On our month-long trip to Florence, Italy my husband and I bought the CARTA ATAF&Linea Pass-the local regional transit ticket with ten rides on each CARTA to get us on as many trains or buses within the limits of Firenze. Being a walkable city, we barely used the CARTA the first three weeks. Like the MUNI Pass in San Francisco, CA., the CARTA is a money saver as 10 rides costs 10 Euros at 90 minutes per ride versus 1.2 Euros for a single ride. Also, like the Muni Pass the CARTA is very easy to use: one places the CARTA over a CARTA reader on a bus or train which beeps and registers VALIDO and, as they say in Italia, Ecco, ready to go!
Allora (so) one afternoon I took a solo trip on the train from the Alamanni-Stazione to Nenni Torregalli, which is 9 stops, or approximately 20 minutes one way to Scandicci where my Italian-speaking husband and I had been the night before to look at a CoOp shopping center. To safely return by daylight I hopped back on a return train repeating the swiping ritual of the CARTA and hearing the familiar “beep” and settled-in for the picturesque ride through the outskirts of Firenze and the town of Scandicci. I was momentarily distracted by a man and woman who entered the train with me and sat chatting in a language that I could not make out. Not being conversant in Italian I was hoping they were speaking Spanish and were travelers like me so we might have a casual exchange. Needless to say, by three weeks, I was hungry for spontaneous and casual conversation of my own making. But I didn’t get to figure out what they were speaking.
Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a Train Officer walking the length of the train asking passengers for their tickets to check for validity. The only difference I noticed between the Italian and San Francisco train experience was that there was only one Italian officer where in San Francisco there are always two, if not three on a train working together, and the Italian officer didn’t wear a revolver or stungun.
Finally the Train Officer got to the end of the train where I and the couple were sitting and their tickets were fine. But when he checked my CARTA Pass in his hand-held ticket reader he said “senza credito.” After demonstrating to him that the reader read my CARTA “valido” he said “no, “senza credito.” I told him that I didn’t speak Italiano and tried to explain in Spanish and pantomime how I had boarded the train, but he only asked me for “documenti” and “vivenda”- passport and where did I live in Firenze. After I provided him with both he proceeded to write me an “infrazione” a fine for $55 Euros, that I could pay on the spot, or “il ufficio”- I opted to pay in some elusive ATAF ufficio as he handed me my pink copy before he departed at the next stop.
I shrugged my shoulders in disbelief as the couple in front of me looked on compassionately- apparently they didn’t speak enough Italian to vouch for me. After hearing my story and feeling the Euro shock my husband had a good laugh and said “just another adventure; next we go to the ATAF ufficio for the real fun!”
Within a couple of days we are at the main office of the ATAF in Firenze. We decided in advance that my husband would not participate in the discussion because he knows enough Italian to get us into more trouble, and I would only speak to clarify or if specifically asked a question. Since I did what I was supposed to, that is pay my fair share when boarding the train, our goal was to have the $55 Euro fine cancelled. Our local friends of over 45 years Marinella and Franco explained my situation to an ATAF bureaucrat in the ATAF lobby. The woman administrator from the ATAF was pleasant enough but she wasn’t willing to consider the possibility that I did nothing to warrant the CARTA infraction.
Back and forth Marinella and Franco went, each becoming more agitated and outraged, but restrained as they confronted the ATAF administrator raising their voices, raising their arms, moving each other out of the other’s way to get ‘in the face’ of the administrator and emphasize their specific point- pure Italian theatre! In the meantime, the ATAF administrator coolly dismissed all facts, including that there were still two rides left on my CARTA, that the Officers Ticket Reader could have malfunctioned, or that I the passenger could have been right all along. To add insult to injury, the ATAF administrator told us that even though the CARTA reader read VALIDO and Beeped when I swiped it, I should have known to double-check to make sure it was correct!! Incredulously Marinella and Franco said, “even as Italians we would NEVER double-check if the Reader said it was Valido- how is anybody supposed to know that, there are no signs, that is ridiculous!”
In the end, under unofficial protest to the ATAF administrator, I paid the “multa” rather than risk being told at Customs before returning home there was a police record for failure to pay an ATAF fine.
Minutes later over remarkable cannoli’s and cafe lattes, I said to Marinella, Franco and Peter “its like contraception, I did what I was supposed to do but got caught anyway!” Marinella translated this to Franco who jokingly pantomimed blowing up a reliable condom, then as if betrayed by the condom, with arms extended, eyebrows arched and lips pursing, he is asking “what happened?!”… Viva Italia!!