Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Pisa Revisited ?

Many blog posts ago, when I was remembering our wonderful Italian holiday, I wrote about our visit to Pisa with its hard to find parking places, narrow picturesque streets and, of course, its well dodgy tower.

Well it seems that the tower wasn't the only thing dodgy about Pisa !

A few days ago, Stephen, who had hired the rental car and was thus the named driver, got a registered letter from the authorities to say 'we' owed them 119 Euros for a traffic offence committed in that city. Seeing as we'd accidentally gone down a one way street the wrong way in our efforts to find a parking place, I assumed that was the offence. It wasn't.

Then I remembered the 'colourful' people who had been hanging around the little piazza where we, and dozens of other tourists, had parked. These guys, with no request from us, had tried to find us empty parking bays but we just ignored them and found one ourselves, paid at a nearby ticket machine and went off tower hunting. I wondered if this had anything to do with the offence. It hadn't.

So what was it all about ? Well it seems that like a few other Italian towns and cities, Pisa has a ZTL (Zona Traffico Limitato - you can't make this stuff up !) which hardly needs much translation. Despite all my research before we left, I knew nothing about these zones in any Italian city and, if asked, would only have thought Rome would have one, being the capital an' all. As we weren't driving in Rome, it never came up.

So back to Pisa. We saw no ZTL signs and probably wouldn't have understood one if we HAD seen one as they are in Italian only.

Seeing such a sign with something like 7:30-19:30 on it would've led me to think it was simply a "no parking zone" with fixed times. Knowing better now, we understand we entered the zone several streets before we eventually parked up and in fact, were very fortunate not to have incurred multiple fines when driving around trying to park. If we'd accidentally exited and entered the zone multiple times, we'd have received multiple fines !

What to do now ? Well as usual we've surfed t'interclacker and if you put in any combination of Pisa, traffic zone and even scam, you'll get a plethera of blogs, forums and other irate rants about it all. Where were these sites when I was researching Italy ??!! Thanks a bunch Frommers, Rough Guide et al.

Ok so if anyone is planning a driving trip around Italy, visiting cities like Rome, Florence and/or Pisa, be aware they have ZTLs and raise many millions of euros by tracking down offenders and sending out fines, usually many months later, and therein lies the "get out of jail" card.

After reading many, MANY, rants about this business and listening to the sage advice of bar room lawyers, who to be fair do acknowledge their lack of lawyery credentials, the following seems to apply........

........the authorities have 360 days from the date of the offence to issue you with the fine, otherwise you can appeal and, using section 201.1 of the Italian Highway Code (now there is an oxymoron if ever there was one !) have the fee dismissed.

I finally found an excellent, if wordy, blog which explains it all. Sadly it's been updated over the years without the old info being deleted so it's a bit of a plough through but well worth it. As I've no idea when any passing visitor will read this post of mine, can I direct them to the comment section of the highlighed blog and to the one dated 4th Dec 2010 from James. His question plus the followup answer from Al seems to encapsulate all the previous data and will save some time.
Basically if your fine letter came more than 360 days after the offence, use the appeal letter template elsewhere in that blog post to send off to the authorities to have the charge/penalty quashed.

I realise that, as usual, ignorance of the law is no excuse but when you add up the lack of signs, the fact that they are in Italian only (I know, I know, learn the language !) and that a small town like Pisa "raises" about 25m euros from these fines, then you have to wonder about Boss Hog tactics when it comes to local government funding.

More research has now shown me that we visited several other towns that, unknown to us, had ZTLs. Towns like San Gimignano and our very favourite, Siena. Thankfully we parked outside those towns simply because we came upon favourable parking areas or else we may have had, and still could have of course, fines from them as well. Time will tell.

Oh and one last point. The Italian authorities, when tracking down non Italian residents for these fines, use outside agencies for the purpose. In the UK, our DVLA is not allowed to give out driver details to foreign agencies but the simple way around this is to get a UK agency to make the requests ! And don't think you'll get away with a fine if you rented a car. Licence plates are photographed and the car rental companies have to supply the driver information. The big rental companies charge for this 'service' so you may well get yet another charge on your credit card from them......and some people think THIS is the traffic penalty but sadly, that's still to come in the post. It's all adding up, isn't it ??

Credit card statements are being checked as I type this but we think our car rental company haven't applied a charge. Fingers crossed as we'd never get that fee quashed as whether the subsequent ZTL fine gets cancelled or not, the rental company still had to perform the admin service of giving out our details.

We all liked Pisa and it's one of those places that if you are nearby, you just have to visit.

But even without its ZTL, it's not a place I'd ever want to revisit.

The Leaning Tower ? Been there, seen it, held it up !

The ZTL fine ? Been there, had it, ain't paying up !


Daphne said...

Oh THAT's what the sign looks like! But even in English it wouldn't be easy to understand - - it's in Bureaucratic Italian and even knowing the literal meaning I wouldn't have known what it actually meant!
I'm really pleased you've found the relevant info - I think these fines are just WRONG!

Ruth said...

I wonder if London's Congestion Zone signs are similarly oblique to non English speaking visitors.
Is it possible for the Pisa authorities to collect the fine from Stephen? It's just a minor traffic offence, I doubt if he will be extradited. Perhaps not paying and never going back there is the simplest resolution.

Jennyta said...

That's what I call a real scam! What a great way to make money out of unsuspecting visitors. I've just informed Keith we won't be going to Italy again!

Silverback said...

Daphne..funny how that now I'm actively looking for ZTL info, I'm finding it (deeply hidden) on all the tourist sites. We just think we know all EU traffic signs but we don't - although some town signs like this are just rarely mentioned anywhere.

Ruth, I KNOW the London congestion zones exist but to be honest, I'd dread having to drive there so much for other reasons that I'd never do it. No idea what foreigners make of the procedures involved but probably few drive in the zone anyway.

Jenny, I've no problem with traffic zones as such and especially in those lovely old Italian towns but they need to be more obvious for visitors and certainly not be set up to take photos of 'trespassers' and then send out a fine 15 months later. Despite that,and armed with a knowledge of zoning laws, I'd be back touring Italy in a heartbeat.

rhymeswithplague said...

Pisa is not a "small town" although it qualifies as a "small city" with 87,500 residents.

In the U.S., any city with more than 50,000 residents is considered by the Bureau of Census to be a "metropolitan area" or, to be accurate, a Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area (SMSA).

Now I grew up in a small town. It had two traffic signals, a one-block-long business district, and around 1000 residents.

Silverback said...

Bob, apologies for not following the US Bureau of Census for my small Italian town criteria. Consider me suitably chastised for my small mistake.

Alex Roe said...

Hi Silverback,

Alex of BlogfromItaly.com here - glad you have found the Speeding Fines post useful - it's been visited almost 70,000 times, so others seem to find it handy too.

Now you commented of the post "Sadly it's been updated over the years without the old info being deleted" - I have wondered about leaving the older info visible, but decided in the interests of detail to leave it there as it might help people understand whether they have been referring to up to date or out of date info and this may me useful. Would you agree?

As for Italy's overly complex road signs, yes they are! I proposed a solution to the ZTL problem here: http://www.blogfromitaly.com/how-to-make-restricted-traffic-areas-fairer/ - let me know what you think, if you have a minute.



Alex Roe said...

Rat's I was wrong! Not nearly 70,000 times, but closer to 45,000 times (although not far off 70,000 if you count the related posts).

Still, 45,000 is a not inconsiderable number and indicates that the ZTL thing is a headache for many.

Alex - again

Silverback said...

Alex....not sure where your first comment went.....guess you deleted it. To answer the question you posed within it, I think you just need to delete old stuff and have a heading with a date for the new (current) stuff. I was a bit overwhelmed by all the data and others might give up and move to a more concise site which would be a shame as what you have created is a very helpful site.

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