A Love Letter to Public Transport

Maple Buescher headshot
Maple Buescher
March 17, 2024

In the last month, studying abroad in Madrid, I have traveled to a centuries-old palace. I have climbed a mountain. I’ve seen world-class sports teams play. I’ve gone to see the birthplace of Cervantes, the closest thing Spain has to a national author. 

And I’ve done it all for free.

One of my favorite things about living in a big city for the first time has been the extensivity of the public transit system. Neither the small town in which I go to college or my midsize home city has a subway system or a particularly extensive grid of public transit. When I decided to study in a major European city, I heard repeatedly that I was going to be impressed with – and spoiled by – the ease of the public transit system.

In Madrid, it’s especially well-developed. The Madrid Metro – our subterranean rail system – is the only subway in any European capital that goes straight to the airport, no transfers required. We also have a system of busses that run within the city limits. And that’s not even mentioning the busses that run to cities up to an hour away, or the suburban rail system that ferries me to the outskirts of the cities – for no extra cost.

The bus that took us straight to the trailhead of Peñalara, Madrid’s tallest mountain, for a day frolicking in snowy pine forests? The train that took us to the stadium where Real Madrid Feminino, Spain’s best (in my opinion) women’s soccer team, plays on the outskirts over the city, halfway between the glowing skyline and the snowy mountains? The green city bus that ferried my friend and I to El Escorial, the most impressive palace I’ve ever been to, 60 kilometers away from Madrid? We got onboard using the same public transit cards that get us onto the regular metro. 

It all costs a grand total of 8€ a month, for unlimited rides. (That’s a special rate for young people, another great perk about Madrid: everything from public transit to internationally-renowned museums is discounted or free for people under 25, thanks in part to a left-wing government and plenty of funding for social services and arts.)

8€ a month, for unlimited tap-and-go rides on the subway, the city bus, the commuter rail to the ancient palaces, the transport to the mountains in the heart of the national park. The value is almost unimaginable.

I know that I’m uniquely lucky. Friends studying abroad in Prague have said that the trams, while quaint-seeming, are crowded and slow; my friend studying in London commented jealously on the cleanliness and punctuality of the Madrid Metro. But even though Madrid’s system is exceptionally well-developed and I won’t necessarily find the same quality when I go back home to the States, using public transit here has taught me a valuable lesson about being resourceful. I have learned to always check the bus routes before I write off something as being too far away (and the taxi therefore too expensive) to justify a day trip. Even if they’re not as fast, it’s surprising how often there is a bus or suburban train between two locations that seem unrelated or very distantly far apart, and it’s surprising how often they are part of the same unified system. It’s much cheaper – and, anyway, it’s easier to tap a metro card and hop on a bus than coordinate requesting an Uber, which might or might not be available.

When you’re looking at day trips and half-day excursions to fill your weekend, be sure to check the public transit options before shelling out for the Uber or even paying for a direct train ticket. There might just be a bus or a suburban rail that uses your same public transit pass. You might just save yourself a lot of time and hassle.

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Maple Buescher

Hi!! My name is Maple and I'm a junior at Bates College, where I am a member of the sailing team, the orchestra, and everything in between. I am the Editor in Chief of our student newspaper and am interested in pursuing a journalism career.

2024 Spring
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Political Science
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