No, the buses in Rome are NOT free

I've seen it on Ron in Rome's blog and now I've witnessed it myself. There's a common misconception among tourists to Rome that either (1) the buses in Rome are free or (2) that not even the locals in Rome buy tickets, so why should you. We're in Italy right now for 2 1/2 weeks, and I'm here to tell you from personal experience that the authorities in Rome DO hop onto the buses to check tickets. They way they do this is that the bus stops BETWEEN regular stops and opens only the front and back doors where 2-3 officials will get on the bus. There is no way to get off the bus if you see this happening. And it's an instant 50 euro fine on the spot if you don't have a ticket on you. This happened to us this morning on the Route 64 right before Termini. Fortunately we had our weeklong passes with us (which don't require constant validation) so we didn't get nabbed. But guess who did? A nun. And guess who got a 50 euro fine on the spot. Yep. She did. We met some other Americans who were almost bragging about how they weren't going to buy tickets because they didn't see any locals stamping their tickets. I told them that I had read that most locals have passes that don't require stamping, but this group didn't want to hear it. One of the women said she would just say she didn't know you needed a ticket. I can guarantee you that the officials will not care. If they will give a nun a 50 euro fine, you can bet your you-know-what that they will fine you as well. P.S. We ran into Rick Steves himself a few days ago in a cafe in the Piazza Farnese. Chatted for a little bit. Nice guy. And much taller than he looks on camera.

Posted by Charlie
Honolulu/Seattle, HI/WA, USA
1841 posts

And those same Americans were probably complaining about the food in Rome. We all need to be more respectful of local laws and customs so as to not give the locals the wrong impression.

Posted by Otariidae
Catadupa Alamere, CA
515 posts

RS has called an emergency meeting with his cameraman after reading your posting

Posted by donna
cranberry twp, PA, United States
2403 posts

You can't assume that the buses are free just because the locals don't stamp their tickets. They may have week or month long passes with them. Anyone who chooses to cheat the system gets what they deserve if they're caught. We all know you have to pay to ride the bus and the metro so if people choose not to they must live with the consequences. Thanks for the up-to-date report confirming that random checks do occur and on-the-spot fines are alive and well. Donna

Posted by Douglas
Oak Park, Illinois
2386 posts

My experience with Italian buses is the same, they DO enforce and WILL fine those without tickets. Actually, most European cities are that way.

Posted by Michael
Seattle, WA, USA
5763 posts

And frankly we should call this what it is - theft. If you're taking a service and not paying for it, how is that different from theft. The woman who was bragging about not buying tickets was telling us this in front of their teenage son. She knew they were supposed to buy tickets, she had decided they could get away with not doing it, and then she was announcing she would lie about it if caught. I wonder what lesson her son was learning about acceptable behavior? I had a great conversation on the train yesterday from Rome to Orvieto, with an older woman from Naples. We talked about this and she said that society is built on the smaller things, and if we're not honest in doing the smaller things, how can we expect bigger things to be successful? Anyway, that's kind of a rough translation of her point.

Posted by Anita
Philadelphia, PA, USA
331 posts

At the bargain rate of 1 Euro for 75 minutes of travel anywhere in the Rome public transit system, I just do not see any reason to not buy and validate the ticket.

Posted by Robert
Santa Fe
12 posts

Ha, funny that you mention that, just today in Florence (currently where I am at) we had an official come onto the bus to look at tickets. A few of the local school boys were getting written up for their lack of tickets, and he made sure ours were validated. So you may get lucky on occasion without buying a ticket, but it could come back to bite you in the rear when the official gets on.

Posted by Chris
St. Louis, Missouri, United States
49 posts

Take a pen with you on your trip; sometimes you might not find the validating machine, and you validate it yourself by writing the time and date (in European format: day/month/year) and you're good to go.

Posted by Michael
Seattle, WA, USA
5763 posts

That might work if you have a ticket (as long as the inspectors don't think you just self-validated right when you saw them), but the problem I brought up here is those people who don't buy tickets at all.

Posted by Paul
Tuscaloosa, AL
877 posts

Being used to U.S. and U.K. public transport, I suppose it is possible that a tourist might make a mistake about riding the buses. In the systems I've used, you have to either insert a card or use some type of electronic pass when entering and when leaving. Assuming you didn't read signs or do any advance research, I could see someone being confused if they didn't see the locals insert cards or use passes when riding mass transit. I had that experience using subways and buses in Germany this summer. You purchase a pass and stamp it once when you start using it. I had difficulty shaking the feeling that I wanted to stamp my pass on every trip (I didn't, of course). It felt strange just to jump on and off trains and buses. They do check, though. I saw them do it and actually fine someone when I was on the S-Bahn subway riding out to suburban Munich. Two conductors went through the cars to check passes. Now that does not excuse anyone who deliberately tries to beat the system. (And anyone who does deserves to get popped.) Nor does it really excuse those who don't learn beforehand how the system works. That is a duty you have when traveling.

Posted by SamSn
Scottsdale, AZ, USA
1092 posts

The buses in several cities have warnings in English written on/near the doors that tickets are required and rides are not free. Sorry, but I don't buy it when people claim they didn't know they needed a ticket. What city offers free transport?

Posted by Michael
Seattle, WA, USA
5763 posts

Well, Seattle does have a ride-free zone downtown for the buses, so it can happen, but it is absolutely up to the traveler to find out.

Posted by maggie
St Louis
403 posts

Part of the confusion comes from US tourists who are accustomed to paying in cash when they get on a bus, but don't realize they were supposed to buy a ticket before getting on the bus.