Public transportation strikes are extremely common in Rome (there was one just a fortnight ago). They usually get called with a couple of days notice and have the potential to disrupt even the most carefully laid travel plans.
But you can avoid the headaches of “scioperi” (strikes) by keeping an eye out for upcoming strikes and making alternative arrangements to ensure you’re not left stranded and out of pocket.
How to find out about upcoming strikes
There are many websites that announce upcoming strikes in Italy, but not too many that do it in English. The website of your local embassy in Rome is a pretty good place to start. Other options:
• The British Embassy in Rome almost always announces upcoming strikes.
If you speak a little Italian, there are several more sources, including:
• The Strikes Commission Website (yes, it really exists)
• For train strikes, see the Ferrovie dello Stato website.
Signs of a strike
If you’re in Rome, keep an eye out for any signs around Metro, bus and tram stops that might signal any upcoming strikes. The information is usually in Italian, and may not be very obvious to the passer by (the signs might only be a couple of A4 pieces of paper taped somewhere). The magic word is “Sciopero” – if you see this written anywhere (accompanied by dates and times) it might be a sign that strike has been called.
Another tip: Ask the receptionist in your hotel. They’ll definitely be able to tell you if any upcoming industrial action. They might also be able to help you arrange alternative transport on the day the strike is planned.
What to do when there is a strike
What you do in the event of a strike really depends on the length of strike, which services will be affected and what are your plans.
Unless the strike is a “general transport strike,” not all services will be out of action. Because of the different types of transport in Rome (and in Italy) it can actually be tricky working out what services will be out of action (e.g. sometimes buses are involved, but not Metro trains. Or Regional trains are frozen, but not the Metro). Private city tour buses will almost never be part of industrial action by city transport workers.
Hours: Strikes can occur on weekdays or weekends. They often go for 24 hours – from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm, then again from 8 pm until the following morning. There is sometimes a break mid-strike to let commuters return home after work.
If you are planning to visit tourist attractions on the day of the strike, then you should travel by public transport before 8:30 am. Although limited bus services sometimes run during strikes, extensive cancellations should always be expected and you should expect to be “stranded” at least between the hours of 8:30 and 5:00 pm.
Wear your walking shoes, take plenty of water, and start your day somewhere within walking distance of Rome’s best attractions (I recommend Colosseum – Metro B).
Getting to the airport during a strike
Rome’s Leonardo Express service between Termini station and Fiumicino Airport often runs as normal, even in the case of general strikes. If you have to catch a plane, and had planned to take the Leonardo Express from Termini to Fiumicino Airport, you might need to catch a taxi from your hotel to get to Termini Station.
If the Leonardo Express is not running, then a private shuttle bus is probably the cheapest alternative. Your hotel or hostel will probably be able to recommend one – but beware – you could still spend €70 or more per person. (One option is: http://www.rome-airport-shuttle.it.)
Remember – your airline (or connecting bus or train company) will probably not care (or refund your ticket) if you miss your connection because of a public transport strike. Inform yourself the second you learn about an upcoming transport strike and begin considering your options.
If you’re in a jam, call your airline or connecting bus or train company and ask their advice as to what to do. They usually have English speaking staff that will be able to help you consider your options and minimize any major disruptions to your travel plans.