Despite Rome being an ancient city, it is far more wheelchair accessible than most people might think. It has all the accessible modes of transportation that one could find in any modern city. Sure, sometimes they might be makeshift accommodations, but the basics are there and from my experience, people are usually willing to lend a hand with getting in and out of vehicles if needed.
I’ve been to Rome twice now and so have had the opportunity to try more than a few public and private accessible transportation options. Here they are:
Many of the city buses in Rome are now wheelchair accessible. There is a fold-out ramp in the middle section of the bus which the driver will unlock with his/her key and fold it down. Once on the bus, there is a designated spot for wheelchair users and also buttons that are easy to reach to alert the operator when it’s your stop.
However, getting on and off the bus can be a touch tricky. The ramps are on the shorter side which creates a steeper incline, even more so when the driver lets the ramp down on the road instead of the sidewalk. However, most drivers (and bystanders) gave me a hand when I needed it. One day when I had been planning to visit the Vatican, it was pouring rain which created slick conditions when I tried driving up the ramp of the bus. Fortunately, there are nice people out there and they helped me get on and off safely.
Most bus operators I came across had no issues with putting the ramp down, but there were one or two of them who flat-out refused to get up from their seat even though their bus was designated as accessible and only half full. But like I said, I didn’t encounter those types of people very often.
If you are catching the bus in a busy tourist area, when the bus arrives, it can be quite crowded and you might have to wait about 7-15 minutes for the next one. If you’re staying at a hotel that is close to a metro station, like the one in front of Termini, it might be a good idea to head over there to catch the bus.
The accessible taxis in Rome are large SUVs with a small area in the back for wheelchair users to park. Some of the taxis have pull out ramps, while others have truck ramps stowed away in the vehicle. Like the city buses, the incline can be a bit steep mainly because the spot for wheelchair users to sit in is placed higher than the other seats in the SUV. On one occasion, it took me three attempts to make it up the ramp with the help of the taxi driver and hotel porters. Because the spot where wheelchair users are supposed to park is much higher than the other seats, there is a section of the vehicle’s roof that has a cutout to provide space for your head. I did still bump my head on occasion, but nothing major.
When you place the call for a wheelchair accessible taxi in Rome, the dispatcher will ask for the measurements of your wheelchair, so they can send a cab that is big enough to accommodate it since their vans are not all uniform. I am far from fluent in Italian, so I had the hotel clerks call on my behalf and arrange for it to pick me up later on as well. Whenever I needed a cab whether that was with or without a reservation, they always came right away.
If you use a manual wheelchair and can transfer yourself, then you might have an easier time and can just stow your wheelchair in the back.
Walk or Wheel
Many of the major tourist attractions are grouped close together which in some instances can make it easier to just wheel there. The Roman Forum and Colosseum are within walking distance of each other. The only problem is that not all of the sidewalks have sloped curbs. The super touristy areas have sloped curbs, but if you venture away from those areas the number of sloped curbs drops dramatically. Not to be deterred, I would sometimes drive down the curb backwards if it wasn’t too high, or keep going until I found a better option. There are of cobblestones in many areas which can make for a bumpy ride, but it’s not too bad if you go slowly.
In some areas, there might be a sloped curb on one side of the street, but a sharp curb on the other side. In these instances I would either find an alternative route, or in areas that had less traffic I would get off at the sloped curb and then drive on the road until I found a spot where I could get back up on the sidewalk.
On my first trip to Rome, I booked a lot of my rides through Rome and Italy, a tour agency which offers many accessible services, because I wasn’t completely sure of how I would get from Point A to B and also didn’t want to be late for the tours I had booked with them.
They have a fleet of accessible vans that they outsource from Fausta Trasporti Accessibili per Disabili. It might be cheaper to book with them directly, rather than booking through RomeandItaly. All of the vans have an electric ramp in the back, plenty of space for wheelchair users, and a tie down system to safely secure your wheelchair.
I’d definitely recommend trying to book through Fausti, the owner Massimo, whom I now consider a friend, is wonderful and was always willing to go above and beyond what was expected. On my last trip to Rome, he volunteered a whole day showing me and my friend around areas that we had not yet seen and some of his favourite areas of the city. It was amazing and fun seeing the eternal city from a locals perspective.
If you plan on visiting another city, the high speed train is also wheelchair accessible. In Termini, one of the train stations in Rome, there is a special service area tailored to passengers who require assistance called Sala Blu. The office for Sala Blu is found past the ticketing area on the left hand side of the tracks. Should you need to book your tickets directly at Sala Blu, which I recommend to prevent as few miscommunications as possible, you can just tell the people checking passengers tickets and they will let you pass. I would advise that you go to Sala Blu with a plan in mind that includes the exact train station you want to embark and disembark at as well as the times because the staff there may not speak English, but if you are prepared it makes things easier. Once you have your accessible accommodations arranged, they will send you back out to the main area of the train station where you can complete the transaction of paying for your tickets. The lines are usually long, but as a wheelchair user you have the right to bypass them. That applies to any lineup for public attractions in Italy.
It can, at times, be slightly challenging to use Rome’s accessible transportation, but it definitely is possible.