On Mondays and Thursdays 45-year-old Rosa Brescia goes into town. She lives in Villafranco del Guadalhorce, one of the outlying districts of Alhaurín el Grande. She didn't choose those days, but buses between Villafranco and Alhaurín only run on two mornings a week.
"We only have three hours to do everything, otherwise we miss the bus. If I have a doctor's appointment on a Tuesday I have to ask a neighbour to take me, and pay for the petrol, or take a taxi which costs 20 euros from Villafranco to the centre of Alhaurín. There is no other option," she says.
Although Villafranco del Guaddalhorce is not far from the A-357 highway, there is no good connection and this severely affects mobility, especially for people wanting to go to Malaga city. Depopulation and the lack of new infrastructure have worked against public transport in rural areas of Malaga in recent years. Now, with the pandemic, the lack of services has been aggravated by a reduction in timetables in all municipalities, especially those with low populations.
"They are killing the villages; we have been completely forgotten. There is a railway but we can't use it because there aren't any trains, and the bus services are inadequate," says the Plataforma en Defensa del Tren Rural, which recently held a protest outside María Zambrano station in Malaga to demand improvements to the rail service.
The lack of efficient public transport means it is not a viable option for people in many villages, and they have to use a car to go anywhere. This is difficult for those without a vehicle of their own, such as elderly people or students who need to travel into Malaga or elsewhere in the province.
"There weren't enough buses to Malaga anyway and now there are only three a day. They have also cancelled the direct service to Álora, which is where most of us have to go for medical care," says Juan Alberto Naranjo, the mayor of Ardales, who is critical that such an "essential service" for local residents has been cancelled because of Covid. "Now, to get to the health centre in Álora, our people have to change at Cerralba, in Pizarra," he explains.
Complaints about the lack of transport to get to health centres are common to many municipalities. In Monda, buses only go to Marbella and Malaga, and there are three a day in total. "In the end we have to use the car, because public transport isn't good enough to get us to hospitals and to work," says deputy mayor Ana Millán.
The connection with the Valle del Guadalhorce hospital in Cártama is also causing complaints. It's possible to get there by bus from most places in the area, but Alhaurín el Grande and Alhaurín de la Torre are calling for a direct service.
In Cártama, the bus service covers nearly all local districts. "It has been the only one maintained during the pandemic. Within the municipality the buses work quite well, the problem is the connections to Malaga," says Juan Francisco Lumbreras, the councillor for Transport. He says there is a need for a direct service to the university campus at Teatinos, and this is something that students in Coín are also calling for. Coín has already asked the Transport Consortium to improve the connection with Malaga city and with the university.
The situation is similar in Pizarra, where the bus timetables are not compatible with the times of students' classes. "They have changed the times; the first bus leaves at 7am and the next one isn't till 10, which makes it difficult for people going to university or to work," says Antonio Marín, a councillor in Pizarra, who is concerned at the reduction in railway services as well.
Urban transport has also been affected as a result of the Covid pandemic, such as in Álora, where people in the different districts and outlying areas have to take taxis or use private vehicles to get to work or into the town, says María Dolores González, who lives in Bermejo. "They used the pandemic as an excuse to reduce services, and now they are abusing the situation," she says.
In the Serranía de Ronda, the pandemic has practically finished off a totally deficient public transport service. The worst case is the lower Genal valley, where Jubrique and Genalguacil have no connection to the Costa del Sol along the Peñas Blancas road, because it is not suitable for buses to use. This also has an effect on tourism. Alberto Benítez, the mayor of Jubrique, says the situation is regrettable because there is only one bus, which leaves the village at 7am and returns at 6.30pm. "It's a tourist bus, people here hardly use it," he says. Other villages in the area only have a bus service on three days a week. Lina Naranjo, who lives in Algatocín, says she has stopped using it to get to Ronda. "They don't run at convenient times. Hardly anyone in the village uses the bus nowadays, we all take a taxi or get a lift with a friend or neighbour."
With regard to trains, the service connecting Ronda with villages in the area has also been reduced. Soraya García, the mayor of Benaoján, says this is also affecting tourism, because many people used to come to the area to go walking and eat in local restaurants. Ana Sánchez, of the Plataforma Tren Público y Digno para la Serranía, says she no longer uses the service. "I stopped using the train years ago. They started changing the timetables and it became too difficult to go anywhere."
At present there is a strong movement in favour of a fast road being built to connect Ronda, Campillos and Guadalteba.
Antequera, on the other hand, has major rail infrastructure but a lack of trains and buses. The AVE station in the town centre is closed due to works on the high-speed line between Granada and Madrid, so people have to use a bus. There are nine services to Malaga a day, from Mondays to Fridays, but the last bus back is at 7pm, which makes it difficult for workers and university students.
In the Axarquía, the complaints about reduced bus services began last June in Periana, Cútar, Riogordo, Colmenar and elsewhere. The mayor of La Viñuela, José Juan Jiménez, says talks are being held with the authorities to try to improve the situation. Javier Berlanga, the head of the transport consortium for the Malaga metropolitan area, says services were reduced due to a 52 per cent drop in demand in 2020 but they are gradually being increased, and there are plans to increase services between rural villages and the university.