Florence, Italy public transportation - huge fine for not validating ticket

I've just landed in Florence from Germany via an overnight train. A bit delirious from lack of sleep, my traveling companion and I didn't realize we needed to validate our bus/tram tickets immediately after purchasing them. We received a 50€ fine each and if we do not pay within five days, the amount rises to 240€. We almost literally sat down on the bus and then were approached by ATAF staff asking for our tickets, and then quickly, for our documents aka passports. I know we are at fault for not understanding the system completely, but this seems a bit harsh considering we really were not attempting to scam the system and the ticket was 1,20€. I pleaded to receive a warning or a cheaper fine, but they were very strict. Is there anything we can do to contest it? Any guidance is much appreciated.
Thanks, Shanna W.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17738 posts

Shanna, There have been complaints in the past about the heavy-handed enforcement of fines in Florence (especially on the Buses). Florence is also well known for the extensive network of Zona Traffico Limitato (limited traffic) areas in the city, which have snagged many unwary drivers with expensive fines. I doubt there's any way you'll be able to dispute the fines, since technically you were travelling with unvalidated tickets. I don't necessarily validate tickets immediately after buying them, unless I'm going to be travelling right away (since there's often a time limit once they're validated). If I'm buying a ticket for use the following day, I normally validate prior to boarding the conveyance. It should be noted that the same fines apply when travelling on trains in Italy. You MUST validate tickets for Regionale trains prior to boarding! If you're travelling on "premium" trains such as the Freccia high speed trains, you MUST have reservations which are specific to each train and departure time. Reservations are included with P-P tickets, but those travelling with Railpasses must pay separately. You MUST board the train specified on your ticket, and sit in the specified car and seat number. Perhaps Roberto will have some suggestions for disputing the tickets, but I can't think of any to offer at the moment. Good luck!

Posted by Shanna
Seattle, Wa, Usa
2 posts

Eh thank you Ken. I appreciate your words. Sincerely, Shanna W.
1st day in Italy, lesson learned in a major way :)

Posted by Karen
Fort Wayne, IN, USA
1519 posts

Wow, Florence just loves tourists, doesn't it? I'm feeling a little like James here, but just why do people want to go somewhere that dips into their pocket so freely? A lot of Italy is on my travel list, but Florence is not.

Posted by Paul
Cedar, IA, USA
2371 posts

Hate to tell you, but it is not just Florence. Rome pretty heavily patrols the buses and trains checking tickets as well, as do other larger cities with linked metro systems. Also, in my experience, they do not specifically target tourists, they check everyone, though I am sure popular routes see more checks...the Leonardo Express for instance has come up more than once on the boards. The take away here is remember to validate, or buy a pass that only needs validating once.

Posted by steven
white plains, ny, usa
649 posts

Shanna , Sorry to hear this. I would like to add an example to Paul's comment about the ubiquity of this . When in London , we were on The Docklands Light Railway ,which is part of the London Underground network . We were returning to central London after spending the day in Greenwich . As we left the Canary Wharf station ,a transit inspector very efficiently worked through the carriage checking EVERYONE from one end to the other . It's not only Italy , try not to let it spoil your trip ,you won't let it happen again , travel well!

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8735 posts

Shanna, It is difficult to say, but it is a shame you didn't follow the advice on this board and in all the tourbooks I have seen before your trip instead of after having been caught. Many of us here have been preaching (especially wonderful Ken) for years almost every day to validate your tickets for public transport - train, bus, tram - especially in Italy and France or risk large fines. Unfortunately your post proves that correct. You are actually very lucky that they didn't march you off the bus and take you to an ATM to pay them on the spot. That's what Italian law permits, and you can be handed to the police. I suggest you not let the 5 days elapse without handling your problem. Please return here and post other questions - or the Helpline makes great leisure reading. You can learn loads of ways to save money and plenty of ways to avoid spending it.

Posted by Nicole P
Truro, NS, Canada
708 posts

I guess we lucked out in Paris - we were staying on the outskirts and had bought a 3 day pass...didn't realize we had to write the date on it...inspectors came thru, pointed it out, gave us a pen to fix it, and were on their way...and I guess we lucked out in Florence - we were going to buy a ticket from the driver, but the bus was so crammed (rush hour, carry-ons...ugh - taxi would have been better) people just kept jamming in and we couldn't even get a ticket - thank goodness no inspectors...I think one thing def to research before visitng a country is how the public transport works, rules and such. It's easy to forget when things are hectic...we also forgot to validate our tickets from La Spezia to Corniglia...rem after we boarded, but luckily, a short train ride...

Posted by Philip
London, United Kingdom
1689 posts

Be especially careful in Germany on urban transit systems, as you are usually required to validate tickets when entering, but there are no ticket gates and it's easy for people from cities where there are gates to forget.

Posted by Sasha
Bainbridge Island
1584 posts

To clarify, you validate a ticket right before using it, not right after buying it. Sometimes the machines are on the bus and you have to look for it. Just watch to see what others are doing.

Posted by Douglas
Oak Park, Illinois
2375 posts

I concur with the others that this is not a Florence issue, may European public transit systems work on an honor system rather than turnstyles. If you don't have a valid ticket, you can be fined on the spot and it's expensive. I've seen tickets checks in Berlin, Athens, Paris and all over Italy. I've been on the wrong end of checks all over too. Sometimes I avoided a fine thanks to understanding conductors, but sometimes I was fined. I know you were tired and didn't understand the system. But even though you weren't trying to cheat the system, you were in the wrong. If you don't have a sympathetic conductor, you are stuck.

Posted by Robert
Portland
629 posts

Maybe the French authorities are more lenient than the Italians in this regard. Last year, while on the tram in Bordeaux, an inspector got on and started checking tickets. If someone had a ticket but hadn't validated it, they were simply told to do so. But one person didn't have a ticket at all, and paid a fine with her credit card right on the spot. And a number of years ago we forgot to validate a ticket for a French long distance train, and were told by the conductor that we should make sure to do so in the future.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17738 posts

Shanna, As this was your first day in Italy, be vigilant to ensure this doesn't happen again when using public transit! As others have commented, this type of thing doesn't just occur in Italy. I've also heard warnings about overzealous Inspectors "nicking" people in Athens and other cities. I've also seen Italians paying fines for not following the rules on the trains, including one example last September on a Freccia train. From what I was able to determine with my limited Italian, the individual didn't have a valid reservation for that particular train. Rather than apologizing, and for want of a better term, "grovelling", he chose to argue with and berate the Conductor. That was NOT a real good idea, as he was fined on the spot! I've also seen examples of leniency from Conductors in Italy on many occasions. Rather than fining passengers without reservations (or validated tickets), they simply allowed them to pay for the reservations on the spot (about €10 PP). There are never any guarantees on which approach the Conductors might use, but it helps to be polite and respectful. They're just doing a job, and people at a level far above them set the policies. If you're going to be travelling in Switzerland during your trip, be VERY careful there. Swiss authorities have apparently started to adopt the same tactics of fining passengers without valid tickets. I posted a link to the story in another Thread here on the HelpLine, but I can't remember which one it is. Cheers!

Posted by Roberto
Fremont, CA, USA
3314 posts

My father was a supervisor at ATAF (Florence City Bus Agency). Earlier in his career in the early 1970's he used to be a driver and also a ticket controller. He used to tell me about all those tourists (especially the young hippie looking long haired backpack toting type with no shoes) who never validated their tickets (or sometimes even had them) claiming in broken Italian: "no parlare italiano, no understando italiano, no sapere need tickets, io credeva bus Italia gratis for students, viva Che Guevara". They also claimed they had no money, so my father would ask for their ID, which they also claimed they left at the hostel. Finally, maybe already in the 1980's, ATAF figured out that it would be a good idea to place warning signs on every bus in English, which they did. Next time you get on the bus, take time to look at the signs posted inside the bus, you will notice the warnings, both in Italian and English, about validating the tickets and the fines for those who don't, are displayed on every bus, in the front and in the back. Of course in your case it wasn't deliberate, like for those hippie students my father had to face every day, nevertheless the law doesn't admit ignorance. I was fined on the metro in France about 20 years ago. I had traveled using the city metro ticket all the way to Versailles on the RER. Speaking little French didn't save me or my wife either. It spoiled my day at Versailles. But if it makes you feel better, the son of my old neighbors in Florence was ticketed 2 times while visiting the US, for speeding. I can assure you he paid much more than 50 euros and his broken English didn't save him either. They arrested him, took him straight to the police station and wouldn't release him until he paid the hefty fine. At least in Florence they send you a bill at home if you enter the ZTL.

Posted by Roberto
Fremont, CA, USA
3314 posts

First of all you must not pay if you want to dispute the ticket, otherwise you lose your rights to dispute. To dispute the ticket: Within 30 days, the author of the violation may present a request for 'recourse' by forwarding documentation and/or requesting a hearing. The recourse must be made in writing to: ATAF S.p.A. – viale dei Mille 115 – 50131 Firenze. In case the recourse is not accepted, you are precluded to pay the minimum fine (Euro 50) and the authority will send an injunction of payment. In such case you'll have to pay the 240 euro. Based on what I read, I don't think your recourse would be accepted. Claiming ignorance of the necessity to validate will not save you. As I mentioned there are posters on the bus (in English) with warnings and instructions. So unless you can prove the warning posters were removed by someone or defaced and made illegible, they won't accept your recourse. Typically people make recourse if the validating machine has the incorrect time stamp or when someone claims that the bus was too crowded and couldn't reach the validating machine immediately after boarding and stuff like that.

Posted by Barry
San Diego, CA
587 posts

Roberto, I think some of the hippies your father met in the early 70's and told you about spend time this message board!

Posted by Linda
Bromley, Kent,, UK
1630 posts

Last year as the regionale train we were on was pulling out of Bologna I realised that we had not validated our tickets (third journey in 3 days but just took our eyes off the ball!). Walked to the back of the train straight away and found the ticket inspector and showed her the tickets. She called up a validation code on her phone and wrote it on the tickets. Had we waited until she reached us at our seats it would have been a different story.

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
2826 posts

Just a clarification for any newbies reading this: Yes, look at locals to see how to validate a ticket. But many locals have weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annual passes (depending on what is available in each city). These usually only have to be validated the first time they're used, and can often stay out of sight unless an inspector needs to see them. As a result, it looks like the locals don't have tickets, and I've seen tourists claim that everyone is "riding black" (the term, at least in German, for riding without a ticket). Then, when the inspectors come on, everyone pulls out their passes. So, even if it looks like no one is buying or validating a ticket, yes, you still need to do so. As others have said, I've seen locals get in trouble for not having validated tickets (in Perugia). And I've never seen "profiling" from the inspectors: they check everybody on the bus or train (or in Paris, at the checkpoint they set up in a passageway). But it's a bit like a speed trap: the locals all know where it is, so visitors are more easily ensnared. Locals know the ticket rules, and are more likely to follow them. And while it's nice if an inspector is lenient, they are under no obligation to waive the rules. I'm sure if they did this more than once a year, the word would get out, everyone would just play "dumb tourist" and no one would ever buy tickets.

Posted by Frank
Tresana, Highlands Ranch, CO, USA
10854 posts

While we are all lamenting about how badly tourists are treated for breaking the rules and need to have some leeway and understanding, I wonder what happens to our European cousins when they get a speeding ticket, hit a red light camera, etc. in the US I wonder if feel like they are being picked on for being an ignorant tourist?

Posted by Zoe
Toledo, Ohio, US
2460 posts

It's also important to hold on to your ticket (bus or train) until you are out of the station or away from the bus stop. In several cities the controllers don't always get on the bus but wait at the busy stops and check tickets for deboarding passengers. The instruction to keep your ticket is printed on it.

Posted by bronwen
maplewood, new jersey, usa
750 posts

I totally knew about validating but just forgot. Partly because when I bought the ticket in the machine I did pick a particular train - machine gave me a warning that train leaves in less than three minutes so in my head I was thinking ticket was just for that train. So we RAN and jumped in train and then I realized we didn't validate. So - I jumped off the next stop and validated. Nobody checked but I was all in a panic.

Posted by Kim
Paris
541 posts

My favorite controllers (and they control all the time) are those in Budapest. They wear regular clothes, and when they want to demand to see your (validated) ticket, they roll up their sleeves (literally!) to reveal a vaguely military-looking red and gold armband. It makes me smile every time.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8735 posts

Happens on British trains, buses and Underground too. On British trains in a Penalty Fare Zone the penalty is at least £20. In London on TfL Underground and buses and trams it is at least £50. It is well worth having the correct ticket in the correct manner.

Posted by Paul
Weston, MA, USA
61 posts

I don't mean to hijack this thread, but it does seem the OP is AWOL. I am very curious as to how one validates a ticket. We traveled on the metro and a train with paid tickets, but I don't recall ever "validating" the tickets we purchased. My wife and I were in Italy in December. We had a rental car, but the first couple days in Rome we did without. One day after our underground tour of the Colosseum our tour guide, who was an archeologist from Ostia Antica, inspired us to vist that town. So with no preparation, right after the tour we boarded the subway at the Colosseum station and then changed for the train to Ostia Antica, and then returned the same day. In both cases we bought tickets and then submitted them to a slot in the turnstyle to gain access to the platform. Did ing the tickets into the machines validate the tickets? I am just wondering if we were approached by a conductor if we would have been charged with a big fine for not validating our tickets. Normally I am extremely well prepared for where I am going, but we did this little side trip on the spur of the moment.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17738 posts

@Paul, Tickets for Regionale trains and also Buses MUST be validated by inserrting them into the yellow or blue & gray machines (small digital display on the front), which imprints a time and date stamp on the ticket. Based on what you posted, I'd say you were very lucky that you weren't checked by the Conductor, as you likely would have EACH been fined €50 on the spot! When riding the "premium" trains such as the high speed Freccia trains, it's not necessary to validate tickets, but passengers MUST have valid reservations, which are specific to that train and departure time. Without valid reservations, again you may be fined on the spot. I can't recall the procedure for Metro tickets, as I usually use a B.I.G. ticket which is valid for most modes of transportation, is good for the whole day and only has to be validated once. Cheers!

Posted by Paul
Weston, MA, USA
61 posts

Ah ha, thank you Ken. As I said I am normally extremely well prepared, but this little side trip was on a lark. We had no intention of using the subway or train while in Rome, so I didn't look into the procedure. I kept a lot of paper from our trip and I looked for the tickets we had, but I guess I threw them out. I did find our tickets for the Mini Metro in Perugia which I forgot about. I guess R/T we could have cost ourselves another 200 euros, but I don't think those had to be validated. You know, we enjoyed Italy so much, I think I will voluntary send in the 50 euro fine ................. naaah!

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
2826 posts

Paul: When you inser-ted your ticket into the Metro turnstile, that validated it, so you were fine. Kim: Have you seen the Hungarian movie Kontroll? It's filmed completely underground in the Budapest Metro, and is all about the ticket inspectors. Yes, they are everywhere - don't even THINK about riding black in Budapest. Budapest is the only metro/subway/underground I've ever seen where you need to validate a new ticket to change lines, even if you stay underground and don't leave the system. You can buy a special "changing ticket" that covers more than one subway line, but for most visitors, the 1 day, 3 day, etc., passes are much easier and cheaper.

Posted by Patty
Steilacoom, WA, USA
304 posts

Was in San Diego last month, you have to validate daily pass before boarding their transit. It's done on the honor system on the streetcars and you never know when they'll board, check and fine.