Thursday 7 May 2009

Taking the Bus

By Richard MorleyA Madrid bus passes the Palacio de Comunicaciones

I came round the corner to see my bus just pulling up at the stop about one hundred metres away. Only one person was waiting to board, so it was only going to stay there for about thirty seconds. Some people might run one hundred metres in around ten seconds. There was a time, but far too long ago for me to remember, when I would not have been far short of that, but I doubted I could have made the distance to the bus in the short time available. Did I panic? No. Why should I? This is Madrid. I wouldn’t have to wait long for another.

Besides, I had plenty of time. I had left my apartment early so I could buy my ticket at the tobacconists before it closed for lunch. I would easily make my three o’ clock.

Yes, you read that correctly, I needed a new ten-trip ticket, or “Metrobus” and I popped into the “estanco” to buy it. Tobacconists, you see, sell more than cigarettes and cigars. In Madrid, they are where you buy stamps for letters and postcards, the postcards themselves, writing paper and envelopes, birthday cards, wrapping paper for presents, and bus and metro tickets. Some, like mine, are also newsagents.

To avoid any confusion, I should also point out that you can buy every sort of ticket for using Madrid’s wonderful public transport from machines at every metro station, which, because they are multilingual, avoids having to use your rudimentary Spanish. But saying “Quisiera un Metrobus” at the estanco is not difficult.

Catching the bus at Colon

Ticket machines at the metro station.
However, the bus driver will only sell you a single, which will set you back a whole euro as opposed to the seventy-four cents the journey would have cost if you had bought your ten-trip Metrobus ticket.

But I digress.

I have only recently started using the buses of the EMT: La Empresa Municipal de Transportes de Madrid. I used to take the metro everywhere, and rejected the buses as being for the hoi-polloi, (Hey, I live in Madrid – I’m meant to be “Chulo”*). However, recently I have had to visit one particular area of Madrid regularly and this involved a change of Metro lines. So I was really happy when I discovered that there was a bus that took me from almost my front door to within fifty metres of my destination.

Within days I then found another that took me directly to a friend’s house allowing me to avoid two changes of Metro line and a long walk. Suddenly using the bus began to make sense. Ok, they are not as frequent or as fast as the metro, but it takes me ten minutes to change metro lines at Avenida de America, and that’s two thirds of my bus journey time. However, EMT is a misnomer. They are never empty at the times I travel, so spend most of the journey standing and clinging desperately to a handrail or strap.

Standing room only

But that might be preferable to actually taking a seat! Here I have to point something out. Madrid has two different colours of buses: Red or Blue. The red ones are older and are being replaced with the blue. The red ones have cloth-covered seats; the blue ones have shiny plastic. Believe me, cloth is better, because when the driver is racing to beat the lights along the Calle de Alcala and some potential passenger at a parada sticks their hand up and the driver (who typically thinks he is Fernando Alonso vainly trying to catch up with Lewis Hamilton) applies the brakes, if you are sitting on one of the new shiny plastic seats, be prepared to slide off on to the floor. I have found bracing yourself with one foot firmly wedged against the back of the seat in front helps tremendously.
Shiny - and slippery

And let’s not talk of the four seats that face four others that face backwards. So, if you slip off of those you can find yourself on someone’s lap. Just hope she’s pretty!

Using the bus is child’s play. If your journey can be completed on one route, the trip will cost you, assuming you are armed with your Metrobus, just 74 cents whether you go one stop or thirty. You just board the bus and insert your ticket into a machine near the driver. The machine swallows it, then spits it back with a tiny ink stamp and having deleted one trip from its magnetic strip memory. Find your seat, if available, and travel to your destination.

Assuming you know where you want to go.

Ok, that’s an obvious statement, but your destination might not be so obvious if previously you have used the metro for all your journeys. You see, the metro has twelve lines and around three hundred stations, but the bus services have a couple of thousand streets and the number of paradas de autobus exceed three thousand. On the surface, it’s a different city.

Let’s go to where a million bus rides begin and end – Cibeles. The plaza de Cibeles is famous. It has the eponymous statue, the old post office and stands at the north end of the Paseo del Prado. But you will search in vain for Cibeles on the metro. They call it Banco España.
Buses queuing at Cibeles.

Some buses will take you to the Plaza España, and their route list tells you so. Others don’t, but will take you to a stop in Calle Princessa, which is twenty metres from the Plaza España, but it doesn’t say so.

At every bus shelter you will find a map displaying the entire city with every bus route marked. However, Madrid is large and the map isn’t, so unless you carry a magnifying glass, this map in of very little use.

But not all is lost – and neither will you be. You just have to do your homework.

As the bus moves travels through the city a display board and an announcement tells you which stop is coming up next. There are two stops in the Calle General Peron and are announced as: General Peron y Calle de Orense and General Peron y Calle de la Infanta Mercedes, and these refer to street intersections, which means you have to know your streets, or at least the one you need.
In my barrio there are no bus stops at intersections, so you get the street number of the building adjacent to the stop, so you really do have to know your streets in detail.

How will the first time visitor get this information? It’s easy. Hit the internet and go to , go down on the left hand side to “nuestros servicios”, then click on “muévete por Madrid en autobus”. The three boxes that have now appeared to the right ask you three questions: The top one: where are you and where do you want to go?” and will give you detailed directions not only of the bus routes you need, but also how to walk to your nearest bus stop. In the middle box you can find out all the different routes that pass close to your hotel or apartment, and the bottom box not only gives you a route map, but a list of every stop on the route you have selected.

In fact, you can even download PDF files of the route itineraries they put up on the bus stops.

That site is in Spanish, but all is not lost Inglés hablantes, there is another at Consorcio Transportes Madrid, which is in English and covers all the transport systems in and around the capitol. I am being helpful today or what?

So, armed with your Michelin Map of Madrid and all this on line information, you can use the buses with total confidence. Just make sure you hold on tight.

What is more, I can still be “Chulo”. I just tell everyone I travel by Mercedes Benz!

Oh, I only had to wait six minutes for the next bus. Madrid is wonderful.

*Chulo – a name meaning “Stuck-up” or “Having a superiority complex” that people from outside Madrid disparagingly call all Madrileños.

If you found this post helpful, amusing, informative, or even the worst thing you have seen on line, please leave a comment below. Because Blogger has a problem (still!), you might have to enter your comment a second time.


  1. I 'got around' Madrid when I was there .... using buses...great system.

  2. While I have taken the buses that go from Madrid to Toledo and have taken the Metro, I have not taken the city buses (same here in Phoenix; I have taken the Light Rail but not the buses). Now I have no reason not to do so next time I am in Madrid. I went to the Consorcio Transportes Madrid website and clicked on the English icon, and tried a couple of itineraries, all worked well, both for Metro and Bus (I have bookmarked the website on my MacBook). Thanks for educating and entertaining us.

  3. The comment from Patty was actually from me. I did not notice that she was still signed into her Google Account when I posted the comment. Such is technology today.

  4. Do you cross dress as well?????!!!!!

  5. Richard: I only cross dress when participating in a skit at Vaughan Town or Pueblo Ingles.

  6. Tom, Pleased to hear it!

  7. hummm the program in pueblo ingles and vuaghan town must be very different than I imagined....

  8. Chulo can also mean nice, neat, smashing.
    And a third meaning is refering to the popular clases of Madrid, when they are dressed with the Madrid typical dress, they are also called chulapo or chulapa. By extension, as you say, people from outside Madrid calls everybody in Madrid chulo, but giving them the "stuck up" meaning.

  9. Joe: The two programs with Vaughan Town that I attended tended to have the Vaughan staff provide most of the entertainment (skits, songs, magic shows, etc.) with limited involvement of the Anglos and Spaniards (I have been in one skit with wig and big eyeglasses, and did give one presentation about the Desert Botanical Garden including info about how tequila is made from the Webber Blue Agave). The three programs I attended with Pueblo Ingles (two in La Alberca and one in Pals) had us all in multiple skits, songs, presentations, etc. Most of the skits were quite humorous and a great deal of fun for all the participants.

  10. Tom, Do I suspect a preference??

  11. Richard: I like Vaughan Town because of the guarantee of wifi at Izan Gredos and NH Castellano Salamanca. I need the internet access to do my online classes while I am in Spain. But I like the Pueblo Ingles sessions because they get us more involved in a greater variety of activities (which may be a function of PI's 8 day sessions vs VT's 6 days sessions). I like both a lot and that is why I planning my next trip(s) now.

  12. The busses and Metro in BCN are integrated - so.... you can ride via the tube then transfer to the bus and this all counts as one journey on your 10 ticket - has MAD got this too?

  13. Sorry cant spell buses... :-))

  14. Gary: yes, that's why they call the ticket "Metrobús".