TENDERS will be called early in 2008 for a concession to run transport services in the Friuli Venezia Giulia region of northern Italy from January 2011 to December 2019.

The region is the first in Italy to call open tenders for public transport services, according to Regional Councillor for Planning, Transport & Infrastructure Dr Lodovico Sonego. Worth around €250m a year, the concession is known as FIRST (Fully Integrated System of Transportation) and covers rail, bus and maritime services. Tenders must be submitted in October 2008, and the award to a single concessionaire will be made in December. There is a possibility of extending the concession by three years.

At the moment local rail services are provided by Trenitalia and Ferrovia Udine-Cividale, with the national operator carrying 7·5 million passengers a year on a 442 km network using a fleet of 61 EMUs, 21 locomotives and 119 coaches. FUC handles 403 000 passengers a year on a 16 km route. At the moment about 70% of the €47m annual cost of the region's rail services is paid by direct grant.

The region intends to include the operation of inter-regional rail services from Udine to Venezia and Trieste to Venezia in the concession, but legislation to permit this has yet to be passed. Sonego is nonetheless confident that sufficient progress will be made next year for these services to form part of the concession.

Sonego says that the region is planning to launch a €52m rolling stock investment programme in January, suggesting that a fleet of new trains will be available to the future operator.

Staff will transfer to the future operator, but Dario Danese, Director-General for Energy, Mobility & Transport Infrastructure, said on November 27 that 'we think it may be necessary to rationalise the personnel to bring down costs'. Bidders will be expected to offer improved or more frequent services, better integration between modes and a unified fares structure supported by the introduction of contactless ticketing. An element of infrastructure investment is also envisaged, and payment of premiums and penalties is anticipated.

The region is promoting the tender by a series of roadshows in a bid to stimulate interest among bidders - 'competition is the best way to improve transport in our region', said Sonego.