For the world traveler, city bus systems can be a financial lifesaver. While often less efficient than taxis, they are far more economical.
When visiting Rome, Italy, the city bus system can be your best friend- or it could be a logistical nightmare.
Many European city bus systems, including the one in Rome, Italy, are not designed with tourists in mind. Rome’s bus system is heavily utilized by locals, but it often scares site-seers away with its complexity. However, you do not need to be one of these fearful tourists. Here are a few tips so that you can use the bus system just like a local.
Types of Bus Passes
There are several different types of bus passes that you can buy. The type that you buy depends on how long you will be in Rome and how much you think you are going to use the city transportation system (all of the Rome bus passes can also be used on the metro system. A little more on that later).
- BIT (Biglietto Integrato a Tempo/Integrated Time Ticket): €1.00. This is a single use ticket that lasts for 75 minutes. It is good for as many bus rides and transfers as you can get in within that timeframe after validation. You can also use it for a single ride on the metro system. You are allowed to transfer the ticket from a metro ride to a bus within 75 minutes.
- BIG (Biglietto Integrato Giornaliero/Integrated Daily Ticket): €4.00. You can use this ticket for as many bus and metro rides as you would like up until midnight on the day of the ticket’s validation.
- BTI (Biglietto Turistico Integrato/Integrated Tourist Ticket): €11.00. This ticket is good for an unlimited number of metro and bus rides for three days from the day of validation.
- CIS (Carta Integrata Settimanale/Integrated Weekly Ticket): €16.00. This ticket can be used for 7 days from the date of validation for an unlimited number of bus and metro rides.
- Monthly Pass: €30.00. This ticket lasts for one calendar month and is good for an unrestricted number of bus and metro rides.
Where to Buy Bus Passes
Bus passes can be purchased at tobacco shops, or tabacchi, all over Rome. These little shops often, but not always, have signs outside with a ‘T’. There also machines that dispense single use, daily, tourist, and weekly tickets at all metro stops. These ticket machines also exist, though rarely, at a few bus stops.
Unlike many public bus systems, tickets usually cannot be purchased on board buses in Rome. There are a few buses that do have machines that dispense tickets, but these are incredibly rare, so do not count on being able to buy a ticket after boarding a bus.
Validating Your Bus Ticket
After purchasing your bus pass, it is necessary to validate it as soon as you board the bus. If you have a daily, weekly, tourist, or monthly pass, you only need to validate it the first time you use it. Each bus has at least two yellow validation machines, generally with one on each end of the bus.
The Roman buses operate on a kind of honor system; it is up to everyone to buy their tickets and validate them. There are ticket checkers that check to make sure that bus passengers have validated tickets, but they are few and far between, so statistically, you do have a good chance of getting away without paying for your bus rides.
However, if you do happen to get caught, the fine is either €50 on the spot or €104 if you choose to pay later. All of the ticket checkers speak English and have no mercy for tourists that appear to be unaware of Roman transportation laws. You cannot escape getting a fine once they zero in on you. If you get off the bus, the ticket checker will follow you until they are done writing the fine.
Deciding Which Bus to Use
When deciding which buses to use when getting around the city, the website for the Roman transportation system, http://atac.roma.it, is invaluable. On the right side of the top of the homepage, there is a small British flag symbolizing an English version of the website. Also at the top of the homepage is a tool for determining the best bus route between any two addresses and/or landmarks in Rome. Simply input your starting and ending destinations and press ‘Enter’.
If you plan on using the bus system a lot, it might be worth your while to buy a map showing all of the bus routes in Rome. These can be bought at most of the newsstands you see on the street for just a few Euros.
When planning your bus routes, ignore the bus schedule entirely. The official bus timetables in Rome are merely formalities and are completely useless in practicality. Buses hardly ever come on time, and locals never expect them to. So, when using the bus system, plan for 45 minutes to an hour in travel time to allow for late buses and transfers to get most places in central Rome.
Knowing When to Get Off the Bus
The majority of the Roman buses do not have any internal system that tells you which stop is coming up. Locals rely on experience and external surroundings to know when to get off, but unfortunately, tourists with little knowledge of the city layout do not have this advantage. The best way to know when your stop is coming up is to follow the bus route on a map in real time while you are on the bus. Make sure you mark your stop on the map before you leave for the day, or better yet, just use the bus map you purchased.
Do not bother attempting to count stops to know when to get off. Oftentimes, a bus driver will skip a stop if no one wants get on or off, which throws off anyone trying to count stops.
Furthermore, while you can attempt to the bus driver for help, do not rely on this method for getting around. Many Roman bus drivers are not eager to help people, particularly non-Italian speakers. Oftentimes, they will just ignore a tourist who is trying to speak to them in English. It may seem like a sweeping generalization to say that all Roman bus drivers are unwilling to help tourists; however, this generalization has a more than just a grain of truth to it. If you get confused, try asking a local bus passenger for some help. Romans understand that their bus system is not particularly easy to use and are often happy to help as much as they can. However, it is probably best to prepare as much as possible before boarding the bus.
On a side note, make sure that you get off at the middle door of the bus. Sometimes, the driver will not open the other doors for people to get on and off.
At midnight, the regular buses in Rome stop running, and the night bus service begins. Night buses follow completely different routes from the daytime buses, so it is important to plan accordingly. They run from 12:00am to 5:30 and come every twenty minutes during the week and every ten minutes on Fridays and Saturdays. The night bus service, while sometimes still a little unreliable in terms of its schedule, is more dependable than the daytime service.
The Roman bus system is not the easiest thing in the world to use; even locals have problems with it sometimes. However, do not let all this information overwhelm you. The public bus system is a highly economical way to get around Rome, and if you spend a little time planning your bus routes, you should be fine. Just try to enjoy the organized chaos of the buses, because it is uniquely Roman and should be part of any real Roman experience.
Popular Rome Hotels near Termini Station:
- Yes Hotel Rome – 3-star hotel – doubles starting from € 71 / $ 101
- Crosti Hotel – 3-star hotel – doubles starting from € 85 / $ 120
- Hotel Artemide – 4-star hotel – doubles starting from € 149 / $ 211
Photo of bus on Piazza Venezia, Rome, by Ambrosiana Pictures