For anyone with a weakness for betting, there exists a magic sextet of numbers in Rome that plucks a winner out of the hat almost without fail. And it doesnt cost you a penny either. All you

have to do is ask it a question, though it must be one that somehow involves Rome.

You must be joking! What if Im Chinese, I speak no Italian, and on a Saturday evening I interrogate your silly digits about the whereabouts of my Toyota which the police have towed away two hours earlier?

Got you, mate! The sextet speaks Chinese from 16.00-19.00 as well as Arabic if you prefer, or German, or French, or Spanish and, of course, English. And its in Italian for 24 hours a day, every day

The number, the most useful ever devised in Rome, is simply 060606, and if this conjures up an image of half-a-dozen old dears with knitting needles sitting around a table in a cosy little hide-away in the bowels of the Campidoglio, you would be surprised by the reality. For a start, the call centre is located in a mini-skyscraper overlooking the lake at EUR, and consists of three huge, strangely quiet rooms, with operators wearing headphones sitting in partitioned rows in front of 70 computer screens.

The service, which employs a total of 300 full- and part-time staff, started in June 2002 after an international tender was put out by Romes city council. The man who pulled off the contract, on behalf of Poste Italiane and an associate partner, T-System, was Gian Luca Biricocoli, the contract manager,

a scrubbed-looking whiz kid with a black crew cut, white shirt and

a dazzling smile.

The initial problem was setting up a new model for the service, he says. There are a few other local call centres in Italy, but this in scope is the first of its kind in the country and perhaps in the world. New York has now set up a single-number service but this time, we beat them to it for once! The smile flashes on. Yes, I would say its been an instant success. On average, we get some 5,000 calls a day, around 70 of them at dead of night, mainly from older people whove run into difficulties. But the big peak came during the blackout last summer. We got 11,484 calls, because everyone except us had gone off the air

Murder on the Nomentana Five Slavs arrested for armed robbery The messages flash up non-stop on split-screens to help any operator facing an emergency call. The top red segment of the screen displays the city councils new SMS service, and the lower yellow one ANSA news agency flashes from Rome and Lazio.

Supervising the day-to-day running of the centre is Domenico Jannaccone. The idea is to solve citizens problems, or at least to point them in the right direction by telling them who to go to, he explains. The operators have the names and numbers of all council staff and can put people directly in touch with the right person. If we dont know the answer to a question, we ring the caller back when weve found it. The staff also has personal meetings with the city council to be brought up to date on whats happening. The average wait for a call to be answered is 45 seconds.

We also run information campaigns. The current one is about what to do about demands for payment of traffic fines already paid. What do you do? You call 060606 and they will fix an appointment for you with the firm that deals with the fines.

One operator is Elisabetta Selonone, previously a cashier in a store devoted to wedding lists. Youve got to have bags of patience in this job. If you havent, forget it, she says.

A call comes through from someone Selonone judges to be a woman of 45-50. She wants to know in which sections on the local real estate tax form (ICI) she has to insert her second house. It takes Selonone what seems an eternity to satisfy her, though queries take an average 1 minute 38 seconds to answer.

Selonone says at night a lot of calls come from young people wanting to know the location of the nights big concert, or from older folk simply suffering from loneliness and wanting somebody to chat with.

Another operator, Annalida Coggiula, is tackling an awkward caller wanting to know not only where the trains for Fiumicino airport leave from, but also from which platform, and then what bus to take from Montesacro to get to the station.

Coggiula, appointed 18 months ago after working as a Spanish translator for a firm installing satellite systems, finds the job really stimulating because it brings her into contact with a submerged reality in Rome hitherto unknown to her Tuscan background. Her oddest call came from a woman demanding to know the address of the mayor, Walter Veltroni, because she wanted to stand beneath his window and shout her complaints to him. She was put in touch with the mayors spokesperson.

However, most questions, according to an official graph, are about taxes, rubbish dues, the ATAC bus system, the anagrafe (public records office) and the local police.

The day after the visit to the call centre, an angry letter appeared in a local newspaper. Ive been trying for days to reach ACEA, calling their freephone number. Ive spent whole mornings on the phone to ACEA listening to a recording telling me all the lines are engaged. Im elderly and getting to the ACEA offices is impossible. Their service

is a scandal. Our answer can only be: Sorry, madam, you dialled

the wrong number.

Picture: The 060606 call centre in EUR employs 300 full- and part-time operators.

Wanted in Rome
Wanted in Rome
Wanted in Rome is a monthly magazine in English for expatriates in Rome established in 1985. The magazine covers Rome news stories that may be of interest to English and Italian speaking residents, and tourists as well. The publication also offers classifieds, photos, information on events, museums, churches, galleries, exhibits, fashion, food, and local travel.
Previous article St Valentine kissing world record
Next article St Valentine kissing world record