Milan’s public transport system, or mezzi, are quite reliable. Indeed, tourists and locals alike often opt for the benefits of taking a metro, tram or bus, as opposed to looking for parking or spending a small fortune on taxi rides.
But although getting around the city and visiting all its touristic attractions is possible without depending on cars, figuring out how things work can seem a bit daunting upon arrival. So here is an introduction to Milan's public transport system to help you get around town smoothly, and even help you save some money and time by understanding what kinds of tickets you should be buying or not.
Zones and Subzones (½ ’s)
The municipality of Milan is divided into two circular areas, that differ by the availability of the trolley lines #90 and #91 (inner circle), or lack thereof (outer circle). Milan’s urban area is also divided into zones and half zones that serve to calculate diverse transportation fares. Milan’s nine zones also have the purpose of decentralising the city’s administrative division, and indeed many locals speak of ‘zones’ when referring to neighbourhoods and areas. Zone 1, despite being the smallest in size, is the best known because it is home to the centre of the city, which is also the historic centre. All other zones surround zone 1 in a clockwise manner starting from northeast and ending north. Areas outside these 9 zones are considered the larger metropolitan area of Milan, that is, outside the urban fares, and therefore more expensive to travel to and from the city centre.
Milan’s public transport system is operated by the Azienda Trasporti Milanesi, or simply ATM (www.atm.it). ATM Points are assistance booths offering information and general customer services that can be found inside six specific metro stations: Loretto, Centrale, Duomo, Cadorna, Romolo and Garibaldi. ATM also has an info line at 0248607607, which works daily from 07.30 to 19.30. A map illustrating all ATM lines in the centre of Milan can be downloaded for free here: http://www.atm-mi.it/en/ViaggiaConNoi/Documents/mappacentromilano.pdf
The subway, or metro, is a very popular option for moving around, especially because it runs frequently and avoids traffic, making it probably the fastest option out of all mezzi. In Milan, the metro system is composed of four underground lines: M1 Red, M2 Green, M3 Yellow, and M5 Purple. A fifth line (M4 Blue) is currently under construction and will connect the city to the hinterland of Lombardia. The city centre and most tourist attractions are within short walking distances from the lines M1, M2 and M3. To find a metro station when walking on the streets, keep an eye open for the sign displaying a white ‘M’ written on a red square. Once inside, conveniently, all metro stations are signalled with the colours of the metro lines running through there.
Tickets and Fares
The same kind of tickets are valid for metros, buses and trams, and they must be bought before boarding. They can be purchased inside all metro stations by using electronic machines (most are multilingual and take both cash and credit cards) or at newspaper stands. Other authorised outlets can be found outside the metro stations but might not seem so obvious to tourists, such as tobacconists (look for the black ‘T’ sign outside the shop) and stationary stands. Tickets must be validated immediately upon entering each transportation vehicle. At the metro, always make sure to keep your tickets during the whole length of the journey, because they must be validated again before leaving the station.
Fares vary depending on how far one is travelling and for how long the ticket will be valid. It is possible to ‘customise’ the ticket to some extent upon purchase, because several options are available, such as single-trips, weekly, and even yearly tickets.
For an initial reference, the cheapest ticket option is a one-way pass within the city’s urban area, which costs €1.50 and is valid for 90 minutes from the moment of stamping. This is called an ‘Urban Ticket’, and the same goes for metros, trams and buses. The most expensive price of a one-way ticket costs €4.20 for an extra-urban pass, which allows crossing through four and a half zones.
It is important to specify which zones will be crossed upon purchasing a ticket in order to make sure that the credits will be sufficient to complete your journey. An easy way to do that is by simply taking note of the names of your metro stops and ask an attendant upon purchase, they are often ready to help figure out the cost of your fare, especially inside the metro stations. For further information on this topic, the ATM’s website has an English section with more details on zones and a page on fares and types of tickets.
Interestingly, the metro’s functioning times are not straightforward. The official ATM page states, in Italian, that the Metro's’ most used lines, M1, M2 and M3, start running at “around” 05.30 until “around” 00.30. Most sources online state that the metro operates from 06.00 to midnight every day, but that times may vary depending on the line. Most trams and buses run from roughly one hour earlier to one hour later than the metro. Luckily, Night services are also available through buses that work as replacement lines for the metros M1, M2 and M3. Within Milan’s centre, the #90 and #91 trolley lines are active every night. Tickets are still needed during night services but, differently from regular day tickets which last 90 minutes from the moment of stamping, a night ticket stamped after midnight is valid until 06.00.
An evening ticket option is also available within the urban area for those hoping to explore the nightlife of Milan by bus. For €3,00 it is possible to travel on an unlimited basis throughout the night, from the moment of stamping until the end of services, and this is called an ‘Evening Ticket’.
The daily, weekly or monthly tickets’ fares might be economically advantageous in the long run, but beware of what these mean and how to ask for specific validity lengths. Their titles are not always clear. At the start, the best option is to purchase tickets in person and communicate well what you’re looking for if you don’t remember the specific names of the options. For example, if you want a ‘One Day Ticket’ it is best to ask for a ticket that is valid for 24 hours, and this gives you unlimited use for €4.50. ‘Two Days Ticket’ are also available, costing €8.45 and valid for 48 hours after stamping. Both these options are valid within urban limits only and can be used for all urban transports.
The weekly tickets, however, demand attention because they can’t be used unlimitedly throughout one week since the first stamping. Instead, a weekly pass is called 'Weekly 6x2 Pass' because it means six days of the week between Monday and Saturday (or Sunday, if one day of the week wasn’t used), and only two passes per day, each valid for 90 minutes from the moment of stamping. For example, if one uses a weekly pass for the first time on a Thursday, it won’t be valid on the next Monday, and therefore might not be worth the price. This option costs €10.
Also, beware of the rechargeable monthly tickets: they are valid from the first to the last day of the month, and not for the length of one month from the date of stamping. The monthly and yearly rechargeable options require purchasing an electronic Travel Card for €10 that can be requested online via the ATM website.
If you are travelling with a group, keep in mind that the ‘T-10 Carnet’ option, which means buying 10 standard tickets for €13.80, might not be used simultaneously by more than one passenger. This means that each passenger travelling together must buy their own ticket, instead of sharing the tickets bought in the same carnet package.
To avoid problems when purchasing such customised tickets, it might be best to seek assistance at an ATM Point or at a newsstand ticket booth until you feel comfortable enough to start buying tickets by yourself through automated services. Remember, when purchasing tickets, to ask how long your ticket will be valid for after stamping and to explain the distances you intend to travel. The tickets’ prices always vary according to those factors.
ATM has launched the ATM Milano Official App to improve commuters' experience using the public transport and planning journeys. The app has its hacks, such as informing the length of queues at ATM points, and the option of buying certain tickets via the app with Paypal and credit card. The app can be downloaded for free and is also available in English.