Your questions on Rome: why is it so difficult to drive in the city?
Last month we gathered a few of the most frequently asked questions we receive from our guests as we meet them for the first time. The post, which you can see at this address, proved a success, so we thought it would be neat to turn this into a regular column, if you will, on the blog. A place where your doubts and concerns about Rome can be answered from someone who is from the city and can try and explain it to you.
This time, an age old issue: why is it so difficult to drive in Rome?
Reason 1: Rome isn’t really built with car-traffic in mind
Rome has only become the capital of Italy in the last years of the 19th century, and to adapt the city to the requirements of the Savoy family a huge part of the ancient city has been dismantled (an operation that has been repeated under Mussolini, much to the chagrin and desperation of countless historians and archaeologists.
In spite of the damage that has been done to the heritage of the city, just a handful of roads in central Rome are car-friendly, really: all the others, from Medieval alleys and Renaissance boulevards, can on occasion be driven on, but if you’re used to multi-lane roads, of course it will be a shock.
Reason 2: Italian mayors are trying to push cars out of the city centers
… And Rome’s is no exception. Let’s face it: Rome is an open-air museum, and car fumes are damaging precious relics from the city’s glorious past, sometimes without a chance to recover or restore them. Not to mention, walking past the Colosseum or the Spanish Steps and seeing cars parked or driving by those is plain ugly!
While some areas have been easier to turn into pedestrian-only zones (see Piazza Navona, or the square outside St. Peter’s), the few residents still living shoulder to shoulder with some of the world’s most important landmarks still have a right to have a car, as do those workers whose office is in the city center.
It’s a cultural process: 60 years ago or more cars parked right across the Pantheon and no one batted an eyelid. Hopefully in 15 years or so it will be completely normal to just walk or ride a bus (or take a rental bike!) to reach Campo de’ Fiori.
Reason 2/a: the ZTL fines are something awful
When we handle requests from guests who wish to drive to their rented accommodation, we always try to discourage them from using their cars into the city center (any city center, not just Rome’s!).
In spite of being pretty straightforward, the ZTL areas and the fines incurred when entering them with an unauthorized vehicles baffle some of the tourists, which then cry scam when they receive a fine, or think there is someone out to get them on the grounds of them being foreigners.
This couldn’t be further from the truth: evidence is in the fact that Rome doesn’t make it easy at all to pay a fine if you don’t speak Italian (further evidence: the city has begun to outsource its debt collection to international agencies because it can’t get tourists to pay their fines the regular way).
It’s exactly because it’s complicated to pay a fine, and it doesn’t get notified right away, that we try to deter our guests from subjecting themselves to the stress of not only the ZTL areas, but also the color-coded parking system, traffic cameras or bus lanes.
Leave those nightmares to the locals, and have a proper holiday by using our partners’ shuttle service or public transportation!
Reason 3: local drivers have an aggressive style
Which brings us back to Reason 1: you would develop an aggressive style as well if you’d learned to drive on cobblestoned alleys which are not large enough for a medium-sized car, let alone a truck!.
Roman drivers are extremely competent, but lose their temper often in the presence of indecisive or hesitant motorists. While some of their practices when they are confronted with drivers who are not like them are akin to road rage and are inexcusable, you would be getting angry too if you were getting hampered by someone who’s in all likelihood just sightseeing while you’re in a rush to go somewhere (the drivers you meet in central Rome are either commuters or couriers/delivery people).
Even if there was no ZTL to worry about, that aggressivity alone is reason enough to avoid driving in Rome (confession time: the author of this post has never driven in Rome just to avoid the stress!).
Reason 4: road signs are not the same worldwide
Want to get even more stressed? Let’s say you don’t care about aggressive motorists, that for some reason you have access to a vehicle that can enter the ZTL areas with no issue whatsoever and you don’t have to worry about parking: have you thought about street signs?
Rome – and Italy at large – has some that look exactly like the ones from your own country, but some are completely different. Plus, they’re in Italian. Enough said.
Reason 5: the costs!
Fuel is expensive in Italy, as drop-off charges in the event you have rented a car and haven’t driven your own to Rome. And don’t even get us started on the costs of parking your vehicle (either on color-coded parkings or a parking garage). All in all, taking a bus, the subway or even a high-speed trains proves to be cheaper and more relaxing (and that’s saying something!).
Do you have a question about the state of things in Rome? Has something piqued your interest? Let us know! We will answer a new question each month!