VENICE, Italy (NEWSnet/AP) — The city of Venice launched a pilot program Thursday to charge day-trippers an entry fee that authorities hope will help tourists plan around peak travel days and balance the Italian city's capacity with residents and workers.

The cost is 5 euros (around $5.35). The requirement applies to people who are arriving between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.; and on specified dates. Outside of those times, access is free and unchecked.

Visitors arriving at Venice’s main train station were greeted with large signs listing the 29 dates through July of the plan’s startup that also designated separate entrances for tourists, and residents, students and workers.

“We need to find a new balance between the tourists and residents,’’ said Simone Venturini, the city’s top tourism official. “We need to safeguard the spaces of the residents, of course, and we need to discourage the arrival of day-trippers on some particular days.

Hundreds of Venetians protested against the program, marching festively though the city’s main bus terminal behind banners reading “No to Tickets, Yes to Services and Housing.”

Protesters scuffled briefly with police with riot gear who blocked them from entering the city, before changing course and entering over another bridge escorted by plainclothes police. The demonstration wrapped up peacefully in a piazza.

Tourists arriving at the main station encountered almost as many journalists as stewards on hand to politely guide those unaware of the requirements through the process of downloading the QR code to pay the fee.

Arianna Cecilia, a tourist from Rome visiting Venice for the first time, said she thought it was “strange” to have to pay to enter a city in her native country, and be funneled through separate entrance ways for tourists. She and her boyfriend were staying in nearby Treviso, and so downloaded the QR code as required, but she was still caught by surprise on the plan.

Transgressors faces fines of 50 to 300 euros ($53 to $320), but officials said “common sense” was being applied for the start up.

The city can track the number of hotel visitors, which last year numbered 4.6 million and is down 16% from pre-pandemic highs. But the number of day visitors, which make up the majority of the crowds in Venice, was much harder to determine.

A Smart Control Room set up during the pandemic has been tracking arrivals from cellphone data, roughly confirming pre-pandemic estimates of 25 million to 30 million arrivals a year, said Michele Zuin, the city’s top economic official. That includes both day-trippers and overnight guests.

“It’s clear we will get more reliable data from the contribution” being paid by day-trippers, Zuin said.

Based on currently available data, Venturini said the city is strained when the number of day-trippers reaches 30,000 to 40,000. On peak days, local police set up one-way traffic for pedestrians to keep the crowds moving.

“Putting a ticket to enter a city will not decrease not even by one single unit the number of visitors that are coming," said Tommaso Cacciari, an activist who organized a protest Thursday against the measure.

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