This evening while I was going to my yoga lesson near Piazza Navona, there was an American family on the bus who and the father asked me if they were on the right bus to Piazza Cavour. I told him he just needs to stay on the bus until the final stop.
He then continued asking how he would get to the Vatican from there and I said it would be a good 10-15 minutes walk. I then offered that they get off another stop and transfer to a bus which will take them directly to the Vatican. He was very appreciative and kindly asked if I could let him know where to get off.
When his stop came around he thanked me again and said, it would be good if the buses in Rome announced the stops but then added, well I shouldn’t really complain because they don’t check that I have the tickets either!
He’s definitely right to say that but that doesn’t mean you should travel on public transportation in Rome without the tickets. Here, you don’t have to show your tickets when you board the bus but you will need to validate the tickets in the yellow machines on every bus. Visitors assume that since most people don’t validate their tickets, it means they don’t have a ticket.
Many residents, including myself, hold either a monthly or yearly pass that we don’t need to validate so it appears that everyone on the bus gets a free ride.
Since some buses don’t allow you to buy the tickets on board, so buy a couple from any bars or shops in Rome with the big T sign. In addition, you can also buy tickets also from the automated machines in the metro stations. These tickets don’t expire so for your convenience keep a few of them handy as they are considered used only when they are validated. Keep in mind that on buses which do sell tickets, you can only purchase the BIT (biglietto integrato a tempo) which costs €1 and is only valid for 75 minutes from the time it is validated. With that ticket, you can use it for unlimited number of bus rides but only one trip on the metro. You could switch metro lines at Termini on the same ticket as you don’t exit the metro station.
My advice is buy the tickets before boarding the bus because if (it is a big IF but I have seen ATAC personnel checking the tickets) you get caught, the fine is at least €100. A full day ticket only costs €4 while a weekly ticket is €16 and from what I’ve heard the tickets prices here in Rome are reasonable compared to other European countries. Yes, the service may not be great but the public transportation system here does help you get to many Rome attractions rather easily.