Saturday, February 12, 2011

Trains, feet and bicycles, part 2

Thursday, February 10
How could I have forgotten this? Italy is the land of bureaucracy, a carry-over from the days of Mussolini, when everything was regulated in order to make the country orderly, proud, magnificent. Italians have so many laws that the government can’t possibly enforce them all, so Italians learn over the years which laws to ignore and which must truly be followed. The rules about bikes on the train, it seems, are mostly ignored on the regionali, but probably strictly enforced on the intercity and Eurostar trains. So what did I forget? That some Italian officials love their laws and want to see them all enforced. We met one such official today, the controllore on our train from San Salvatore to Lucca.

He pulled out his book of regulations and spent 15 minutes of our 20-minute ride explaining the rules about biciclete on the train. It’s not his fault that it took so long, because we made him repeat everything twice so that we could understand it, but he did clear up our confusion and advised us what kind of ticket to buy.

First of all, it really does cost 3.5 euro for a 24-hour bike ticket, as stated on the web site. But if you travel on regionali and outside of l’ora da punto, the rush hour, you can buy the 1.1 euro ticket, as long as you use it after the morning rush hour and then again before the afternoon rush hour begins, so only 1.1 euro per day. Another possibility, he explained, is to buy an abbonamento mensile, a monthly bike pass that costs 27.50 euro and I think allows you to extend into the rush hour, though I’m not completely clear about the hours. In any event, since the first train out of San Salvatore isn’t until 9:02 a.m., we’re definitely good for the morning, and we almost always come back before 5 p.m.

Now that we have seen how great it is to zip around Lucca on bikes, we decide it is well worth the extra expense and we buy our bike tickets when we get to the stazione. When we think about how much it costs to operate a car (and pay for parking in the city every day), it is still a bargain to commute by train and bike.

In the end, the controllore doesn’t make us pay anything today because we tell him we will buy our tickets next time. We do not begrudge him for making us follow the rules, because that’s his job, and he did it very nicely. And besides, it gave us a chance to experience one of the challenges of being Italian, which is a big reason we came.

Ironically, on the trip back this afternoon, we are asked by another controllore to show our tickets. I show him our monthly pass, and then try to show him my new bicycle passes. He makes a little wave motion with his hand and says, “No.” He doesn’t want to see them.

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