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Anyone who is planning to drive in Italy needs to be aware of Limited Traffic Zones, or Zona Traffico Limitato in Italian, abbreviated to ZTL. Many historical centers of Italian cities have set up these limited traffic zones in order to reduce congestion and pollution, and there are significant fines for driving into one of these zones unauthorized.
Italian ZTL fines are tickets that are automatically generated and sent to drivers who cross into the designated Limited Traffic Zones (ZTL) in a city, and who are unauthorized to do so. Not every city has a ZTL area, but Italian ZTL fines are no scam. In 2008 in Florence – a city of 365,000 residents – almost 900,000 tickets were issued for traffic violations. Of those, more than half were given for driving unauthorized in an area of restricted access.
The boundaries of the ZTL are clearly marked, except that you need to know what you’re looking for. The sign above is an example of a ZTL boundary sign.
The red circle means no cars allowed. The numbers underneath are the times of day, using the 24-hour clock. So the sign above means no entry between 8 am and 8 pm. The fine print says that cars with a pass can enter.
1 – You’ll see other cars crossing the ZTL boundary and may assume you can proceed. Not so. You may see plenty of Italian drivers crossing into the ZTL zone, but they’re locals and they have passes. You do not, and you’ll get a fine.
2 – All cities do not have the same rules, so learning the rules for Pisa may not be useful for Florence or Milan. In some cities, non-residents cannot enter the ZTL, period. In other cities, any car can enter, but only with a pass. In Milan, access to the ZTL, and what kind of pass is needed depends on how environmentally friendly the car is. The details are written on the signs, so you just need to recognize and read them. But that’s not easy when you’re in a moving vehicle, and because these zones are in city centers, there are usually many other distractions such as pedestrians, bikes, vespas, narrow streets, lots of parked cars, etc.
3 – Zones are monitored by cameras, so tickets are issued immediately and automatically, as soon as (and each time) the car crosses the ZTL boundary. There is no chance to explain to an actual person, “but officer, I didn’t understand….”. The ticket is sent to the address registered with the car, or for a car rental company, the ticket will be forwarded to the home address associated with the credit card (with an additional forwarding fine and a fine from the car rental company – more details below).
4 – GPS systems do not know about ZTL zones, and will just suggest the shortest route, which may indeed include driving straight into a ZTL.
5 – Once you’ve started approaching the ZTL area, it can be impossible to turn around. By the time you see the sign, you may not be able to avoid getting a fine. Due to traffic, narrow or one-way streets (which are probably the reasons the zone is designated ZTL), it may be necessary to enter the Zona Traffico Limitato in order to leave it.
Fines are different depending on the city, but expect the traffic violation itself to be between about 50 and 80 Euros. If the car is rented, the rental car company will usually add an additional fine. So it’s entirely possible that up to one year after returning from your Italian vacation, you receive a fine in the mail for 130 Euros. Read about all the gritty details of people who’ve been-there-done-that in this thread on TripAdvisor.
As with any traffic fine, avoiding a ZTL is mostly common sense.
Let me emphasize this: Limited Traffic Zones are not a tourist scam. People seem to think this is a scam but it isn’t. Nor is it aimed only at tourists – plenty of Italians receive these fines. Getting a fine in this zone is the same as getting any other traffic fine. The zones were created to reduce traffic and pollution in very busy Italian city centers.
Map of Pisa ZTL zones; how to pay a ZTL ticket from Pisa.
This site is great for lots of cities, not just Rome, but it’s in Italian only. Under the map on the bottom right, you need to click on whether you want to see the “diurna” or daytime ZTL map vs the “notturna” or evening ZTL map. The other thing I like about this site is that if you are driving to a city and want to park close to, but not in, the ZTL zone, on the left, you can click “parcheggiare” to show the parking lots. Zoom in to find the best parking, note the GPS coordinates, plug them into your GPS device, and go straight to the parking without worrying about getting stuck inside the ZTL zone.
Map of Florence ZTL zones; Lots of information on ZTL in Florence.
Addendum regarding Florence ZTL, November 18th, 2016: I was contacted by a reader who received a ticket in Florence for driving in the ZTL. He had rented his car from Locauto, which he asserted, is inside the Florence ZTL zone and therefore should have given him a ZTL pass.
When I looked up Locauto’s address on the ZTL map, indeed their office seems to be clearly inside the ZTL boundary. However, on their website, Locauto says they are very close to, but not in, the Florence ZTL. This was very confusing. So we called them.
Locauto insisted that they are not inside the ZTL boundary. They also said they would actually prefer to be inside the ZTL, because then the police would have to give them ZTL passes for their customers.
So we called the Florence police to ask for an official ZTL map in order to properly understand exactly where the Florence ZTL boundaries are. The police could not direct us to an official ZTL map of Florence (?!) but they maintained that the Locauto office is indeed inside the ZTL. Further, they said, if you go to google street view, you can clearly see the ZTL signs on the street next to the Locauto office.
The saga continues, but this example illustrates that you should avoid driving anywhere near a ZTL boundary. If you dance on the boundaries, even unknowingly as our reader did, you may get embroiled in Italian bureaucracy, or just get an undeserved ticket.
General info about Milan’s Ecopass.
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