15 Oct 2011

All you need to know about limited traffic zones in Italy, and Pisa in particular, and on how to avoid fines.

Pisa ZTL: Limited Traffic Zone

pisa

Those of you who have visited a travel forum even only once will have seen at least a couple of threads about fines for trespassing into ZTLs in Italian cities or for other traffic violations. If you have taken the time to read the posts, you will have noticed that most of the people leaving messages to vent about their misadventure with the Italian laws regulating traffic claim that they have been scammed, and sometimes end up blaming the car rental agencies for not telling them about the ZTL rule.

Pisa is one of the cities in Tuscany (along with Florence) where such complaints are most frequent. This post will hopefully clear up a few points.

What is a ZTL?

ZTL is an acronym which stands for Zona a Traffico Limitato, meaning Limited Traffic Zone. It is an area of the city center that is closed to non-residential traffic. Only city buses, taxis, residents with a valid permit and other authorized vehicles (i.e. delivery vehicles, couriers, etc.), can drive there.

What is the point of having a ZTL?

ZTLs are not created to mess with drivers, either locals or foreigners. There are three main reasons for having ZTLs in cities.

  1. Italian cities are old, and the centers of most of them boast historical buildings of great value which are inevitably damaged by traffic. This is undisputable: everybody knows that traffic is bad for old monuments and buildings. It covers them in black powder, it produces vibrations that destabilize them and damages façades.
  2. Streets are narrow and pollution is not easily dispersed in the maze of roads that constitute the center of most Italian cities. This impacts badly of the health of the residents of the cities that are most popular with tourists.
  3. Cars are noisy, and messy. In order to fully appreciate the beauty of the city center of an old city, you need to be able to reduce the amount of traffic and create pedestrian zones or zones with a low number of vehicles zooming by. It’s safer. It’s prettier. It’s healthier.

For these reasons, most municipalities have decided to create “protected” areas where only the most inevitable traffic is allowed: only residents can drive and park in ZTLs, if they have obtained a special permit from the City. Otherwise, they are not allowed either.

Everybody else, Italian, local or non local, or foreigner, has to stick to the alternative routes where driving is allowed.

How do I know if I am in a ZTL or where they are located?

A common myth is that ZTLs are not clearly marked, on purpose. This is simply false.

ZTLs are clearly marked with large signs, lane restrictions and cameras on big poles. You simply have to know what to look for, so do your homework before coming to Italy.

If you didn’t notice when you passed through one of the ZTLs gates, there is no way to know that you are in a ZTL for sure. Some good clues, though, are:

  1. all the parking spaces on the side of the road you are on are free (marked in white)
  2. all the cars parked there have local plates
  3. all the cars parked there have a special sticker on their windshield
  4. you are driving by outstanding monuments and tourist spots
  5. there are only few cars moving on the road where you are driving and many pedestrians

What happens if I drive through a ZTL?

You will be fined if you drive past the cameras at the entrance of the ZTL . They are clearly marked, you have to know what to look for, so do your homework before coming to Italy.

You won’t receive the fine until after you have gone back home. It will probably be the car rental agency that will forward it to you. The fines range between €76 and €100.

Please note that you can be fined several times in the space of a few minutes, that is every time you pass under a ZTL camera. Be careful when you drive in a city you don’t know.

Pay attention to the signs indicating mandatory direction or no entry.

How am I supposed to know that ZTLs even exist? Why didn’t the car rental agency warn me?

It is your responsibility to learn about the rules of the road in the country you are about to visit and where you plan on driving. Most guidebooks will have a section about driving at the end.

It is also your responsibility to find out if the road signs look the same, if what is allowed in your home country is also allowed in Italy, etc. Car rental agencies cannot be held responsible for your ignorance on the matter or for you not taking the time to learn about cultural differences before traveling. They might not even be aware of what the customs in your country are, or that ZTLs are a European thing. It’s you who are travelling across cultures, not them. They also have no way to know where you intend to drive.

Also don’t expect signs or warnings in any language other than Italian.

Here is an excellent article about ZTL Zones and Traffic Cameras on Roadways and in Towns in Italy. Please make sure you read it before driving in Italy.

If you are from a non-EU country road signs are different: make sure you learn them. Here is a useful guide to Italian road signs.

If you still have questions, ask your hotel or vacation rental owner about possible things you need to know to drive to your accommodation, e.g. special permits required to reach it or park nearby etc. They are more likely to have those answers than the car rental agencies.

What if I get fined and I am already at home?

You will receive a notification with details for the payment and contact numbers. Pisa has an English and German speaking call center too. You will be asked to pay by bank trasnfer.

You can try an appeal, but it will be rejected unless you can prove the camera was not functioning properly or that you were not driving that car.

If you live in France, you have no choice but to pay the fine, because of a special agreement between our two countries. If you live in any other country, it’s ethical to pay. But if you don’t, there is not much Italy can do. Some car rental agencies might have you sign a form to get permission to charge your credit card in case of fines.

UPDATE: Some one pointed out that first, the car rental agency sends you a notification it has charged you for giving your details to the police (or whomever sends the fine) and then you get the fine separately from the authorities and up to a year later. (Thank you Lynn!)

Not paying a fine is not a crime in Italy. It’s an administrative infraction, so you won’t be jailed next time you set foot in Italy again… The car rental agency might initiate a debt collection procedure against you.

The ZTL in Pisa

I have already written something about the ZTLs in Pisa a few weeks ago. Here is the official map of the access points of the ZTL in the city. And here is a google map I created – you have to watch out for the cameras in Via Roma and Via Mazzini.

 

Some people believe they are a scam for tourists, but they’re not. They support their thesis with the argument that the city council even has English and German speaking clerks helping people pay ZTL fines. That is a service meant to help people who were distracted or didn’t do their homework and entered one of these areas.

Italians get fined too. But not, as some believe, because ZTLs are so difficult to identify that not even Italians can see them, but because when you navigate an unknown city, you get distracted, whatever your nationality. So the first thing to do is to learn to identify the ZTLs.


SeeZTLs accesses in Pisa on a larger map.

Tired of reading about this, I asked for numbers. It is true that 70% of the fines go to tourists, the remaining 30% to Italians, 40% of which are not from the city.

90% of the fines given to tourists happen near the Leaning Tower in Via Roma. Some might say that then this is the proof that the ZTL is not clearly marked, and it’s tricky.

This is the access where 90% of the tourists get fined:

ZTL Via Roma Pisa

Should you still be wondering how can you possibly know that this is the access of a ZTL…

ZTL VIa Roma Pisa

To avoid this, you need to turn in Via Salvi, the street that you can see on the left, before the pedestrian crossing. If you end up in Via Santa Maria, you are in the ZTL.

The remaining 10% of the fines are received by tourists trespassing the ZTL access in Via Giuseppe Mazzini, a street that veers off the Lungarno.

ZTL Via Mazzini Pisa

Again, it is pretty obvious that this is where the ZTL starts:

ZTL Via Mazzini Pisa

As I mentioned in the other post about parking in Pisa, this access can be a bit confusing, because you only see the ZTL cameras once you have already turned into Via Mazzini, and backing up into the Lungarno is not an option. However, if you pay attention to the signs on the Lungarno, you will see that you will have passed signs indicating that you must go straight.

lungarno pisa

These two accesses together make up for 100% of the ZTL violations by foreign drivers. Learn to recognize them and you will be fine.

You will be fine if you drive along the Lungarni (these roads that run along the river banks) without taking ANY side roads. Stay on the Lungarni, or outside the city walls.

Italians, on the other hand, are more likely to be fined on the Lungarni in the summer. The ZTL on the Lungarno is only active in the summer after 9pm when the locales on the river are open and thriving. There are usually traffic policemen too, so as to reduce the number of confused drivers, and flashing signs say “varco attivo” (active cameras). When the sign is like this “varco non attivo” (inactive cameras), it means you can drive there.

I had a GPS system: it’s not possible that I drove through a ZTL

GPS Navigation Systems are totally unreliable when it comes to identifying ZTLs. First of all, the software is often not up to date with the change in traffic in the cities. Second, they can be used by residents and taxis too, and are programmed to show the easiest way to get from point A to point B, independently of whether such points are included in a ZTL or not.

Do not rely on GPS systems to avoid ZTLs: it’s proven that they do not work at all.

I have booked accommodation located within a ZTL: what should I do then?

Write to the reception and make sure that you can drive to your hotel. If not, ask them where you can park your car nearby. Most hotels in limited traffic zones will have special agreements with the local traffic police offices to allow their guests to safely reach the hotel. If this is the case, make sure you let them know your plate number as soon as possible so that they can file it with the dedicated offices to get you a special permit to drive in the ZTL. The cameras will still take pictures of your car but you will not be fined because the system will know that you had a permit.

Be aware that having permission to drive through a ZTL to reach your accommodation does not give you the right to drive through all the ZTLs in the city. If you are staying in a hotel near Via Mazzini for example, you will still be fined if you try to enter the ZTL near the Leaning Tower. Pisa is divided into four distinct ZTL areas, each requiring a different permit. The permits are only valid insofar as they allow you to get to your accommodation and back to the free driving zone.

Did I forget anything?

If you have a question about ZTLs in Pisa or in general which is not answered here, please leave a comment and I will try to find an answer! Thanks!

Comments

  1. Excellent article. If you are confronted with a ZTL on a narrow street with little space to pull over, you might encounter very loud car horns behind you urging you forward. Don’t do it. The folks behind you will just have to help you back-up, it’s life in the city. Mike http://www.apathtolunch.com

    • Thank you for your comment and advice Mike! Lovely blog by the way!

  2. We got caught out in Pisa a couple of years ago. At the time, we were lost and I only noticed the sign after we had passed it. To make it even worse the car hire company charged us an admin fee for passing our details onto the Pisa authorities. Then I had to pay a fee of £12.50 to make the bank transfer to pay the fine.

    Quite honestly I’d advise you to park your hire car in the suburbs and use public transport, it far too easy to get caught out and quite expensive to park. A hire car is only good for seeing the countryside not for cities.

    • I totally agree. In Pisa especially you really don’t need a car. Thank you for stopping by!

  3. Tuscany Villas

    Really marvelous explanation about the traffic rules. Thanks for sharing such a good information.

  4. Nancy Blimke

    Your website is wonderful. Thankyou. I received in the mail today, a ticket for 113 Euro for some type of traffic violation 21-09-10. It was for “circulating in restricted traffic zone without authorization”. I suspect this is your ZTL’s.

    This is obviously over one year. Is the ticket still relevant? I don’t mind paying a fine, but 113 euro 14 months after it occurred.

    It was in a rental car (Avis) who did notify us in January of 2011 that the paperwork was coming. I suspect that the Municipality of Pisa will go after Avis for the fine if I don’t pay it and they in turn will debit my credit card.

    Is this how it works? Thank you for your advice.

    • Hi Nancy, not sure how it works. I think it depends on the contract terms with Avis.

  5. Marcus Slack

    Hi

    Thanks for the information great article. I was hit with 2 ZTL fines and for various reasons I appealed.

    Some 8 months later I receive a letter only in Italian and looking at the sum on it I can only assume the appeal was rejected and the fine doubled. This seems totally unfair as on the original letter there is nothing stating an appeal that has been rejected will result in your fine being doubled. Had there been I probably would have paid.

    Now the fine is double I’m going to follow your advice that as a fine is an administrative infraction I will ignore it

    • Hi Marcus, sorry to hear. Just to be clear… not paying is not “my advice”. Of course it is always better to pay fines… All I said is that you won’t go to jail for not paying a ZTL fine.

      • Marcus Slack

        Thanks Gloria – well that is one consolation not ending up in a Pisa jail! I’ll probably end up paying it. I just wish I had read your aticle before I went to Pisa!

  6. Karin

    Dear Gloria,
    Thank you very much for sharing the information in your blog; very helpfull to know, when you’d like to drive in Italian cities. ! I have one question: on the ZTL sign (at the bottem) in Via Mazzini (Pisa) I see a picture in orange with a disabled person. I can’t read the words behind it. What does it say? And what does it mean? Are there any exceptions for driving in a ZTL when you are disabled? Thank you for your reply.

    • Hi Karin, it’s a number disabled people provided with an official disability card and number can call within 24 hours from the entrance in the ZTL to avoid being fined. The number is 800086540. I am not sure if they speak English, although I would think so. Anyway, if you are traveling by your own car, it is better to request a permit in advance, proving proof of certified disability and all the details of the car. If you are renting, ask the agency for a disabled driver tag, and ask them to assist you with the procedure.
      Keep in mind that you can pretty much get to the same distance from the monuments parking outside the ztl, though. You need to write to the local ztl office pm.ztl@comune.pisa.it and ask. Remember that if the disabled person is not the owner/renter of the car, the data of the owner/renter must be provided too. I hope this helps.

  7. Mario

    Gloria, congratulations on the blog, very well explained.
    In June we will take, my wife and I, we will take a car in Trento to know many Italian cities.
    If you can answer me two questions:
    1 – I saw today that it has ZLT in Pisa, Rome and Florence, has more than these cities with ZLT?
    2 – In Pisa, has two parking lots, leaving the car at one of them and not going through ZLT has no problems. This is correct?
    Thank you for your attention.

    • Most Italian cities and towns have a ZTL area, so watch out for the big signs or the “no entry sign” (round white sign with red border), as smaller places and even many cities won’t have cameras, but you might still be stopped and fined by a traffic policeman.

      In Pisa there are many parking areas, the two free parking lots are outside the ZTL, but the one near Via di Pratale is taken up by the market on Wednesday and Saturday morning.

  8. Mario

    Gloria, thank you for your information.

  9. italy4me

    Hi, nice website! Can you post clear directions to get to the Pisa Parking- Parcheggio Pietrasantina, avoiding the ZTL?

    • You can use the map I posted or google maps. Look for Via Pietrasantina. Avoiding the ZTL is easy, but of course for directions you need to know where you are coming from.

  10. teknozen

    Thanks for this information and advice. I note that you mentioned a hotel can get you a ZTL pass but it will only be good for the ZTL near your hotel– and that your example was Pisa. Is that also true of Rome? I thought that as long as you had a ZTL pass you could enter the center of Rome from anywhere. Please advise!

    • No, you can only access the ztl area where the hotel is located, or drive through other areas only if there is no other way to reach your hotel. That is so for every city where a large ztl exists.

  11. June

    Hi Gloria,

    We received couple of fines close to 1 year after our last visit to Florence in 2009. Back then, we decided not to pay the fine. We may return to Florence this year and we are would like to know if we would be asked to pay the fines otherwise we will not be able to rent a car ? Or we may be stopped at customs when we reach italy. We are not EU-residents.

    Many thanks.

    Regards,
    June

    • I seriously doubt that. I think nobody will say anything.

  12. simone

    Hi Gloria,
    I just received 3 separate letters in the mail last week for ZTL violations made within a single hour while visiting Lucca.

    It has been exactly a year since we were in Italy, and the letter was not sent by registered mail. I am wondering if we have to pay it, and worried if we don’t that it may follow us and double over time!

    What would you suggest? Italy is using a collection agency known at EMO – I don’t know what their reach is like here in Canada. Thanks in advance.

    • I seriously doubt they can do anything about it if you don’t pay. But I don’t know how it works for sure.

  13. gregg

    Thank you for this….I looked at your Pisa map and am sort of confused;….just West, and/or North of “the leaning tower” i see 2 big outdoor parking lots. If i’m coming off the autostrada…can i park in those without transiting a ZTL? My confusion comes from the blue icon you placed onto each lot…

    • Have you clicked on the icon to see what the pointer indicates? Parking La Torre and Parking Via Pietrasantina (free) are easily reachable if you exit the highway at Pisa nord. And you don’t risk entering the ztl. All the other parkings that I have marked are reachable without entering the ztl, but you must be more careful of where you are driving.

  14. David

    I just visited in August. I received a fine from Pisa and Siena. I would like to pay them but I can not a website for either. The traffic fines does not have that information on them. Of course the rental Company, AutoEuropa, does not bother to respond to my emails. They just keep sending me notifications about the fines and charging my credit card. Very frustrating.

  15. Nadia

    Hi

    My husband was in Italy. He stayed 7 days there.
    The hotel receptionist told his that his Canadian disabled blue badge is valid in italy.
    Now, atter about one year he got 5 letters about LTZ.

    We wonder what we can do while we are living too far from Italy ?

    Thanks,

    • His Canadian blue badge would have been valid if the hotel had contacted the local dedicated office and got a permit for your husband’s car. I am afraid all you can do now is try and contact the hotel again and ask them if they can assist you in contacting the office and seeing what can be done… Otherwise, there is no much else to do but pay the fine I am afraid. Which city was he in?

  16. Hi, I do agree with your comments, but I have travelled 19 times in Italy by car, and every time [including your cases] when I see the camera or signs I have no way out. Note yours are single lanes.
    My arguement is to provide advance warning in English to [we have Japanese signs in Australia] at a point where you have a choice.
    These are setup to trap tourists [Florence collects $52M per year from this]. It will continue to limit my involvement in these cities.
    Limiting traffic is a necessity but this process will eventually kill the tourist property owners in the old areas

    • There are always warning signs, you just did not see them or had no idea what they meant.

  17. Hi, Gloria!
    First of all thank you very much for your message.
    One question:
    On the website http://www.pisamo.it/interno.php?id=34&lang=it they tell about Parcheggio di Piazza dei Miracoli. Is it Parking Via Pietrasantina or another one?

    • No, it’s another one, closer to the Tower. You have to pay to park there.

  18. Hi Gloria
    We will be staying in Pisa in May. The host of our rental apartment says that it is possible to buy a daily permission for the limited traffic zone and therefore park outside our accommodation — do you have any comments or information?
    Thanks
    Michelle

    • Hi Michelle, the best thing to do is to contact your host and ask him or her to assist you with that. Where will you be staying? (Asking about the competition LOL)

  19. karen

    Hi we have got a ticket for parking in a zona a trafico limit ado in Florence, i logged on to the website to see the picture and its a photo of the rear of the car with no evidence that it is actually a zona limit ado. you can see the rear of the car and the road, not even the pavement or any signs. is there any point in contesting this. the photographic evidence is clearly not conclusive but i have read on other forums that you are guilty until proven innocent. despite the lack of evidence it would be impossible to prove innocence (or guilt for that matter) . do you have any advice?

    • The photo will have been taken by the camera at the entrance of the ZTL, where all the signs are…

  20. Thanks so much for this thorough article!

  21. Thanks Gloria for your info.

    I was travelling with a disabled person in Siena. Do you have the ZTL address so I may contact them please.

    Regards

    • Hi Giuseppe, unfortunately I don’t know much about the ZTL in Siena. Sorry!

  22. Hi

    Thanks for the info and service provided. Recently I was traveling and entered a ZTL in Siena, accompanied by my disabled brother. Is there any email address I can contact before having fine processed please?

    Thanks

  23. Phil Read

    Hi
    I am a little bit confused with the ZTL and using motorcycle in the city, Florence’s web site says motorcycles and electric vehicle are permitted but that’s it. It’s really confusing and were travelling on our motorcycle on the 24th of this month. Could you advise please.

    Thanks Phil

    • I don’t think in Pisa they make any difference for the type of vehicles. If you are not allowed to be in the ZTL, you are not, no matter what you are driving. Not sure about Florence.

  24. Laura

    Hi there,

    What a wonderful help page! This is going to come in so handy.

    I thought I had read somewhere there is a park and ride for pisa, is this true and if so where abouts is it?
    Thanks in advance!!

    • Two in fact, via Pietrasantina and via del Brennero

  25. Hi,

    Thanks for your information.

    I am visiting Italy soon and have booked a hire car from Florence to drive to Pisa for a day trip then up the coast to Milan. I think the pick-up place for the car is in the ZTL, can I get fined if I just drive straight out?

    From what I’ve read it looks like there are only cameras to catch you on the way into the ZTL.

    Any advice would be great, thanks!

    • If the car rental is in the ZTL they will have permissions for their cars to leave the ZTL without being fined. You need to ask them.

  26. Hi thank you very much for amazing post.
    I have been told by Italian driver who live inside the ZTL that if I get into the ZTL I should drive into parking and tell the clerk to cancel the fine by sending my plate to the local police.
    I did it in Firenze and it work.

    • It won’t work in Pisa.

  27. Christophe

    Thank you for this intersting article. I’m about to visit Pisa and now know my way to avoid ZTLs.
    I nearly got caught by one in Siena and didn’t want my Italian trip to be a mess because of this.

  28. Mario

    Hello Gloria,
    I wish all visiting tourists were as thorough as to get prior info from your well written site.
    At present I work as night auditor at a Pisa hotel within the ZTL and can confirm that hardly any guests coming at night fail to have problems.
    Recently I visited Bologna which also runs a ZTL but in a humane way without the aggressive attitude of Pisa.
    I was surprised to see that in Bologna when facing the cameras you have an option to steer away left or right thus creating no problems to impatient motorists behind you.
    I am sure a lot of the fines in Pisa are incurred because the ZTL camera gates just do not allow one to deviate without creating a hassle to other motorists.
    Try facing the Piazza Arcivescovado camera gate with other cars behind you and see what happens ….. (you can google the spot).
    As to collection of fines from the net I found out that Pisa is just more efficient with its collection agents.
    Municipalities can only be happy if a non-resident pays.
    If he doesn’t they just cannot proceed beyond paperwork and finally it all gets binned.
    If you serach the net you’ll also find out that they don’t even comply with EU rules.
    By saying this I don’t invite you to ignore ZTL but just saying that you should take bureaucracy with a pinch of salt ….
    Cheer up folks!
    Mario

    • So true Mario. Except for French drivers, who will have to pay their fine in France because of an international agreement between the two countries. Can your hotel have the fine rectified since you are in the ZTL? I am sure they can.

  29. Such a great article and I really appreciate the photos which have given us a visual on what to look for! Great job and a BIG thank-you for taking the time to spell this all out for the rest of us!! We are headed to Tuscany in a couple of weeks and after reading this I feel much more confident and that we now know what to look for to avoid the ZTL’s.

    • Thank you Katherine! :)

Trackbacks

  1. [...] driving in inner city areas anyway) but I have just learnt from member At Home in Tuscany that the ZTL – Limited Traffic Zones in many Italian cities (including Rome and Florence) are quite a minefield (and can be an expensive [...]

  2. […] and cameras. It is for local residents only and you will be fined if you pass into these zones. http://www.athomeintuscany.org/2011/10/15/pisa-ztl-limited-traffic-zone/ This article has a great description and even map of the ZTL. You have been […]

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