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Jul 1, 2015

ZTL: No Driving In The Center Of Historical Towns In Italy

This is the kind of traffic sign you have to look out for.
We are here in Siena, precisely where a restricted zone starts.
Here the big red circle indicates a “Closed to all vehicles” area.
Access roads to historic town centers are usually clearly indicated.
Access to Fontebranda, near Siena, is controlled by a surveillance system.

Last week I got a telephone call from my friend Jessica in New York, who had holidayed in one of our Trust & Travel villas in the spring of 2014:

“You won’t believe this, Katharina: I have just received a traffic violation ticket from my Italian car rental company. It says: “Unauthorized access to a ZTL area”. That was last year in Siena, a year ago! How can this be possible?
– I’m afraid it is, Jessica. A year’s delay is not unusual.
– And I’ve looked up “ZTL” on the web and guess what I’ve found: Zone Teatrali Libere, Free Theatre Zones! What is this? Did I inadvertently drive through a theatrical performance?”

The ZTL abbreviation can actually stand for Zone Teatrali Libere. But in Jessica’s case, and in all cases of traffic violation fines in Italy, it normally stands for Zona Trafico Limitato, Restricted Traffic Zone.

In Italy, these restricted traffic areas are usually found in old historic town centers – not exactly suited to modern day traffic! – and indicated on their periphery by ZTL signs marked with a red circle. Scores of ZTL violation tickets are issued every year in Italy. They are automatically generated and sent to drivers who have entered a restricted zone without authorization. In Florence, a city of about 350,000 residents, close to half a million ZTL fines were issued in 2008 alone!

Many tourists fail to notice the ZTL signs. Others see them but are confused by the fact that they also see Italian drivers go past them without paying any heed to them, so they just follow suit! – as Jessica did in Siena. She didn’t know that only residents, taxis and commercial vehicles are allowed to enter the ZTL areas.

So, to avoid a ZTL fine, just follow a few simple rules:

Look out for the “red circle” and don’t drive beyond it.

Don’t blindly take orders from your GPS: not all ZTL areas are correctly and regularly updated on it.

Use the designated parking areas. The money you spend on parking goes to a good cause: the maintenance and embellishment of our common World heritage! Trying too hard to find “free” parking space might just earn you a bad surprise.

You’ll be staying at a hotel? Check beforehand whether this hotel is lying within a ZTL zone, and whether you can get from this hotel a special permit that will authorize you to drive through the restricted areas.

If you are a wheelchair user or travel with a person with disabilities, contact beforehand the local police or tourist bureau to get a special ZTL permit. They might put you in touch with a toll free number for more information.

Good news if you rent a chauffeured car: some companies are allowed to drive you within ZTL areas. But keep in mind that a driver rented in Florence, for instance, is not normally authorized to access ZTL zones in other Italian towns.

Oh, you are reading this article too late and, like my friend, have already received your ZTL violation ticket from Siena, Florence or Perugia? Well, don’t despair. You can find help on this blog on how to… make the payment!

Katharina's Italy