Like many other aspects of Italian life, it’s marked by excessive complication and a lack of co-operation and co-ordination – between companies, regions and modes of transport.
The railway system in particular reflects two other aspects of the Italian character: on the one hand the zest for speed, manifested in the super-fast ETR trains (the equivalent of France’s TGV), and on the other hand the easygoing, unhurried approach to life, as depicted by local trains. There’s a huge difference between services in (and connecting) the major cities and those in rural areas. Most cities have an efficient, inexpensive and reliable transport system, consisting of underground trains or trams in some cities, buses and suburban trains.
However, in rural areas you’re dependent on a few, generally very slow buses, and services vary from infrequent to non-existent on Sundays and holidays. If you’re going to be living in a rural area, you’ll almost certainly need your own transport. On the positive side, most forms of public transport in Italy are good value.
All modes of public transport are susceptible to strikes, although they’ve been less frequent in recent years. Strikes are usually short, lasting 12 or 24 hours only, but they can be extremely disruptive as it takes a long time for services to return to normal. The problem for foreigners is knowing when strikes are about to take place. If you don’t have Italian friends, who complain vociferously about the latest sciopero (strike), or watch the TV news avidly, they can easily catch you unawares.
Long journeys often require planning, particularly in the high season. As far as holidays are concerned, Italians are creatures of habit, and almost all inhabitants of the major cities take their holidays in August. Consequently, long-distance public transport is in great demand, and booking months in advance is recommended.
A wealth of information about travelling to and within Italy is available on the internet from a multitude of websites, including www.initaly.com, www.itwg.com, www.italytour.com and , www.informare.it a website devoted to transportation. Most cities and regions also have websites dedicated to them such as www.romeguide.it and www.doge.it (Venice).
Few Italian public transport companies make concessions for the disabled, although things are slowly improving. Italian railways offer a blue card ( carta blu), which allows a disabled person and an accompanying person to travel for the price of one ticket. It costs €5 and is valid for five years.
The railways also offer assistance for disabled passengers and some trains allow wheelchair access. A number of seats are reserved on high-speed ( ETR) rail services for disabled travellers and their travelling companions (where applicable). Enquire in advance if you require assistance when travelling.
This article is an extract from Living and Working in Italy. Click here to get a copy now.