Past mayors had also attempted to approve similar rules but had failed to do so.
The new plan divides the city centre into three sectors. A "red zone", location of most of the key monuments, such as the Trevi Fountain, will be totally off limits to tourist buses except those with special permission.
Officials have promised more parking for buses to unload tourists in the adjacent "green zone," which includes the Vatican, from where they can enter the red zone by foot or public transport. A "Yellow Zone" is destined for long-term parking.
Operators will also have to buy daily passes instead of yearly subscriptions as in the past.
(Reporting by Giulia Segreti; editing by Philip Pullella and Alexandra Hudson)