Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves


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We are leaving here tomorrow. It is a shame to have to say this, but I am actually glad to be going home. Our landlady in Florence told us that there was no point in staying for two weeks, there was not enough to keep us here. We have been in Venice last weekend largely as a result of this advice. We fell in love with Venice, and would have liked to have been able to stay longer. The expense alone was enough to deter that thought. If we could have got back to Vancouver from there … well anyway. Let me tell you about today, which is all about the sort of issues that get discussed on this blog all the time.

Last weekend, on Saturday, before our departure for Venice next morning, we took the advice of our Lonely Planet guide and decided to “get out of town”. Fiesole is a beautiful Tuscan hill village with stunning views and amazing archaeology. You can get there on a #7 bus, from Piazza San Marco within the 90 minute validity of a single ride. So tram ride ride from the apartment, walk across the Centro Storico, and up the hill we go, with a bus full of American art students. When we get to the village square – where the #7 turns round and goes back down the hill – there is a sign on the bus stop. Something obviously rushed out at the last minute on the office printer. No service on the #7 after 15:00 because of a road race – the 100km super marathon – a big deal – through Fiesole which means road closures and who knows when regular bus service can be restored. We saw the view – stunning – had lunch – ordinary but twice the price because of the view – and then caught the next bus back to town in case we got stuck and missed our train to Venice in the morning.

Today we tried again. Fiesole deserved a second chance, if only for its archaeology. Not just Etruscans and Romans but Lombards too. The bus stop for the #7 was beseiged. Local buses could not get near because of a flood of tour buses. In Livorno a massive cruise ship had landed, and tipped off its human cargo onto fleets of coaches full of punters sold on the idea of seeing Michaelangelo’s “David” for real. They get to see Florence in the morning and Pisa in the afternoon (or vice versa). The #7 bus stand is close to the Academy where this version (the real, authentic, actual statue as seen on tea towels and t shirts) could be seen. If you are waiting for a #7 local bus and many tour buses occupy the space where your expected municipal service is going to be, you get anxious. What if the local bus drives straight past, unable to pick you up because of this huge, throbbing airconditioned landwhale is unloading its cargo of bemused, earphoned tourgroupistes onto the one person wide sidewalk? It was chaos I tell you.

Eventually things sorted themselves out and the #7 arrived and we boarded within our permitted 90 minutes. It was a struggle for the bus from there but we just sat and observed how the usual dramas of urban life unfold. An MVA involving another bus, a BMW and a motorscooter, closing three of four lanes. A delivery van, double parked, while urgent packages are rejected for damage incurred while dealing with … a sudden intervention by several varieties of cops (carabineri, local plods, security company wannabes) misdirecting – an ambulance with the horrible wailing siren, unique to their kind, makes all thought impossible. Daily life in Florence.

Etruscan Altar

Roman altar

We got there. Roman ruins were seen. The difference to Etruscan ruins was noted. Lombard burials were studied in minute detail. The play of mottled sunlight on Tuscan hillsides was dutifully recorded. Lunch was eaten, beer was drunk, Fiesole was given its due. Time to return. The #7 is waiting in the square but somehow some other distraction means that it has – how sad – circled the roundabout and gone back down the hill, without us. We find a bench in the shade, where we can wait the quarter hour that must elapse before another #7 will appear. And as we sit observing the human life around us, we note the numbers of others who place themselves between us and the bus stop. There is no orderly queue. The bus has three doors, and all are fair game for entry. And the capture of the very few seats – let alone those that face forward and allow a view out of a window – requires strategy and cunning.

When the bus does arrive, two schoolgirls nip aboard and occupy the seats designated for those over 65 – to which I am entitled and feel that I have earned, being at the bus stop a full 15 minutes before they appeared. My partner deals with the smart cards (proximity reader not being proximate to the desired seats). They get the window seats and pretend not to understand my protests.

But all is well and we are seated, if not optimally at least satisfactorily, and eventually the girls get off and we can arrange ourselves … wait, what, some scruffy individual, wants to inspect my ticket?? No uniform, no apparent authority?

Florence tickets

It seems when the “smart card” was waved in front of the reader, no new ride authority was actually established. My partner’s card is fine, mine despite its three ride validity remaining is deemed “expired”. FIFTY EUROS cash to expunge the offence, once the details of the UK passport I carry with me to get free entry into National Monuments (but not, be it noted Fiesole Museums or archaeological sites) are copied onto a three part, no carbon required, form.  He even digs into his clothing and produces photo ID which shows that he is actually the Yoda of ATAF – so there is no point in arguing – and a new crisp €50 note saved for “a rainy day” is handed over. The alternative is not worth contemplating. The shame, the publicity, the headlines. Far better to sign on the dotted line on a form – being Italian – that I have no hope of understanding. Your card reader, ATAF, failed but I must pay the price, or face ignominy.

I note, from a distance, that once again the Compass card is under assault. That Cubic is once more fair game in the fare evasion/faregates/fare or foul fraud foofooraw. Meh! Life goes on. I will be back next week, refreshed. Able to sleep all night and function on Pacific Summer Time. This too will pass.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 29, 2014 at 11:19 am

Posted in Fare evasion, transit

Tagged with , ,

7 Responses

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  1. that s*cks. this is why i really hate buses. Not because because buses aren’t awesome. But because they can be rerouted any time and they don’t have consistent routes and consistency in labelling even for locals who understand the system buses and their constant rerouting and change is a nightmare. Trains usually have much more consistency in routing, better signs and labels. As for f*regate don’t get me started on the sm*rt card and f*regate waste of money! That’s a separate st*pid waste of money from our r*diculous government that seems only to care about giving money for recurring software revenue and paying tr*nsit police!


    May 29, 2014 at 11:11 pm

  2. May be Translink should have asked Paris’RATP (the metro). Way back when they designed a basic smart card, the Navigo, with the help of Roland Moreno.

    From Wikipedia, in the page about smart cards: “French inventor Roland Moreno patented the memory card concept in 1974”. He didn’t invent the chip but got the idea of using it in a card. The first card with a chip was a French telephone card that came out in 1983,
    Innovatron, his company, worked with the RATP to create the Navigo card.

    It isn’t as complex as other transit cards that are also a credit card and an electronic purse, but sometimes “less is more”!

    Red frog

    May 31, 2014 at 11:43 pm

  3. RATP is the 49% owner of GEST the Firenze tram system operator. The CartaAgile works systemwide with both ataf and Li-nea. It is a stored ride card that uses a memory chip and it was a proximity reader error that caught me. I would have been safer with a time defined travel card “touristico” but could not find anyone to sell me one on a Sunday, when the ATAF office is closed.

    We had a 72 hour CityPass in Venice which had to be validated each trip but was never checked

    Stephen Rees

    June 1, 2014 at 7:56 am

  4. The Sunday 25 Seattle Times had an article about fare-dodgers in Stockholm..reprinted from the NY Times

    The transit company can’t stop them..Mind you, the unpaid fares represent 3% of all the rides. As usual only the subways is concerned. Nobody talk about buses, trams etc.

    Stockholm transit was considering installing high gates, as in Lyon. A member of the official dodgers group went to Lyon and made a video showing that these gates couldn’t prevent people to sneak without paying.

    “at least one fare-beating dog trained to open the barricades for its owner.
    That maneuver: Let the animal squeeze through the small space beneath the gates, then coax it to jump up and down until the sensor is set off to open them. Well-developed canine leg muscles are required”
    I am not sure the link works…

    Red frog

    June 2, 2014 at 11:38 am

  5. Nice reading your story. Here in Europe we call this “cultural difference”. Especially when you are talking about Italy…


    June 3, 2014 at 6:27 am

  6. […] If that had been raised in my interview, I would have had quite a lot to say about that. My Florence bus ticket validator story did not make it to air either – and their system was not supplied by […]

  7. My wife and I spent month and a half in Italy in 2014 – much of it in Florence but also Venice, Sienna, Ravenna, Rome, Assisi and Padua … never had a problem with transit although we did see two incidents – one on the Number 7 bus to Fiesole and the other on a Vaporetto in Venice where the transit ‘police’ found expired or invalidated ticket holders and dealt with them as summarily as you describe above. For the most part the key is to make damn sure that your ticket is actually validated rather than assuming it was. The other thing we found, in Firenze, was an on-line paper in English which could be relied upon when planning where and when to attend places like museums and the like – thereby avoiding the crush of locals + tourists which can turn Florences hot spots into nightmares. The incident on the Fiesole bus was fascinating because the alleged offender was a Florentine himself – it almost came to blows and involved two plain clothes validators – no sign of the firearms which – apparently – are needed in Vancouver….The Vaporetto fracas involved a Chinese couple who were travelling on expired passes and it devolved into a really nasty altercation where the offenders (at least as I read the incident – which took place in English since the Chinese couple had no Italian) turned out to be sullen racists who subsequently tried to confront the female validator in St Mark’s square after we’d all gotten off the boat…

    James King, Victoria

    April 3, 2015 at 10:52 am

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