Thursday, April 18, 2013

Madrid Public Transport

Last week I attended MetroRail 2013, a conference of rail-oriented urban transportation providers from around the world (except from the US). Hosted in Madrid, Spain, the conference included many presenters from Europe and Latin America, with some representation from southern Asia, South Africa, and Canada. I approached the conference as someone from a third-world country might, knowing how far we have to go in Michigan, but determined to learn what I could about the economics and system organization of those who have more experience than we do.

Of course, much of the emphasis was on problems we don't have - particularly, how to expand capacity of existing metro rail lines that have been saturated and overcrowded. (In case you're curious, the leading strategy for managing this is Communications-Based Train Control, CBTC, but that's not a problem we need to address in Michigan yet!)

Madrid Area Stats

Since Madrid was the host city, I'd like to give you a brief look at its public transport system in comparison with what we're more familiar with in the States. My main source of information is a talk presented by Carlos Cristóbal-Pinto, Director of Quality, Processes and External Affairs of the Consorcio Regional de Transportes de Madrid (CRTM), the Regional Transport Consortium of Madrid. I believe this is a fairly close organizational equivalent to the Detroit area's Regional Transit Authority (RTA).

I've pulled together some figures to compare the Madrid and Detroit areas. I've included the Southeast Michigan RTA area, since I'm focusing on transportation here; and the Dallas-Fort Worth Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), since it's the closest US metro in population to Madrid.
Area (SqMi)
Madrid city 3,250,000 232 14,009
Madrid Metro
Detroit city 706,585 143 4,946
RTA Area (4-county) 5,563,643 6,537 851
Dallas MSA 6,700,991 9,286 722
Notice that the city of Detroit is more than twice as densely populated as the Madrid metro area as a whole - even after Detroit's loss of population during the last few decades. Also, the RTA area is only 41% as dense as the Madrid metro area (which is the same as their Regional Transport Consortium's area).

The Madrid metro area is made up of 179 municipalities, with almost 6.5 million inhabitants in an area of 3100 square miles. In population, it's a bit bigger than the Southeast Michigan metro area - about the population of the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area, though only about ⅓ its area. About half of Madrid's population lives in the City of Madrid proper, which has an area of 232 square miles. Compared with the city of Detroit, the city of Madrid is almost twice as large in area, but with five times the number of people. Private houses are rare in the city of Madrid; most people appear to live in apartment buildings eight or ten stories tall.

Madrid's "RTA"

Madrid's CRTM was established in 1985; our RTA held its first Board meeting a few days ago, April 9, 2013. I'm not familiar with the legal framework for transit authorities under Spain's constitution and laws, but we can piece together some inferences based on what I heard and read. In Spain the government appears to have jurisdiction over transit in much the same way that the U.S. government has jurisdiction over roads. That is, if you want to build a road here, you need permission from the government unless it's all on your property; if you want to provide public transportation in Spain, you need permission from the government. Here, if a company (for example, Indian Trails) wants to run bus service, they need to get a Common Carrier license from the state in which they operate - or, if they operate between states (like Megabus) from the Federal government. Once a license is obtained, the company can operate pretty much as it chooses, as long as safety rules are observed.

In Spain, metropolitan area transit is controlled more closely by the authorized agency, and private companies wishing to run urban transit (like the M1 Rail consortium in Detroit) must go one step further and contract with their equivalent of the RTA. The Authority has broad powers to determine the terms of the contract and how the service will be operated. Later in this post, we'll look in more detail at one of the contractors.

Among the 179 municipalities that make up the Madrid metro area, several have their own transit agencies, or contract with private companies to provide it.
  • Metro Madrid is owned by the Region (I suppose through the CRTM) and runs the subway system, providing 2.2 million rides per day. 
  • EMT is owned by the city, rather like DDOT, and runs buses that carry 1.4 million passengers per day. 
  • In 38 outlying municipalities, buses are provided by three public agencies (rather like SMART and AATA), plus 8 private companies that operate as concessions directly under the CRTM. 
  • But there are also 21 private bus companies that provide regional service under 31 different concessions. This is a little like Indian Trails providing regional service with support from MDOT; more like Indian Trails operating AirRide under contract with AATA. 
  • With all these buses running between cities in the region and nationally, CRTM has contracted with private companies to operate five intermodal bus terminals roughly in a ring around the core of the city.
  • Commuter and national rail services are provided by RENFE, the Spanish equivalent of Amtrak. 
  • Finally, four light rail lines have been built recently. Two of these are run by one private company; we'll look at this in more detail in a moment. One is run by another private company, and the fourth is run by Metro Madrid, the subway company.
As you can see, this urban region is served by lots of different modes of transit, and these are provided in several different ways. Some are directly owned by the "RTA", others are owned by municipalities, and still other are privately financed and operated.

Mode Share

Given the density of Madrid, it's not surprising that 63% of trips in the city were by public transportation, while only 37% were by private vehicle. (Data is from 2004, the figures presented by Sr. Cristóbal-Pinto.) Of the 15.2 million daily trips in the region that year, there was a pretty even split between modes, as shown in this chart:
Modal split of total trips in Madrid
(Carlos Cristóbal-Pinto)
It's interesting that somewhat more trips within the city were by private car, fewer within the region. Perhaps the congestion on expressways explains that, at least in part. The region has a well-developed system of limited access and trunk roads, easily comparable to Detroit's in quantity, quality...and congestion.
Madrid metro area showing expressways (in yellow)
(Google Maps)

Investment and Ridership

Madrid's first subway was opened in 1919 by a private company, and expanded slowly during the following decades. A much more vigorous expansion took place in the1970s to help serve the rapidly expanding population of the area and combat urban sprawl. Unfortunately, by the late 70s the company's project management deteriorated, and work ground to a halt until the 1990s. At that time, the CRTM, which had been formed a few years earlier, purchased the Metro company, took over operations, and resumed expansion.

Since then, Madrid has invested heavily in transportation, both highway and public. Of course, the ups and downs of the economy have caused acceleration and deceleration of progress; Spain is currently in an economic down phase, but even so, investment continues - though more slowly.

The primary public investment has been in rail, which makes sense given the need to move lots of people through a densely populated area. In length, Madrid's Metro is now the sixth-longest in the world, though it's only the fiftieth city by population. The majority of rail investment has been in subways, followed by commuter rail and light rail. Here's a breakdown - not of investment but of ridership (passengers per day):
  • Subways: 2,200,000
  • Madrid city buses: 1,400,000
  • Intercity buses (through intermodal terminals): 900,000
  • Commuter rail: 800,000
  • Regional buses: 700,000
  • City buses other than Madrid: 150,000
  • Light rail: 50,000

Madrid metro area urban rail lines (not including commuter)
(Metro de Madrid, S.A.)

What's it Like?

My own experience of the public transport system includes commuter rail (the airport line), light rail (one short ride with a tech-tour group), and primarily subway. None of the modes seem to stress speed - the commuter rail was relatively slow, but comfortable; the subways were also slow relative to other systems I've been on, but quite frequent (every 3-6 minutes most of the day, every 10 between about 8 PM and 1 AM).
As to speed, the line I rode most often (Line 5) took me downtown in about half an hour. The distance is about 9 miles, and there are 16 stops. That's about 1.8 stops per mile, an average speed of about 18 MPH. Anywhere near the city center, the train was always standing-room only.

Superficial demographics: Madrid subway riders included people of all ages and most socioeconomic levels (except perhaps the very highest). One thing that impressed me was that almost everyone was trim and reasonably fit, though of course many appeared tired at the end of the day. At least half were reading or using electronic devices - whether seated or standing. Racial diversity was evident: the majority of Spanish people are European in appearance, with a high percentage of light-skinned people and quite a few blond-haired with light (green or grey) eyes. (Most of the blonds were women, which may require us to discount the numbers somewhat...)
The darker-skinned people were primarily native-American in appearance, and I got the impression that many were employed in the more menial jobs. It is relatively easy for Latin Americans to work in Spain since they know the language, though I don't expect immigration is much encouraged. There was a smattering of Asians, Mediterraneans, and Africans. And of course some of these were tourists or international students, though the majority of tourists probably stay above-ground. (It takes a real transit-nerd like me to plunge under a city into crowded trains running on complex routes...)

Madrid's BRT

Madrid has a single bus rapid transit (BRT) line on the west side of the city. It's a ten-mile line running through an area of relatively un-dense, affluent population, built during the period 1991-1995. This video on YouTube refers to it; more information has been difficult to find.


As I mentioned, many of the lines are run by private companies with concessions from the city. This is a type of PPP that seems to work well in Madrid. I've gotten materials from one such operation: the Metro Ligero Oeste (Light Metro West) during a visit to their operations center at Cocheras on the Colonia Jardín to Bobadilla light rail line.

In order to win the concession, a company, "Metro Ligero Oeste" (MLO), was formed whose stockholders are an investment bank - Ahorro Corporación (30%), with two concession operating firms - COMSA EMTE Conceciones (18.70%) and OHL (51.3%). The majority partner, OHL, is a diversified Spanish company with operations in several countries involving development, construction, and operation of a port, an airport, toll roads, and this light rail line.

Here's how it works: the CRTM gave MLO a 30 year finance+build+operate contract in 2006. (It wasn't clear whether they were responsible for design and engineering.) MLO then invested about €650 million - just shy of $1 billion US - to build the track, stations, maintenance depot, and a small state-of-the-art control center. They also purchased a fleet of Alstom Citadis 302 light rail vehicles, and began operations in 2007 over 13.8 route-miles with a staff of 180. They do not receive fares directly; rather, fares are collected by the CRTM, and MLO receives a per-passenger-trip amount from CRTM. The expectation of the MLO partner companies is that they will recoup their capital and operating expenditures at some point before the end of the contract. CRTM, on the other hand, has authorized the establishment of a public transportation line with little or no cost to itself (depending on whether it did the initial studies and engineering), and apparently no risk.

What a deal for the transit authority! This type of arrangement wouldn't be possible in Southeast Michigan, or in any of the US, because there is no track-record whatever of public transportation making a profit. Apparently the situation is different in Spain. It's not that the fares are significantly higher: the base fare for an adult traveling in one zone is €1.50, roughly $2.00 US. Other factors include the high cost of motor fuels and the greater population density - though the area where the light rail operates is not a particularly dense one. It remains to be seen whether MLO will make a profit, break even, or fail. An interesting experiment, and I wish them well.


Madrid and Southeast Michigan have about the same population, but we have a lot lower density. Naturally, that makes public transportation more expensive to build and operate.

But there's a reason for our lower density: lack of public transportation. That's a fine "catch-22", right?

Low density is a problem. It will become increasingly expensive to maintain any kind of transportation in the coming decades if we don't start now to build good, sustainable transit systems. Cars will get more expensive even if fuel costs stay level or decrease; auto insurance - especially medical - will increase. If "automated roads" are developed and built, the cost of construction and maintenance of roadways will get much more

But if we build good transit, density will start to increase. This has been shown time and again in American cities. And higher density lowers the cost of providing transit systems.

Building good transit now is a WIN for Southeast Michigan. Let's do it.

To learn more:
  • A little about Dallas-area rail transit (this blog)
  • Wikipedia has up-to-date, accessible statistics about cities: Detroit, Dallas, and Madrid
  • Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART)
  • Madrid Transport Consortium (CRTM)
    (Unfortunately, Carlos Cristóbal-Pinto's power-point is available only to conference attendees) 
  • Madrid Metro history