Friday, 3 February 2023, 10:47
While the public transport focus just recently has been on rail services - or the lack of them - there are improvements on the way to make hopping between the main towns in Malaga province by bus a more attractive option.
Take the example of someone living in the inland town of Antequera who works or studies on the coast: they will soon be able to catch a local bus to the station, then another to Malaga and, once there, change to another bus or the city's Metro using the same travel card and save at least 30 per cent of the fare on each stage of the journey.
The scheme is run by the Malaga Consorcio de Transporte del Área Metropolitano, a transport consortium initially formed by towns close to the city to improve mobility, especially for commuters.
Now the consortium is preparing to take another major step forward and progressively expand its scheme to all towns within one hour's journey by road from Malaga, within a triangle formed by Antequera, Marbella and Vélez-Málaga.
Fourteen municipalities already form part of the network (Malaga, Mijas, Torremolinos, Benalmádena, Rincón de la Victoria, Alhaurín de la Torre, Alhaurín el Grande, Cártama, Pizarra, Almogía, Casabermeja, Colmenar, Totalán and Álora) with a joint population of nearly 900,000 people.
Now, over the next few months Antequera, Fuengirola, Coín, Valle de Abdalajís and Riogordo will also join this beneficial transport club, making the scheme available to another 157,000 people.
Studies have calculated that the expansion could add an extra 2.3 million passenger journeys a year to the scheme, which will include around 80 different interurban bus routes between towns in the area.
The consortium travel card was used for 11.8 million journeys last year, which was 51 per cent more than in 2021, although still below the 13.9 million in 2019, the last year before the pandemic.
Now that different councils have formally applied to join the scheme, and the technical viability and financial reports have been approved, all that is needed is definitive approval of the ambitious metropolitan transport plan. This is a general route map to improve public transport and includes around 20 projects for better connections by train, bus and bicycle, including the integration of more urban transport services. The first phase could begin in the middle of this year.
The expansion will not stop there. Initial studies for a second phase have already begun and that will include Marbella and Vélez-Málaga as well as smaller municipalities in the Axarquía, including El Borge, Comares and Almáchar, and others in the north of the province such as Villanueva del Rosario.
What will it mean for passengers? On one hand, a considerable financial saving and on the other the convenience of being able to travel on public transport in any municipality with the same ticket, which even covers other metropolitan consortia in Andalucía.
At the moment the system covers urban and interurban buses and the city's Metro underground lines. It can be combined, however, with bicycle loan systems and in the future the plan is for local train services to also be included.
The 30 per cent saving at different stages of a journey using the same card is the basic discount, but there are others, too. For example, the Junta offers an extra 25 per cent off for people with the youth travel card and for large families.
The saving made by travellers from the seven municipalities which are to be included in this first phase of the expanded scheme will amount to 641,284 euros a year.
"Our role is not just to finance the scheme but also to find a way of integrating all methods of public transport, including the urban transport in each municipality," consortium sources explained. This is because the more towns are incorporated into the network, the more will be in the same fare zone so more travellers will save money by using their travel card.
It also opens the way to creating new interurban bus routes in the whole of the metropolitan area, with special services laid on for the university, at Easter and in the summer, and for major events such as the Malaga fair. New routes may also be introduced, depending on demand.
In Fuengirola (where the local town bus service is currently free for users), people can already benefit from this scheme if they go to nearby Mijas. However joining the consortium in its own right will improve mobility in general for local residents and tourists.
"It will be possible to buy the travel card in Fuengirola, use the entire network and benefit from lower fares. We hope there will also be new routes to other towns in the area," said town hall sources.
In Marbella, which will be joining the scheme in the medium term, preparations are already under way. "We are very interested and the Junta is very receptive, although we will have to wait for the first phase to be completed," said Enrique Rodríguez, councillor for transport.
Urban bus travel in Marbella has been free to use for residents since May 2019 as part of the town's commitment to sustainable mobility and passenger numbers have increased enormously. The council covers the entire cost of the free bus travel itself and says it will continue to do so.
East of Malaga in Vélez-Málaga the situation is somewhat more complex, because the council wants to bring back its tram service, which has been out of use for 11 years, and for this to be part of the scheme. This is part of a plan to completely reorganise public transport in the municipality, which includes Vélez and Torre del Mar, and the local authority has been granted 3.7 million euros of EU funds to repair the infrastructure and get the tram service running again.
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