US vs Italy – a series of comparisons Part II: TRANSPORTATION

detailed-printable-map-of-verona

From last time . . . 

As I try to come to grips of the possibility of returning to the States, I have started considering more intently on the cultural differences, good and bad, between the two countries. For those of you reading this who have never been to the States, or have only been to one or two cities, the comparisons that follow are by no means representative of the US as a whole. I am from the west coast, the Pacific Northwest specifically, and so many elements that I will be mentioning may be considered foreign to someone in Iowa, for example. Similarly, Italy is a MUCH smaller country (the size of California) but it too has plentiful differences across regions. I have only been in the north; the south, I am told, is a different beast.

Transportation

I have been in Italy nearly three years without a car. I have only rented one once and that was to move from one apartment to another one hour away. Suffice it to say, one doesn’t need a car here to survive. Sure, a car would come in handy to go to out-of-the-way locales, but from major city to major city – none needed. The train system here is brilliant. It’s quick, affordable, and rather clean (I’m referring to the regional trains, specifically. The fast trains are lovely). The train stations are all in the city centres and the metro or city bus system can be used from there. Or, you can walk, which isn’t really an issue either. I actually love that walking is a thing here so no one is surprised if you’re a little sweaty from walking, running to a bus, riding a bike, etc. Taxi are also readily available. Uber is not. (There is a special Uber service in Rome, but that is not available all over Italy.) 

The only down sides of public transportation that I have experienced are the strikes (sciopero) and the crowding allowed (at least until Covid hit). Strikes happen at most once a month and the service then becomes very spotty usually between 9am and 5pm. Before and after, it’s business as usually which is very considerate for the people who use public transportation for work. The crowding, I have mentioned in previous posts, is ridiculous. As many people that can and are willing to squeeze themselves on, can get on. Getting off can be a challenge as a result. There is NO room to move or breathe (and in the summer when the A/C is broken, it’s sweltering!). I have walked to the bus stops that precedes a busy stop, just to get a seat somewhere near a door. You do what you can.

But not all regions are the same, and since I only have experience with Verona and Trentino, I can tell you that Trentino is so much more organized. The drivers are nicer but less tolerant of overcrowding. It still happens, but I haven’t seen it as bad as it is allowed in Verona. Oh, and I forgot to mention, in Verona, getting on the bus from any door happens and is commonplace. People do not wait for you to get off before they start getting on (this is mostly true for trains as well). It’s infuriating to me. In Trentino, most people get on from the front door and wait in some semblance of a line. And, buses run fairly regularly during the weekdays. Evenings are weekends (specifically Sunday) can be very different. Always check. In Verona, the bus number changes after 8pm as well as the route changes, so you really need to pay attention.

In the States, I have lived in Los Angeles, Phoenix, and in Portland, OR. Los Angeles had much better bus options that Phoenix, but Portland is by far the best of the three cities when it comes to pubic transportation. So, I will focus on Portland. 

Before I go any further, be aware that US Americans l-o-v-e their cars. Statistically, there was 284.5 million register cars in the US in 2019. The population is around 330 million. So, every one that is old enough to drive, has a car (on average). 

Before I moved to Italy, I thought Portland public transportation was top-notch. I was very happy with it – when I used it. I drove to work every day. Why? because from where I lived (4 miles from work), it would have taken me over an hour to take 3 forms for public transport. One of those buses only ran every hour when I would be returning from work. It’s a catch-22: We love our cars so we don’t use public transportation as much. So, the schedule isn’t as user-friendly due to costs. which means, it isn’t as convenient, so people drive instead. 

Traffic is a problem everywhere, and I can’t make an intelligent comparison between here and there. Verona and Trento are cities of roughly 250K people. Bother are medieval towns so there aren’t major roads through the centre of town. And the perimeter consists of winding road once used for horses and carriages. As a result, few cars fit and with pedestrians, driving through the main part of town can take some patience.

In the States, again west coast, we are used to grid-like planned cities and freeways that basically go right through the city (which is sprawling). Older cities on the east coast have similar European circular planning, and then cities sprawl out from there. So, traffic can get intense. I seriously can walk faster. What’s really sad is seeing hundreds or thousands of cars stuck on the freeway and many of them have 1 person in the car. I would love to see high-speed trains be added (everywhere) because then people wouldn’t be limited to the city limits if they want to get home in a decent amount of time (which, has driven up home costs significantly).

Last thing – the highways here (what we would call “freeways” on the west coast; here they called Autostrada) all have a tool associated with them. There are side roads, but they are slower and not as smooth, in addition to you may be forced to get on the highway at some point anyway. Oh, and you can’t pop on and off the highways here. There are specific exits so you really need to google to tell you when to get off, at which point you will get on a Tangenziale. Only some cities have toll roads in the States, but none in Oregon (that I know of).

If you have questions about driving in the States, or public transport in Italy, drop your questions in the comments and I will do my best to help you out.

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