Then there’s Milan. The area of the city is just a little less than that of Osaka, and despite the fact that it’s the most important commercial center in Italy, it only had three subway lines until about ten years ago. Coming from Japan, one of the world leaders in subway systems, it almost seemed underdeveloped for such an important city.
Of course people would protest, saying that the city fully intended to build a fourth and fifth line—and even a sixth after that. The fourth line was particularly critical as it was designed to link the city center with Linate Airport.
Incidentally, Linate Airport is super convenient—so close that I can casually drop by, like when I go see friends who live nearby. It’s not an overstatement to say that it’s in the city, with small and medium-sized passenger planes flying to cities all over Europe. It’s so close and convenient that it’s no trouble at all to drop someone off or go pick them up—even if they have an early or late flight.
I’m pretty sure that Milan is one of the few European cities that have an airport this wonderfully convenient, but since there’s no subway to it, the only transportation you can use to get there is a private car or a bus. That’s probably why it’s treated a bit like a teenager not ready to be out on its own—and with little in the way of amenities, it can hardly stand toe-to-toe with other international airports. The good thing, I guess, is that it’s always had a cozy feel to it.
So the plans for the fourth subway line out to Linate Airport were supposed to have the grand opening coincide with the 2015 World Expo in Milan, but they ended up finding some ruins buried underground when they started digging, so the subway project was immediately put on hold. And with that, the dream of the No. 4 subway line, which was supposed to carry all of the international visitors to the Expo, never materialized, and is still under construction, while the fifth line was completed earlier. This fifth subway line, incidentally, got lots of attention from the locals—since it was the first unmanned subway in Milan. I remember not having the heart to tell people that I’d ridden the automated Tokyo Yurikamome line about a quarter century earlier, so the unmanned subway didn’t impress me that much…
Speaking of automated operations, in the last dozen years or so, Milan has quickly adopted all kinds of unstaffed services—from train stations without attendants and vending machines around town to self-checkout registers at grocery stores. Automated services don’t really fit the image of Italy, where perfect strangers are known to enjoy striking up conversations—something that makes them wonderful negotiators. It makes you wonder if the tradition of enjoying casual conversation with the barista who pours your espresso at a stand-up coffee bar might disappear. Sure, the Italians can be a bit meddlesome or intrusive at times, but will all these automated services start to change that?