I was 11 years old when I fell in love with public transportation.
Now, when I got to Rome I wasn’t expecting New York City level transit or anything, but that little part of 11-year-old me that still lives on wanted more than what she got.
I grew up in a suburb east of Cleveland where public transportation only consists of barren local buses and a train system that is essentially useless for the suburbs.
So when my family took a trip to Washington D.C. in the summer of 2012, I was fascinated by the city’s metro system. I was so excited to figure out which color train to get on and which direction to go.
When we boarded the trains I was in awe of all the well-dressed, important-looking D.C. locals. I knew I wanted to be one of them. They were train masters. Me? I was merely a novice.
Flash forward seven years — I moved to Chicago and gazed upon my new U-Pass with wonder and excitement. I remember my mom texted me that the entire city was at my fingertips, and I was so excited to master the CTA.
I certainly haven’t mastered it yet, but the Red Line feels like an old friend now — always there for you whenever you’re in need (until the track is under construction or stopped due to police activity. But every other time, it’s there).
All this is to say I have been pretty let down by Rome’s public transportation system (ATAC). Plenty of other European cities have great transportation. Paris has an expansive metro system that can get you just about anywhere in the city, and Barcelona — much like Chicago — has metro trains that end directly at the airport. Rome has neither.
Unless you aren’t leaving Balduina — the neighborhood that houses the John Felice Rome Center (JFRC) — you have to take a bus to get just about anywhere.
The JFRC doesn’t provide students with a transit pass — we have to purchase our own. A one-way ticket — which includes unlimited bus transfers and one ride on the metro for 100 minutes — costs €1.50 ($1.62). A monthly pass costs €35 ($37.88).
Downtown Rome is about a 45-minute bus ride away, which doesn’t even factor in the unreliability of the buses. I was late to my first on-site class because I was planning on getting on a bus scheduled at 1:24 p.m. When I arrived at the stop at 1:19 p.m., it had already departed. The next bus didn’t arrive for another 25 minutes.
Now, I know Rome is an ancient city and public transportation is a modern innovation. But if a bus system is already in place, can’t they at least run regularly?
There are only two metro lines (they’re working on a third, but they keep running into ancient ruins that slow their progress). The closest station is about a 20-minute bus ride away — if everything runs smoothly, that is.
The most difficult part of Rome transit is getting to the airport.
In order to get from the JFRC to Rome’s main airport, Fiumicino, you have to get on a bus to the nearest train station, then take the train to the Termini station. Termini is essentially Rome’s Grand Central Station, just much less grand. From Termini, you have to pay an extra €8-14 ($8.66 – $15.15) to take an express train to the airport.
In total, it takes about an hour and a half to get to the airport — and that’s during peak hours. So if your flight departs at 6:45 a.m., like many of mine have, you’re better off shelling out the €50 (about $54) for a 30-minute cab ride.
If you’re just planning on going to downtown Rome, many of the major sites are within walking distance of each other — and the walks are so enjoyable that transit isn’t really necessary.
When I’m walking around Rome, Chicago rarely even crosses my mind. I mean, I’d much rather pay €16 ($17.32) to get inside the Colosseum and wander the historic Roman Forum than pay $25 just to ride an elevator up the Willis Tower. And snapping a quick picture of The Bean can’t compare to throwing that coin over your shoulder into the Trevi Fountain.
And even once you’ve seen all the big-ticket sights, there are different restaurants, gelato stands, bakeries and boutiques everywhere you turn. You’ll run out of room in your stomach far before you’ll ever get bored.
It’s only when I have to wait an indeterminable amount of time for a bus to get back to the JFRC that I get hit with the nostalgia for the CTA.
We’ve discussed in many of my classes how Rome is a city of layers. From ancient ruins dating back multiple millennia, to monuments erected in the era of Fascism, to modern convention centers, Rome has so many visual representations of its lengthy and continuous history.
I just wish one of those layers was a reliable transit system.