Tuesday, 15 January 2013

The Extreme Sport of Evading Transport Control

Anyone who travels tends to do one extreme thing or another...
Some sky dive.
Others hitch-hike.
I evade transport control.
It all started when I was studying in Sofia (capital of Bulgaria). Even though a student card for the public transport (mostly bus) was only 10 levs (5 euro), I was sometimes too cheap to buy tickets OR cards. Why would I when most people would leave a stamped ticket for you on the seat?! Yep, we are that cool! And if you don’t find yourself a ticket, the fine is 10 levs again. 5 euro’s not too bad. Then I moved to study in the UK (Canterbury), and all of a sudden I didn’t need transport. Everything was 10 minutes away! But when I moved to London in 2012, things changed…
Transport in London’s a bitch: it either robs you or makes you late, or both. And it’s almost impossible to avoid paying for it, seeing as you need to use the train and/or the metro at once, and traffic control is everywhere. Although, I must say sometimes they let you pass without a ticket in Victoria Station!
Anyhow, now that I live in Rome, my rebel habits are coming back full-force.
The company that provides public transport in Rome is called ATAC. So I’ll refer to transport control people as “atac people” for short. I’ve been evading them for five months now and only came across them twice. And I can do it because I’ve good friends who told me how to do it successfully. Mostly foreigners and exchange students because Italians, for some reason, are quite conscientious about that.
Now let’s look at pricing and why it might be best to avoid paying for transport altogether.
First of all, a monthly “metrebus card” (metro & bus) costs 35 euro, which is the cheapest you can go away with if you don’t want to buy yourself a card for 3 months, or a year-round card. Otherwise, you’re looking at 80 euro if you take the bus twice a day for 30 days. And that’s ONLY if you buy your tickets on board of the bus (1.50 a piece). Bear in mind that the tickets are overpriced anywhere else!
That is, except for the metro. You can buy a ticket using the automated machines at every station.
Also, you should know that not every bus provides tickets on board. While in some places you can buy your ticket from the driver (like in Bulgaria and England), you can’t do that in Rome for some reason. So if you don’t have a ticket, and there’s no ticket-selling machine on board, you’re sort of screwed. Here’s a good rule of thumb though: if the bus is one of the long ones, it’s likely to sell tickets on board.
And if you hear people asking for “biglietti”, run to the nearest machine and pray you have change!
The only mystery I haven’t solved yet is whether those single tickets that are supposed to be valid for 100 minutes can be used in different vehicles. It seems to work for the bus system, but what’s up with the metro? If you want to shed light on that, please do. It’s been nagging me for too long...

Finally, if you don’t want to pay ANY MONEY for transport in Rome, here’s how to do it:
1. Make sure you sit on the right side, very close to the exit (uscita), so you can make your escape if the atac people get on board. They usually do so in the front, so go towards the back, or stay in the middle.
2. Watch out for men wearing blue. In the summer, the atac people wear sky blue shirts with a small red sign on their shirt pockets. They also carry black briefcases, and are normally quite stocky and loud.
3. Decide if the risk is worth it. The fine for traveling sans ticket is 50 euro, payable on board, or 100 euro when you have to pay at a later time. That’s a lot more than 5 euro!!!
4. Try to take the bus at off peak hours, which means 11am-5pm and 9pm-6am (ish). The atac people like to emerge around 9am and 7pm. That’s when everyone goes to work and back.
5. Avoid “hot” stops (fermate). For example, atac people love to occupy Termini (the central bus/train station) and terminal stops. And sometimes middle stops where a lot of people get on and off.
6. If all else fails and you’re stuck ticketless with the atac people, pull the emergency break to open the doors of the bus. I heard a friend got herself in that situation, and some boys saved her that way.
7. And don’t forget the old “non parlo italiano” trick. Even if you do understand Italian, pretend that you don’t and start fussing in English or some other language. Pray the atac people don’t understand you. They might get tired of a hysterical tourist trying to explain they’re clueless about Italian transport.

As for the metro, I don’t recommend doing the old “two for one” trick where you go through with someone who has a ticket. The exception is at night when the control people doze off. It works out then.
So there you go. If you’re traveling on a budget, you can do what I do. It’s kinda fun.
Have YOU evaded transport control somewhere in the world? Tell me about it. :)