Source: Parola, F., Ferrari, C., Tei, A., Satta, G., and Musso, E. (2017). Dealing with multi-scalar embeddedness and institutional divergence: Evidence from the renovation of Italian port governance. Research in Transportation Business & Management, 22, 89-99.
The merging of the 24 existing port authorities and other smaller ports into 15 Port System Authorities (PSAs) has been the foundation of the 2016 Italian port governance reform. The stated aim for this merging of port managing entities was to eliminate the major weaknesses threatening Italian ports, such as sub-optimal port size, insufficient financial and funding resources, low competitiveness, and inefficiencies related to hinterland connections.
The 15 PSAs inherited the duties and the power of the traditional port authorities, with a broader geographical scope. Existing port authorities have been grouped into PSAs according to historical backgrounds, political pressures, port characteristics, and hinterland profiles. For example, the three Ligurian ports (Savona, Genova, and La Spezia) were included in two different PSAs, and the three Apulian port authorities acted similarly (Bari and Brindisi formed a single PSA with a couple of minor ports, but Taranto formed a PSA on its own).
With this being a top-down initiative rather than a port-level decision, challenges remain. The most significant relates to the presence of a multi-layer port governance system and the role sustained by the central government that does more than appointing the head of each PSA. The PSAs play a coordination role, while for each former port authority, a special Port Directorate (PD) remains in charge of port-level tasks and duties. The PD also proposes the implementation of different actions to the President of its PSA.
As a consequence, the introduction of coordination mechanisms through the formation of PSAs is predicted to bring a rationalization of small ports. The simultaneous presence of two diverse entities (PDs and PSAs) with overlapping functions might reduce the positive effect of the new organization, especially as a third layer was also introduced, and a special ministerial department was assigned to rationalize and coordinate investments and financial resources of the different PSAs, as a whole. In a nutshell, the central government retains a great influence on the financial aspect, the PSAs playing the critical planning and coordination role, and the PDs managing local resources.