John Bensalhia is your ticket master for a beginner's guide to train travel in fares in Italy. Plus, the all-important question: how do Italian fare prices compare with other countries around the globe?
Getting from A to B will always come at a price, whether it's buying a new car or motorbike, stocking up on fuel, or paying for a public transport ticket.
Train travel, it's fair to say, gets quite a mixed press around the world. Depending on what country you're in, shelling out for a train ticket can be a breeze or an absolute nightmare. As a chap with a fair bit of experience in Britain, train travel in good old Blighty tends to consist of paying eye-watering prices in long queues at kiosks manned by surly jobsworths – for services which are both, more often than not, delayed and more cramped than a value pack of sardines.
Italy, however, provides a good quality service. I'll be looking at how the ticket prices compare with other locations around the world a bit later on in this article, but in the meantime, let's get the lowdown on a couple of fare facts...
Modern World Wonders
Thanks to the wonders of the modern world, queuing is no longer the only way to get your hands on a ticket. Booking online is a simple deal – visit the Trenitalia website, for example but for the easiest way to book, Italiarail is our top choice for buying tickets online. It's an easy to use site, with all the information you could want for booking and finding the train that's right for you.
In some cases, you will need to allocate your own seat from a given plan, such as for high speed or long distance journeys.
If you've moved to Italy from another country or are here on holiday and wish to get about by train, be aware that you must type in the Italian names for the station you want – eg: Florence is Firenze S. M. Novella while Rome is Roma Termini. Holidaymakers will benefit from Trenitalia's booking agenda, which allows you to book a train up to six months in advance. An ideal initiative for those either planning day trips in advance or actually getting to their holiday destination by train.
In fact, train travel doesn't necessarily require a ticket these days. A new system has been introduced in which all you need is an individual booking reference code. When you get on the train, simply inform the member of staff the relevant code. Quick, easy and convenient.
The alternative is to use one of the computerised self service machines at the train station. Like the website, buying a ticket this way is very easy. Every one of the key Italian train stations has these machines, and also like the website, there's an English language option for those on holiday or new to living in Italy.
The machines provide tickets for local and long distance journeys, although again, you'll need to book your place in advance for the long distance trains. If you're in a hurry for a train on the day you're travelling, don't fret – you can buy your ticket right there and then. Machines accept cash and credit cards.
I've talked about the choice of buying in advance. In some cases, you'll need to book ahead in order to secure your place on the train. But the advantage of this is that you can save money this way. Booking an Economy or Super Economy fare can bring the price down for a precisely chosen route, which in some cases, can start from just shy of €10. You can get savings of up to 60% on a train journey, so it's well worth considering. The only downside is that once you commit to this train route, there's no refunds and alterations to the journey. So make sure that there isn't a last minute spanner in the works!
For those looking for a more free-falling train journey or a regular commute to work in the local region, then buying on the day is the sensible option. You're free to take whatever route you like, with more flexibility. Also the Italiapass offered by Italiarail offers a myriad of exciting perks: including access to a VIP lounge in Rome's Termini train station.
If you're travelling with a young family, then there's more good news. You can get savings and in some cases, free passes. Trenitalia's rules for child travel mean that all children under the age of four don't need a ticket.
With older children, this depends on the type of train that your youngsters travel on. Kids 12 and under can take the train while paying the standard children's rate on regional trains. However, add three more years for national trains, as those 15 years and under using InterCity, Frecciargento, Frecciarossa, and Frecciabianca get to pay children's rates.
Like this article? Don't miss "Tips and Suggestions for Train Travel in Italy for 2019"
So now for the big question: How does Italy fare in comparison with other countries' public transport rates?
In order to get an idea of the bigger global picture, I paid a visit to the price comparison site, Expatistan, which analyses the prices for the cost of living for more than 200 countries. The results look at a number of aspects including food and drink, clothing and getting around (car and fuel costs). One of the latter is the monthly ticket for public transport (complete with train icon next to this sector!).
I sampled more than 20 countries to see how they compare with Italy. An Italian monthly ticket average is €36, which in general, is a reasonable rate. It's lower than a good number of other countries' prices, and in some cases, considerably so. Unsurprisingly, the UK has the highest asking price of €107 (which for many is arguably way too high for the quality of service provided). Other higher cost countries include Australia (€90), Sweden (€80), Germany and America (both €74) and France (€66). Italy is still better value than other middle of the road prices for locations such as the Bahamas and Belgium (both €50), Spain and Brazil(both €47).
However, there are some locations which are cheaper than Italy's rates. These include Poland (€25), Turkey (€28), Czech Republic (€21) and Algeria (€13). But overall, at €36, the Italy rates for monthly public transport are very fare, sorry, fair.