Scammed or Stupid? A Big Fine in Palermo

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Before the annoying trolls come through with their predictable comments, realize that I am writing this to spare others from my trauma. After eating and drinking until 3AM in Palermo, I woke up late and was in danger of missing my train to Catania.

I was going to take a taxi to the train station, but the hotel advised to take bus 101. A hater of taxis, I was happy to save a few euros by taking the bus. When I got on the bus, I saw the ticket validation machine. This should’ve been my cue to hop off of the bus. I figured I would ask the driver how to pay at the next stop. Before I could, I saw a man harassing two minorities on the bus for their tickets. The man was scolded and left them alone. He then came to me and asked for my ticket.

Caught red-handed, I said I didn’t have one and tried to explain that the hotel didn’t provide instructions that tickets should be purchased in advance. He wasn’t having it and demanded documents and money or he would call the police.

Having lived in Europe, I know that there are enforcement officers at train and bus stations who check to see if people are buying tickets or are trying to ride for free. I also know that the penalty for getting caught is exponentially higher than the price of the ticket.

When the man handed me the ticket, it looked official. I tried to protest but he kept saying he’d call the police. Then he said he could charge a fine per passenger. I relented and paid him 52 euros. As soon as I did, he and his fellow ‘officer’ hopped off the bus. I looked to the other passengers for sympathy. No one had any. I tried to ask if it this was real or a scam. No one would say anything.

Perhaps I’ve watched the Godfather too many times, but my gut tells me that this was a shakedown by nefarious characters. A Google of ‘no ticket bus Palermo trick’ revealed nothing. A Google of ‘bus in Palermo’ validated that the fine amount is correct.

The penalty for traveling without a bus ticket is legitimate, but I have questions if the persons enforcing the penalty were.

Bottom line, don’t get on a bus without a ticket. It could cost you dearly, legitimately or not.

Feeling foolish in Palermo

13 COMMENTS

  1. That sucks. Sorry it happened.
    I also love the game of figuring out local public transportation, it’s part of the fun of traveling. Any idiot can take a taxi. But this means I spend way too much time researching exactly how each fare system works so I don’t get stuck in your situation.

  2. It very well could have been real. My wife and I were “caught” with un-stamped tickets on a train in Italy…we had purchased the tickets but did not know you had to stamp them. In our case nearby passengers jeered the conductor for hasseling us, but we had to pay the fine anyway.

    • It happened to me on a bus to Mostar from Croatia. I was by myself and in no mood. I yelled at him and he left me alone.

  3. Scammed. The fare evasion ticket happened to me and have seen it elsewhere. They normally have unforms (if plain clothes ask for badges). Next time call bluff on “I will call police” as that’s the last person they want to see. Worst that happens is that you pay the same fine. They don’t jail fare evaders.

    • He had a uniform! I can’t recall if there was a badge or not. I’m a coward when I hear the words ‘I will call the police’…unless I’m drinking lol

  4. One time this happened to me in Hungary. I couldn’t tell if it was a scam or not either (I did not validate my train ticket though), the only English these women knew was “trouble” and “money”.. so I said I had no cash and then they suggested we go to an ATM. I went to the ATM but purposely got my debit card locked from trying the wrong pin too many times.. finally they gave up. They were asking for something like $80 .. no way!!

    • That’s dangerous! I would not go near an ATM. By that time (if it was a scam) they’d call their goons to beat you up. I know this has happened to people after going to certain establishments in Latvia.

  5. Same kinda fine if you buy a train ticket in Itay and bring it aboard without validating it in the machine before you get on the train.

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