A Welcome Note: On Filling the Gaps

Dear Friends and Family:

Although I haven't added any posts since the summer of 2007, this blog continues to be a warehouse of my thoughts and experiences from my time abroad.


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

On Transportation

The challenges associated with living in a somewhat isolated area have forced me to spend much of my time and energy in this first week or so simply getting to know the incredibly complex and seemingly irrational mess that is Rome’s transportation system, the ATAC. The metros here are easy enough: Linea A, one of the two main arteries that runs northwest to southeast and vice versa, is the line I use most frequently to travel to and from home, school and many of the major piazzas in this expansive city. The other main line, which I use less frequently and runs northeast to southwest and vice versa is, as one might guess, named Linea B. Rome is currently constructing two new lines, Linea C and Linea D, that will further connect the city by as early (relative to the length of Rome’s existence anyway) as 2016.
Due to the fact that modern Rome was built on top of the foundations of the ancient empire’s capital, construction workers are forced to suspend work for archeological inquiry at every step of the way. Miserable traffic and limited metro hours are some of the consequences of these much needed civic improvements, and when the metro shuts down at 9PM we are forced to befriend the bus system, difficult enough for the Romans to figure out in their native language. I am only now becoming comfortable with the 628 bus line, the route that takes me to and from school and into other parts of the city as well. When midnight comes around however, one must then rely on the night busses, another tricky system.
One can purchase a 75 minute bus/metro pass at any Tabaccheria for €1, but to save money, a €30 monthly metro/bus pass is much better. It’s quite easy to get a free ride on the ATAC (you don’t have to swipe anything to board a bus or metro), but the consequences for being caught without a ticket can be quite steep. Some Italians take the risk and never get caught, but most seem to be pretty honest about it. However, from time to time, buses will randomly stop, 3 policemen will board and the driver will lock the doors and shut of the ticket stamping machine. If you are caught without a pass, you can be slapped with a €100 fine or even brought to jail, enough of an incentive to pay for a ticket.
The taxis can also be tricky if you don’t know what you’re doing. First of all, it is important that you take a licensed cab. If not, you will undoubtedly be in for a surprise when you reach your destination and have to pay. My friend Hannah made this mistake when she first arrived in Rome and was charged over €150 for a ride that should have been only €60. Also, the central zone in Rome has a different fare rate (1) than the outer ring (2). Cab drivers have been known to try and charge the number 2 rate in the number 1 zone to passengers they know are tourists or Italians from outside of Rome. It is therefore important that you check the meter early on to make sure the driver is not cheating you. Also, you can’t hail a cab in Rome like you can in any U.S. city. Either you can pick up a cab at a taxi stand (usually near main piazzas) or you can call a cab from any other location. You have to be careful when you call cabs though, because their meters begin when they leave their location and if it takes the driver more than 3-5 minutes to reach you, the cost of the ride could start somewhere around €10 before you even go anywhere.
The bottom line with transportation is that if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing it is likely that you will end up waiting for a bus that never comes, or as I experienced one night last week, waiting for the metros to start up again at 5:30 in the morning before you are able to return home. The good thing as that when you start to become better with the system, there is an incredible feeling of pride every time you step on a bus, knowing that you have mastered a small part of your experience.
Thanks for visitng!