MADRID -- Dubbed the most innovative subway system in the world, patrons of the Madrid Metro are continuing to look for ways to make it better.
On average, two million people ride the Madrid Metro every day. With 231 stations connecting 13 lines, the system is always at the top of international rankings. The Madrid Metro just celebrated its 90th birthday last week, and, with 282 kilometers (175 miles,) it is the world's eighth longest subway.
You cannot travel through the Madrid metro system without witnessing perpetual renovation and expansion. The Community of Madrid announced this week their intentions to add another line to their system, which would connect Majadahonda, a suburb in the northwest of Madrid, to Moncloa, a central public transit hub. Furthermore, this year saw the addition of brand-new cars to the Circular Line 6.
Out of the over 1,600 escalators featured inside many of the stations, at least 55 are broken each day. Three of the oldest metro lines--1, 2 and 6--have many stations without any escalators or elevators. Many stations are also built on curves or there are large gaps between the cars and platforms.
Patrons of the metro often complain that the Madrid Metro is not open 24-hours. "It's actually not as bad as in other cities. I just hate the propaganda and publicity they make, saying it's one of the fastest, on-time metros, when every day it gets stuck in many stations when I come to the office," Carlos Hidalgo said. Hidalgo, originally from El Salvador, has been living, studying and working in Madrid for ten years and uses the metro daily. "Plus, at night you have to wait forever for the next train to come. I just don't get why the later it is at night, the longer you have to wait. Other cities run on the same intervals of minutes, regardless of what time it is." The Madrid Metro runs from 6:05a.m. to almost 2:00a.m., depending on the station's location on the line.
Some of the most recent changes to the Madrid Metro system have not been welcomed.
Over the last year, the majority of stations have removed their traditional ticket booths, replacing them with smaller help desks. Patrons can now only buy their tickets from a station machine or from a local tobacco shop, which often does not have a credit card machine. "You know how many times I only needed a one-ride ticket, and I only had my (debit) card or a 20- or 50-euro bill--horrible experience," Hidalgo said. "Before, I could use my card to pay for a one-way ticket--now you have to buy more. And only some stations you put in a (euro) bill in and gives you change in bills, but others only in coins. Most of the time, there is no person selling, so you end up feeling like a piggy bank."
While the annual increase in the monthly "abono" pass was less than two euros a month, the single ticket fare increased from 1 euro to 1.50 euros, at the start of August. Riders can purchase a 10-ride pass for both metro and bus for 9.30 euros. Residents can also pay 47.60 euros for the unlimited monthly subway, bus and Cercanias train pass, which works within the "Zone A" region, covering the most of the city of Madrid. To buy the abono card for the first time, riders must go to local tobacco shops.
Earlier this month, students from the Istituto Europeo di Design met on the Madrid campus to discuss solutions for making the Madrid Metro experience more accessible and beneficial. Students interviewed the various governmental and business organizations that study and employ measures surrounding metro usage in Madrid.
Instructor Javier Peña described the broad goal of the week-long service design workshop as "to develop an idea for a system that could be interesting, desirable for the users of the subway, but could be extended to people that live in Madrid." The 18 students divided into four groups focusing on accessibility, Web applications, language learning and sustainability.
The accessibility study did not focus on the disabled, but rather the elderly and very young riders. "Part of the group has elderly people in their families," who often find it impossible to use the metro, Peña said. "Not every station has lifts. In some cases it cannot be changed because there is no space. In some stations they would have to place a lift in the road and there's no possibility to do it." Peña said these are challenges facing the "elderly people, handicapped, kids. Maybe a lift could resolve part of the problem, but not all of the problem."
This workshop team decided on a system of volunteers that can respond to assistance requests from a call center or a Web site. It would also utilize more the yellow emergency contact phones found on each platform. "At this moment, they are underused and people don't know they even exist. We take one devise that already exists. And the other one is a small station with a call center," Peña said. He admitted that, due to budget constraints, this would have to be a volunteer-based service.
Peña said they also focused on how Madrileños take their children to school, as the idea of a yellow school bus is foreign in the crowded city. "To take children to school and then to go to work, they (parents) don't take the subway because it takes too much time," Peña said. "In Barcelona, there are some school trains, where kids who are going to school can go to a specific train. (The workshop was) trying to understand how this works and if it can work in Madrid. Safety of the children is a priority."
Other groups drew up plans to make the average 20 minutes a day a user spends on the subway--or 9 hours a month, 4.5 days a year--a more productive use of time. Students worked with the Madrid Metro news channel to discuss a plan for language learning. Many of the station platforms and some of the metro cars have televisions which play this channel, which is currently a blend of local and national news with advertisements. Peña described this as the most feasible project.
"What could we do to make travels also profitable for people? In Spain, we don't have a good level of foreign languages," Peña said. "Why not link the subways and the channel that already exists in most of the stations and many of the newer trains, to provide a complimentary system for learning languages. They have proposed English, Italian and French, but maybe they are not the final ones." The brief language instruction programs would follow a "spacial repetition system" and focus on vocabulary-building of six words at a time. It would focus on 20-minute repeated loops and be backed up with a smartphone application and a Web site, which would maintain a comprehensive list of the vocabulary.
The "Metro Mas" ("more metro") Project looked at ways to connect the people underground with what is happening above. "Seventy-percent of people do, twice-a-day the same route to go to their jobs and to come back," Peña said. "Normally, they are completely in disconnect on what happens in the city. (This application would) let them know what happens in the areas around the station. To know about weekly events, exhibitions, conferences, theater, music--not linked by topics, but they are linked by specific points in the cities."
Peña argues that every person that lives in Madrid already knows the structure of the subway. This project would create applications organized around the metro stops.
The final group focused on creating consignment shops inside the stations, where customers can trade items for "store credit" or other items, eliminating garbage production and the exchange of money.
The MetroRail international subway awards placed Madrid as the third best subway system in the world in 2010, behind the systems in Copenhagen and London. Madrid residents seem satisfied with their public transportation, but think there is room for improvement.
Madrileños, what do you think?