One of the big reasons I chose Venice as my new home for this year was because its an island and therefore no cars. I was (and am) truly exhausted from commuting in America for years and years. So, for the most part, I enjoy walking to my destination. The island is small enough that you can traverse from one side to the other (if you have to) in about 30-45 minutes. This is a nice feature, unless of course, you are carrying bags and are about to embark on your journey. Then it becomes a bit annoying--I try to think of the arm muscles I am building!
However, there is an option to get from A to B without walking and that is the Vaporetto (water bus) system. I wont even begin to lie and say it is quicker because it truly isnt as you stop at every bus stop along the way, etc. However, if you are tired or dont feel like carrying your bags around, the water bus is the way to go.
Now, getting on a bus is easy...they run an extremely tight schedule. Its probably the one thing in Venice that you can count on (other than daily siesta time!). There are numerous stops along the island in both directions, some boats even make less stops than others, some just circle the outside of the island (like the 101 freeway in Phoenix!), some run only in the early morning when there is more traffic from people trying to get to work, etc. So you see, its really like any other commuter city.
The drawback is the cost. Tickets for the boats are just plain outrageous. 6 euros for a one hour ticket, 13 euros for a 12 hour ticket, etc. The natives pay a flat rate of about 300 euros a year and they can ride whenever they want, etc by just flashing their pass. This includes the buses that go to the mainland as well as those that go to the other islands nearby. For those of us not citizens of Venice (at least not in the eyes of paperwork), we have the option of paying 26 euros a month for a card that allows us to then only pay 1 euro for a bus trip. This doesnt seem like such a bad idea if you truly use the boat system on a regular basis (to at least get your 26 euros worth). But so far, I havent done that and thus, I havent made the purchase.
So, of course, the question is do I pay 6 euros each time I get on? And the obvious answer is No! There are a few bus stops where they station workers to check your ticket stubs before you get on, but the rest of them are pretty much open. Because at each bus stop at each time you literally have tons of locals and tourists getting on and off, its a nightmare to check each person. This would severely delay the time schedule. People get on and off in hords--far from orderly. I certainly dont like to cheat the system, but I have. I just pick the bus stop that doesnt have checkers and I walk on with the hords of people and get my ride. I dont do this all the time, but I have done it. Its not that I dont want to pay, but 6 euros is ridiculous. When I was here at Christmas is was 5 euros and when I was here 5 years ago, it was 2 euros. So, at this rate, it will soon cost 20 euros to get on!
By 2009, they are switching from these paper tickets to a bar code system where you have to swipe your card/ticket in order to get through the turnstyle. This will apparently alleviate the freeloaders like myself.
There are plenty of warnings posted on the vaporettos telling you that if you dont have a ticket when you get on, tell someone immediately to make the purchase. If you dont and get caught, its a 40 euro fee on top of the ticket price. Yesterday, I went to the Lido for coffee and market with a friend and I tempted the vaporetto dice and lost. I was on my last stop when 3 guys walked on who worked for the company. They were on their way to the Lido to do their shift of checking tickets (one of the places where they are usually posted). For some reason, these 3 men decided to do a surprise check of all the people on the boat. And, of course, I failed to produce a ticket! It wasnt the fear of the 46 euros that got me, it was the fear of being yelled at or thrown overboard or whatever it is they do with low life like me. But in the end, I paid my 6 euros to the grumpy man, withstood a tonguelashing and went on my way. Lesson learned...maybe!