Monday, April 7, 2014

Adventures in public transportation

It's hard to believe that, although I have been here for over a month, I rode Padua's tram for the first time yesterday. In fact, because the city is small and I walk everywhere, I can count on one hand the times I have used public transportation at all (the tram once and the bus 3-4 times). Still, I wanted to share some experiences that have come out of these adventures.

A look down Dei Ponti Romani, a "busy" downtown street where you can catch the tram and many busses. 
Yesterday was Sunday, apparently a very slow day for public transportation in Padua. I was going to a friend's house for lunch, and she had given me very specific instructions for how to arrive (I should write about the lunch too… it was my first, home-cooked-by-a-real-Italian-mamma, family lunch here and I loved it!). Anyway, the directions involved taking the tram.

It really was too far to walk, so I bought my tram ticket (which, by the way, is the same -and same price- as a bus ticket; they are interchangeable) at a tabacchi and headed across the street to the high-tech tram stop, which included a regular paper schedule and a monitor displaying the minutes remaining till the arrival of the next tram. To my disappointment, I had just missed one, and the next one would not arrive for, according to the timetable, 33 minutes!

A Padua tram stop
So, like a good Italian -or maybe like a good tourist- I started chatting with other people waiting for the bus near the same stop. We mulled over my options. I could take a bus instead, but had mixed reviews of which bus to take. One person said the #16 was the one I needed, but another said that #16 does not run at all on Sundays, so I should take #22. A different person said that #22 would not get me close enough to my destination, and that I should just wait for the tram.

Well, here comes bus #22. The woman in favor tells me to get on. Meanwhile, the woman opposed is telling me not to get on. Both are vigorously cheering me on: "Get on!" "No! Don't get on!", in front a group of onlookers. Mamma mia. I opted to get on and ask the disgruntled driver if his bus arrives close to my destination. His ambiguous response: "piĆ¹ o meno" (more or less).

Not good enough for me. I got off the bus and decided to wait the, by that point, remaining 10 minutes for the tram, and I'm glad I did! The tram is great, much more comfortable than the bus, even though most people have to stand up. Unfortunately, it is limited to stops along a very specific north-south route, while most of my on-foot commuting is in the east-west direction.  

Padua's tram: Clean, comfortable, and easy to use… if you are going in the north-south direction. 

In my limited experience with public transportation here, I have learned that, although schedules are posted online, they are not always accurate or up to date. This includes the SITA busses that go outside the city into the surrounding areas (the ones that leave from the train/bus station). Sometimes it's best just to show up at the bus stop/station and figure out the next available option from there. 

Although it varies from country to country, European buses, including Italian ones, are definitely more "scheduled" than Latin American busses. Swedish busses are impeccably timed, with accurate information displayed on real-time monitors at all the stops. On the other hand, the most challenging place I used public transportation was Guayaquil, Ecuador (in the mid-1990's), where stops were completely unmarked and schedules nonexistent. I have to admit that I have wrongly assumed that busses (and trams) in Padua would show up very frequently, but it is not the case. There is a schedule, and it is generally accurate. The good news is, in Padua, by the time you wait for the bus or tram to arrive, you could probably get at least half way to your destination on foot!  

A bus/tram stop in Padua, with the schedule posted and a screen providing info about upcoming arrivals.  

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