In case you think this article about “how to take the bus in Florence and not get a fine” is going to involve ways of getting out of paying for a ticket, you’re wrong. Lately there have been a lot of spot ticket controls on ATAF busses as they are cracking down on people who ride without paying; meanwhile every day I see tourists confused at how to buy and validate tickets.
To take the bus in Florence, you must buy a ticket in advance and validate it when you get on the bus. This is not as obvious or easy to do as it seems, so here are some instructions.
How to take the bus in Florence
First, buy a bus ticket.
WHERE? At any Tabacchi store (that has T on a black or blue background as per this photo), at news-stands that display the ATAF symbol, or at bars that display the ATAF symbol on the door. You’ll need to know how to ask for bus tickets: “biglietto autobus”.
WHICH TICKET? There are single trip and multi-trip options to save money. A single trip costs 1.20 euros and you can use the system for 90 minutes. There’s nothing stopping you from taking a bus, getting off, and getting on another bus (even in the return direction) using this single ticket. If you know you will be taking more than one trip, you save money with a 4-trip ticket (ask for “biglietto quattro corse”).
There is an electronic card for 10, 20, or 30 trips called “Carta Agile” that is very convenient. You can use this card even if you are more than one person. For example, a family of four needs to make 4 trips. By the Carta Agile and validate it once for each person, on each trip. See below on how to do that.
For tourists there are also multiple-day tickets. There are no childrens’ tickets, but kids under a meter high ride free when accompanied by an adult.
VALIDATE ON THE BUS: at the front and the back of the bus there is a ticket machine at which you must validate, or stamp, your ticket. There are three zones to the machine. The top is the electronic part for the carta Agile. Touch your card here and it beeps, and the display will show you the number of remaining trips. To validate for more than one person, touch it repeatedly at an interval of a few seconds (wait for the beep, then do it again). The middle zone of the machine is a mystery to us all. The bottom of the machine has the paper ticket stamper. Shove ticket in and wait for it to be properly grabbed and stamped. Check that you can see the stamp or writing on the ticket; if the machine doesn’t print properly and you get checked, you can get in trouble. If the machine at the back doesn’t work, try the one at the front. Only if the driver is aware that BOTH machines don’t work can you justify not having a valid ticket.
Plan your public transportation route in Florence
On the ATAF (Florence Bus) website there is a route planner, but it uses a rather old map service and doesn’t work too well. I suggest using Google Maps, which has integrated public transportation information at the street level. Zoom in to the area where you wish to arrive and look for the bus symbol. Click it and you get a list of busses that stop there. Click “directions”, insert your start point, select method “by public transportation” and you should get the best route.
Bus ticket controls in Florence
Since summer 2009, ATAF announced that there would be plenty of ticket controllers on board their busses as part of a crackdown on riders who don’t pay. Previously, checks were few and far between, and they were done by uniformed staff that you could see coming from a mile away. The campaign “No ticket, non parti” (no ticket, you don’t go – the verb is partire) is a play on martini ads with George Clooney that were big here in Italy (no martini, no party). ATAF’s print ads and press releases announce that the “nonni” – grandparents or retired ATAF staff will be lending a hand by checking tickets in exchange for minimal benefits (a bus pass and access to the company canteen!).
Either they were lying, or the campaign has evolved. Lately I have had my ticket checked every single day at various times including morning rush hour. And it’s not by grandparents wearing purple shirts. It’s by the most unlikely-looking, rasta sporting, friendly young people in normal clothing. They pull out an ATAF ID tag and say “hello, tickets please”, and they say goodbye and thank everyone on the way out. They’re sweet, they look like university students (and probably are) and you’d never suspect them.
The moral of the story? Buy a bus ticket. It’s the right thing to do.
Update: many people ask me what to do if they get a fine. The best thing to do is to go to the ATAF office at the train station and just pay the fine. That said, the bus fines have yet to be entered into an integrated computer system. There was a recent pilot project that gave handheld database devices to 8 ticket control agents but I have not seen them since. If you have an outstanding bus fine, I doubt that you will be denied entry to the country. But, if you got a fine, even if it really wasn’t your fault, be on the safe side and pay up.