Italian Public Transportation: Mi Fa Caga’

Seriously, you guys. You know I love it here, but it’s rant time:

1. There’s An App For That – Kind Of

ATAC, the Roman public transit system, made a pretty ingenious app for iPhones. When you arrive at a bus or tram stop, there is a unique 4-digit number on the bottom of the posted sign. You plug it into the app, and it tells you when the next bus or tram will arrive. Cool, right?

NOT AFTER MIDNIGHT. They shut off the GPS system after midnight, and the app sends you an error message.

It’s bad enough that the entire population of Rome turns into Cinderella at midnight as they flee parties, restaurants, concerts and bars in droves to catch the last bus, tram or train home. But, that’s the New Yorker in me.

You see, here’s the thing: Every mode of transport (save my stupid trenino, which stops at 9.30 or 10.30 pm – no one could give me a definite answer – or commuter trains to the outlying towns, which usually stop around 8 pm, don’t even get me started) leaves for one last run at midnight. So if you’re at, say, Scala di San Lorenzo waiting for the 19 tram and it’s 12.20 am, you want to know if it’s passed by already or if you need to find a cramped once-an-hour night bus that gets you in the general vicinity of your home just in time to be vomited on by drunk Russians.

But leaving the GPS on for another hour so that it can feed into A FREAKING AUTOMATED SYSTEM would apparently cause satellites to hurl themselves to Earth, so you instead must cross the street and ask smokers huddled outside a bar if they’ve seen the tram go by recently, and they all look at you bleary-eyed and clueless. So you cross the street again and wait, and make a deal with God and your watch that if it reaches a certain time you’re going to abort this mission impossible.

2. The Shitting 105

I know, I know, we’ve gone over this before. But this line is seriously the worst in the ATAC system. It is no coincidence that the line whose clientele is 99.9% immigrants never runs on time, uses the worst buses in the fleet and has drivers who have nothing but open contempt for their passengers. Shame on you, Rome. I thought you’d at least be better than the Lega Nord (ultra-right party up north whose latest stunt was handing out anti-immigrant soap).

That being said, the rest of the system is no great shakes, either: ticket machines that don’t work, poor design, bad drivers, no air conditioning or circulation, no easy access to ticket sales at stops, I could go on. And on. And on.

3. Train Travel Within Italy

Following are the fastest times for some notable destinations. There are more, and also slower, trains than noted here. But notice the differences when compared to the distances on the map above.

Milan/Rome: 2 hrs 45 mins

Turin/Rome: 4 hrs 10 mins, via Milan and Bologna

Venice/Rome: 3 hrs 30 mins

Florence/Bologna: 37 minutes, 70 trains a day

Compare to:

Rome/Genoa: 5 hrs 22 mins

Genoa/Ventimiglia (latter not shown on map, see “Menton” or France/Italy border, even though it would take another half hour to get to Menton because of the way the system works at Ventimiglia): 3 hrs 40 mins

Turin/Genoa: 2 hrs 23 mins

Ridiculous.

4. Train Travel On My Favorite Route: Italy/France

I’m not going to rehash my long list of grievances regarding this particular topic. However, in purchasing my tickets this afternoon for my trip to Montpel, I am faced with yet another challenge: They’re no longer selling tickets from Ventimiglia to Nice. I have to purchase it at Ventimiglia.

You might say, Fine! You love Ventimiglia! Don’t you have tons of time there anyway? What’s the big deal?

That’s coming FROM France. Going TO France, I have 11 minutes in Ventimiglia. If I miss that window of opportunity – always a possibility, since it’s a scenic but chronically late local train that’s bringing me to Ventimiglia – it activates a domino affect that forces me to miss the last train from Nice to Montpellier (via Aix-en-Provence, don’t even get me started), which leaves at 4.28 pm (oh, don’t you worry, France is no better), which means my trip ends in Nice that day.

/end rant.

2 thoughts on “Italian Public Transportation: Mi Fa Caga’

  1. I tell you what, I love me some Roman Metro. Two lines, one north/south and one east/west, each station named after something big nearby. HEAVEN. Even a country boy like me can find his way around.

    I have yet to brave the Roman buses though.

  2. The working title of my thousand-page, uncompleted manuscript is “Mussolini’s Still Dead”, which is what I would say whenever Trenitalia was delayed.

    …and “Mussolini lives” whenever the train was on time.

    Having said that, I actually prefer Trenitalia to all other countries’ trains, love the Inter City trains with the six-passenger compartments, no reservations required.

    Being a rather timid soul, I was usually off the streets of Rome after dark, or if not, then within walking distance of my hotel.

    And I never minded slow trains through Italy; I was ever unemployed, never in a hurry. Don’t like France’s TGV; has as much charm as traveling by Boeing 737.

    Best regards,

    Brian

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