On the ticket gates at Santa Maria Novella

The gates of heaven and hell?

Samantha Vaughn, Helen Farrell
May 30, 2018 - 15:40

As the high season sets in, holiday goers are noticing a new addition to Florence’s main transportation hub: the ticket gates at the Santa Maria Novella train station. We give two contrasting opinions about the change.

 

 

Westbound

 

 

In operation since February 16 of this year, the black metal and Plexiglass gates are tasked with controlling the flow of passenger traffic within the station and limiting the number of freeloaders now obliged to show a valid ticket before boarding. But as the summer season approaches, the feasibility of Florence’s new “firewall” will be put to the test, with already crushing crowds now forced to squeeze through one side of the gates or the other.

 

The measure is, fundamentally, a good idea. Though riding the rails ticket-free has become increasingly difficult in recent years, further checks can only do good. With similar gates installed at Milano Centrale and Roma Termini, Florence following suit was a matter of time. Though one wonders whether the overseeing authorities thoroughly thought the plan through because, while the inconvenience for commuters of waiting in line behind tourists caught unawares, rummaging through bags only upon reaching the ticket-checking staff, is nothing more than a matter of perspective and patience, the true issue lies with the space available to enact such controls. Unlike its Milanese and Roman counterparts, Santa Maria Novella doesn’t lend itself to the ease of these barriers architecturally speaking. In other words, is there enough space?

 

Morning traffic highlights a very real issue when multiple trains arrive at the same time and all the passengers converge on the same exit. As part of the commuter crowd, the morning rush is far from a tranquil experience it once was: I flow down the platform with everyone else, cramming and queuing upon approaching the exits, where the crowd merges with travellers newly arrived from “the other side”.

 

Exacerbating the matter is the fact that only two ticket validation machines are found on the public side, both of which are located next to the pharmacy. When asked where passengers are supposed to stamp their tickets, one station staffer explained that they are expected to do it after going through the gates. Setting aside the fact that this seems to call into question the purpose of the checks, this can lend to concentrated crowds past the gates as everyone congregates around the machines, making it difficult to move toward and away from them.

 

As one The Florentine commuter opined, the gates haven’t improved the liveability of the station. The confusion already present in a major transportation hub seems to have been magnified with the new gates: tourists who cross through too early, crowding the other side unnecessarily, or those who wait to look at the departure board until they’ve shown their ticket, halting the flow of the space, staff who show less patience as the day wears on, waving off travellers with the flick of a hand and a harshly mumbled “No info” when they ask a question. The experience appears chaotic at worst, uninviting at best.

 

Despite the frustrations, these new inconveniences are journey dependent. There are marked differences in experiences for those traveling from lower numbered platforms, particularly 5, 6 and 7, while the situation hasn’t seen too much of an impact on platforms 15 and 16, whose eastern destinations like Borgo San Lorenzo are less touristy than the Pisa line. Nonetheless, the summer season will be a true trial by fire for the ease and flow of the gates. With any luck, we’ll all come out the other side unburnt.  

 

Article by Samantha Vaughn

 

 

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Eastbound

 

 

There’s nothing we commuters love more than having a really good moan. When the words “Ci scusiamo per il disagio” are broadcast through the a) antiquated or b) uber-modern two-tier carriage, uninterrupted screen time is briefly interrupted with a profundity of sighs and momentary eye contact among passengers. A comic strip artist would have a field day sketching a collective thought bubble above our heads: “They’re never sorry. Not really.”

 

So, when my Prato-dwelling and fellow commuting colleagues started stomping into the office one morning, I’ll freely admit experiencing some FOMO on the station action front. Granted, commuting eastbound, to Pontassieve, is fraught with issues: the mad dash to and from Platform 18, AKA Stazione Firenze Fortezza, always when I’m wearing heels; the strengthening work at Borgo San Lorenzo and resultant delays; the pausa that becomes a sosta just outside Santa Maria Novella (at least there’s a lovely balcony in bloom); the absence of air conditioning when it’s 35 degrees; the want of heating when it’s minus 1; Trenitalia’s ongoing battle with the elements: the snow, the rain, the sunshine, the very light breeze… But, and it pains me to type this, this winter’s introduction of the gates has had no impact whatsoever on my daily commute. If anything, the change has been a life-improving one: armed with the excuse that there might be a queue, I always leave the office five minutes earlier. (Entre nous, there never is.)

 

The businesses that line Platform 16 must be losing out, however. Grom ice lollies from the Autogrill-managed bar, six Chicken McNuggets or a cheeky beer at Reale Firenze are a thing of the past for me. To comply with the ticket checks at the gates, all the catering firms were obliged to close their doors platform-side and allow solely street-side entrance. There’s no more idling down Platform 16 for those arriving in or leaving the city in piazzale Montelungo by coach, chauffeur-driven cars or minibus, or simply if you’re parked your vehicle by the Fortezza. From the terracotta-brick slope, Trenitalia-ticketless pedestrians are directed on an unattractive obstacle course round the outside of the station. Given the number of cases wheeled down that narrow corridor, the solution requires further consideration. Indeed, the temporary metal fencing is surely demonstration of the fact that even the Grandi Stazioni group is unconvinced by the segregation.

 

Back to the main concourse. It’s true that there’s far more congregation now than in the past. Often panic strikes for a split second before reaching the gates leading to Platforms 14, 15 and 16: groups gather in their masses just to the right of the entrance/exit, although they never block the flow. The Trenitalia staff give your ticket a cursory glance at the most, which makes one wonder what the true purpose of these gates actually is. If you’re unprepared, expect a ticking off: Signora, per favore, you know you have to have your ticket ready; Ragazzi, dai, su, you’re blocking everyone else; No, an electronic version isn’t enough. You have to show us a printed ticket. With all of today’s technology and Trenitalia’s much-lauded Ticketless service, that last remark overheard by yours truly cannot even be true.

 

There’s nothing we commuters love more than having a really good moan, even when in this particular context there’s no real impact on my journey.

 

Article by Helen Farrell

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