I was riding the bus a few weeks ago and had an interesting conversation. The folks sitting in front of me were obviously Americans and they were very confused. I asked if I could help and we managed to determine what bus stop would work best for them. As they readied to get off the bus, one turned to me and said, “Aren’t these buses great – and it’s wonderful that they’re FREE!”
Riding the Buses in Rome
Riding the Metro in Rome
Purchasing a Metro or Bus Ticket at a Kiosk
Metro, Bus and Train Strikes in Italy
Okay, buses in Rome are NOT free. But since you do not purchase tickets from the driver as you do in other countries, you can enter the bus at multiple doors, and often you never see anyone validate a ticket… it’s easy to understand why this misconception may occur! Folks like me use a mensili, or a monthly pass, so we never have to validate. In fact, most folks on the bus are locals and have monthly or annual passes – so they never use those yellow validation boxes. If you ride the bus without a validated ticket and a team of “inspectors” comes on, it’s an on-the-spot €50 fine for a non-EU citizen!
So what are the types of tickets, where can you buy them, and where can you go with them? We will focus on tickets for use inside Rome, not the Lazio area. The Rome public transportation system is managed by ATAC, which stands for Agenzia Per I Trasporti autoferrotranviari del Comune Di Roma.
Public Transportation Options In Rome
Your ATAC ticket is valid for use on the Rome Metro system. If you dig down ten feet in Rome, you will hit some form of Roman ruins. As a result, there are only two metro lines in Rome:the A line and the B Line. Currently, the C line is “under construction,” which you can see in Piazza Venezia. But they’ve hit some ruins – surprise – and there’s no telling how long they may be stalled! So some parts of the city are not serviced by the metro… okay, really MOST of the city is NOT serviced by the metro. Yet, if your hotel or desired destination is near the metro it can be a very effective mode of transportation. The most commonly used metro stops: Termini, where both lines cross, the Vatican stops, and of course, the Colosseo!
The Metro stops are designated by a square sign with a big white M on a white background. At some stops there may be two entrances, on either side of the street. At a large stop there could be four or more. I still get “confused” trying to determine which way I should exit. The good news is, once above ground, it’s easy to see where you’re at.
It goes without saying that when you are on the metro, entering the metro, and leaving the metro, keep an eye on your belongings. The platforms and trains can get very crowded and sometimes you’re PACKED IN. Don’t advertise your expensive camera, jewelry, or wallet location while on the metro! Be Aware and you’ll be fine. I’m been riding the metro for years and never had an issue… but be alert! From more detailed information on the Rome Metro system, see our post: The Metro in Rome
Buses and Trams
The ATAC Transport Agency operates more than 350 bus lines and seven trams. These, like the metro, all use the same ticket system. A single use ticket in Rome is good for 100 minutes (effective May 25, 2012) on the bus and good for transfer for unlimited bus travel and one metro run, WITHIN that 100 minute time frame. If you buy a longer term ticket, say a day or a week, you have unlimited privileges on these forms of transit during the time frame of the ticket! See Riding the Buses in Rome for helpful hints on bus riding in the city.
Your ATAC ticket is also good on three “Met.Ro” train lines, Roma Viterbo, Roma Pantano, and Roma Lido. Note these do not have a “FR” designation. These are not the same as Regionale Train lines; the FR1, FR2, etc… For most folks visiting Rome, the only “Met.Ro” train you will ride is the ROMA LIDO line which takes you to the ruins at Ostia Antica, or the beach at Ostia.
Your ATAC ticket is also good on the local, or Regionale trains, within a 2-zone area of Rome – but only in 2nd class. Most of these trains are commuter trains and are entirely 2nd class. Unfortunately, although the ATAC tickets are good on these the FR1 train, they are not valid on a ride to the FCO airport. Both of the airports are outside the 2-zone ring. The system has been designed so that the airports are OUTSIDE the 2-zone area.
Zoom in on this map of the Regionale train routes (controls are on the top right of the map). On the top left side of the page, near the legend, you’ll see the FM3 line headed to Viterbo. Just below the FM3 marker you’ll see the Cesano station highlighted by red-letters. These red-letters indicate that this is the LAST stop at which your ATAC tickets are valid. Beyond that, you’ll have to buy a Trenitalia or B.I.R.G. ticket. If you go back to the map and zoom in on other areas of town, you be able to find on each rail route a station marked in red-letters. Stay inside these and you can ride these Regionale trains using your ATAC ticket.
What are the different tickets available?
BIT – Integrated Time Ticket
Biglietto Integrato a Tempo
The BIT currently costs €1.50 (effective May 25, 2012). The Biglietto Integrato a Tempoand is good for 100 minutes from the initial validation. The BIT tickets can be used on public transport within Rome which includes buses, trams, trolley buses, Cotral coaches, on the metro lines A and B, on Met.Ro regional trains: Rome–Lido, Rome–Viterbo, Rome–Pantano, and on the Trenitalia Regional Trains as explained above. Within your 100 minutes of travel (effective May 25, 2012) you can ride as many buses as you like – within the 100-minute time limit.
Although the BIT allows unlimited bus or tram rides during the 100-minute validation period, you can only use it on the metro for one trip. So if you exit through the turnstiles at a Metro station, you’ll have to use a different ticket – even if your ticket is 5 minutes old. But, you still can ride buses after that one-time metro use for the additional 95 more minutes remaining on the “validation” period. The ticket must be validated when you first use it and it must be kept for the duration of any journey.
BIG – Integrated Daily Ticket
BIG – Biglietto Integrato Giornaliero
The BIG costs €6 (effective May 25, 2012) and is good for unlimited travel until midnight of the day you validated the ticket. The Biglietto Integrato Giornaliero tickets are also good on the same transports as the BIT – Biglietto Integrato a Tempo tickets, except you can ride on the metro unlimited times until the expirations (at midnight) of your BIG ticket. It is not really a “daily” or 24-hour ticket, as the name suggests; if you validate the ticket at 09:00, then it will still expire at midnight, and NOT 09:00 the following day. The ticket must be validated when you first use it and it must be kept for the duration of any journey.
BTI – Integrated Tourist Ticket
Biglietto Turistico Integrato
The BTI cost is €16.50 (effective May 25, 2012) and is good for THREE DAYS of unlimited travel until midnight of the third day from when you validated the ticket. The BTI tickets can be used in the same way as the BIG, Integrated Daily Ticket. This is a great ticket if you have a short stay in Rome. OF you validate your ticket on a Monday morning at 10:00, it will be valid until Wednesday at midnight. The ticket must be validated when you first use it and it must be kept for the duration of any journey.
CIS – Integrated Weekly Ticket
Carta Integrata Settimanale
The CIS cost is €24 (effective May 25, 2012) and is good for SEVEN DAYS of unlimited travel until midnight of the seventh day from when you validated the ticket. The CIS tickets can be used in the same way as the BIG and BTI tickets.
Monthly Pass (Mensili)
This monthly pass costs €30 and is good for the Calendar Month with unlimited travel for the entire period. The Monthly Pass tickets can be used in the same way as the BIG, BTI, and CSI tickets. As per the ATAC website: “Until the fifth day of each calendar month, you can buy the pass from any of the 2,000 usual shops. After the sixth day of the month, the pass can only be bought from ticket offices and ATAC sales points.”
Where can you buy ATAC tickets at?
As we said, tickets must be purchased before boarding the us. Note, in the newest buses and a few of the trams there are machines selling tickets – but this is only about 10% of the equipment running – so do not bank on this. Get your ticket in advance!
You can buy your tickets at “Tabacchi” shops, identifiable by a black and white “T” sign. Some newsstands sell the tickets. There are green ATAC booths at major bus terminuses, and many of the larger train stations have an ATAC booth in them. Many folks buy them at the self-service machines in the metro. These machines have a button (bottom left) that which allow you to make your entire transaction in English! For a step-by-step to using the ATAC ticket kiosks, read Purchasing a Metro or Bus Ticket at a Kiosk.
You just have to prepare ahead. Tabacchi shops are often not open early in a Sunday morning … so make sure you have a couple extra tickets if you intend to ride the bus from your hotel or B&B!
When you board your bus you’ve got to validate your ticket – there are usually yellow validating machines near the front and rear of the bus, located on the left side. You validate the ticket by inserting the ticket into the slot with the arrow pointing down, black stripe facing you. It will make a printing noise and your ticket will pop back up. If you turn it over, on the backside you will now see a timestamp. The metro turnstiles timestamp in the same manner. If you buy many BIT’s (one-time tickets), you have to validate each time you use – but for all other tickets, daily, weekly, 3 day passes, you only validate the first time you use those tickets!
When you get on a bus, you do not have to pull out your ticket and show it to the driver. Conversely, to enter the metro, you have to insert your ticket into the turnstile for each trip. Make sure you retrieve your ticket when it pops up at the top of the machine.
Are there people that do not pay? Certainly. But there are checks and balances. Randomly – okay, very randomly – ATAC inspectors will board the bus. They usually work in teams of three; they enter through each door, and their visits come without warning. When they get on, if they see someone sprint for the doors, they immediately ask to see their validated ticket. Not having a ticket will result in embarrassment and about a €50 fine. Italians can go to court, where the fines can then run from €100 – €500 if they lose… but NON-EU are required to pay on the spot. When I first arrived here, I saw folks taken off the bus to an ATM!
The inspectors have heard all the excuses and are unsympathetic. Signs are posted in Italian and English… so ignorance is not a viable nor acceptable excuse! I’ve seen postings that say 90% of the folks riding the bus in Rome do not pay. Not true – most locals have monthly or annual passes that do not have to be validated. Because tourists are used to different systems in other cities, many adopt a laissez-faire attitude when they see other passengers taking seats without validating their tickets. The result is that most folks that do get busted ARE tourists. I’ve been on probably 50-75 buses that inspectors have come on. Usually of the 25-40 people on a bus, 1 or 2 get busted. Often times, no one. So locals do have a pass in their pocket!
The most entertaining “inspection” came a few months ago. There were about 45 people on a #32 bus headed to the Vatican. Three inspectors came on and found a 25 year-old Italian with no ticket. His first excuse, met by groans and catcalls from folks around him was,” I did not know I needed a ticket.” Hardly believable, the inspector just shook his head and kept writing the ticket. Then he said, “It’s the first time I’ve ever forgotten my ticket.” After his first statement, the second one was greeted with more head shaking and comments as he was getting loud and defensive.
Then he played his trump card…. He said, “This bus system is so screwed up, why should I have to pay for this?” Immediately the entire bus took sides – some agreeing with him and other saying, “You must pay!” This debate went on for 2-3 stops and caught quite loud. The inspectors were now besieged by angry complaints of bus service, numerous examples of driver rudeness – it was incredible how, with one comment, the offender had “divided” the bus – and I mean, EVERYONE was involved in the discussion! The inspectors gave him his ticket and jumped off (to safety) at the next stop! When he got off the bus, the first call the young man made – to his lawyer!
So be aware – You must keep your ticket with you while you are riding on any form of public transportation. And be ready to show it. The inspectors all have official badges and such but you’ll know by the rustling and scurrying as folks dig out their passes. They also DO check at some metro stations as you go to exit, so do retain your ticket as you enter the metro stations through the turnstiles.
Each day most of Rome travels by public transportation. It’s how I get around. The metro, buses, trams, Met.Ro. trains do make connections to almost any part of Rome possible. The buses are also a wonderful way to rest your tired feet and see the city. And at night, a bus ride through the city can be enthralling! Good Luck! For more information on routes, go to the ATAC site. You can read the site in English. We’ll discuss riding the buses, tram and metro in a separate post!
If you are interested in more travel support, contact me – Ron in Rome – at:
Ron Phillips Travel
An Independent Advisor for Brownell Travel – A Virtuoso® Agency
Phone: (404) 474-3851
FAX: (678) 528-2672
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