In the fall of 2011, I boarded the train and headed to Rome for a job interview. I had my CV under my arm and my shoes shined up nice. I got off at Termini Station and headed to the Metro, since the job was on the outskirts of Rome and I’d need to travel at least another hour before I got to the site. I palmed my Metro ticket; prepared to duck elbows. And then I stood still in my tracks.
The Metro station was barred.
Public transit strike! Or should I say, ANOTHER public transit strike! In European countries like Italy, Greek, Spain, and France, strikes are a popular method of expressing public dissatisfaction… and wrecking an innocent bystanders’ day. As someone who’s commuted back and forth to Rome for work for the past year and a half, strikes have – regrettably – become a big part of my life. If you find yourself at the mercy of a public transit strike during your trip to Italy, here’s a roundup of my best tips for weathering one of the most obnoxious parts of Italian daily life.
Be Informed An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure….
The chief element of a strike is surprise; in general, strikes are rumored and then officially announced the day of or the night before so as to best muck up everyone’s travel plans. If you’re planning to head to a major Italian city, check the papers for “strike” news – try googling “strike + city + public transport + the date you plan to be there.” If you know it’s most likely going to happen, you can change or adapt your travel plans.
Get the Real Skinny Let’s say you forget to check the papers and when you arrive at your intended Italian city, you find the bus station deserted. Don’t immediately assume that the transit strike also extends to all forms of public transit; I did this once and wasted 50 euro on a cab when I could have just taken the metro. Recently, the Linea “A” of the Roman Metro was on strike, but the Linea “B” (the one I use) wasn’t. Always make sure to double check!
Don’t Waste Time Trying to Get the Mass Transit Officials to Tell You Anything Part of the mass transit official’s role during a mass transit strike in Italy is to stand at his usual post and completely ignore the frantic public. This adds to the chaos and frustration, you see. Take it from me, you’ll get nothing out of them. I’ve beat my fists angrily against plastic windows so you don’t have to.
Get Hip to the Pirate Bus Now keep in mind that “pirate bus” is my own special term for the public buses that still operate even while all buses are supposed to be on strike. If you get lucky (and have enough time to wait around), you might find that the bus you need is still running, even if far less frequently. Fingers crossed!
Have Alternate Routes and Methods Planned If you’re a tourist in a big city, chances are your travel plans don’t involve heading to outer corners of the city, so you can get by on foot. Taxis are generally a poor option for getting around on wheels; not only are they expensive, but lines will be immense. How about the other forms of transit? You might have noticed tour buses, monorails, or even rent-a-bike stations so if you can’t bear the thought of walking, at least you can hitch another kind of ride.
Keep Calm and… Try to Understand If you have places to be, the plight of the transit workers will certainly be the furthest thing from your mind. But after 2 and a half years of working and living in the Italian system, I finally understand why they strike: terms aren’t met, and you have to voice your anger somehow. Even if millions of regular people get mad. At least you’re all mad together.
What are your tips for dealing with inconveniences when you travel?