Wednesday, 1 November 2023
Every day, every morning, it’s the same routine. Get on the train, get off the train, go to work, and then return again. Every day it’s the same faces, the same people, the same pattern: 06:39, 07:14, 07:49, 08:09, 08:29…
Most have headphones, a wrinkled forehead and glance at their mobile. Despite being close to each other, everyone seems to be far away with their thoughts. This is the life of a commuter on the C1 line along the Costa del Sol.
C1 is an abbreviation and refers to the local Cercanías commuter service that connects Fuengirola with Malaga city. The route, 31.35 kilometres by rail, is dotted with several stops. One of them is Plaza Mayor. Behind the shopping centre, a few metres from a petrol station, the small railway halt has become a busy place. The train stop has become an attractive alternative to overcome the shortage of parking in Malaga city centre and a way to save money on fuel, especially given the government subsidy on train travel for regular users.
It is just after seven in the morning and it’s dark. Cristina González parks her Citroën Picasso and crosses the road that separates the parking places from the train stop. There are 15 places. That Cristina found a place she puts down to a stroke of luck. “At half past six in the morning there are usually none,” she said.
For some time she has used the train to get to work in the offices of Novaluz in Calle Larios. Cristina lives in Alhaurín de la Torre and said when she drove it was torture. “In the morning, Alhaurín becomes a mousetrap. Then came the pain of looking for parking in the city centre.” She said even if the government chooses to withdraw the current travel subsidy at the end of the year she will continue to commute by train.
Other passengers drive to Plaza Mayor from Mijas, Fuengirola, Coín and elsewhere. Beatriz López is another commuter. She has just parked her 4x4 and is now waiting for the train at 07:49. “I live in Mijas and work in the centre of Malaga,” she said, adding that it used to take her 45 minutes to find a place to park in the centre. “Now it is 18 minutes to get to Plaza Mayor and the ten minutes it takes for the train to the centre.”
What is going on at the Plaza Mayor stop is not exactly a new transport phenomenon. It is the widespread park and ride concept in other European countries. It is a common practice in populated areas. The daily traffic chaos and growing environmental pollution demand alternatives to avoid the collapse of urban areas.
But the problem with this improvised park and ride system on the outskirts of Malaga city is that the trains are badly overcrowded. Upon arrival at Plaza Mayor, the train is already packed. Squeezing your body into one of the four carriages requires an exercise in contortion. Imprisoned among travelling companions, the path to work can also be an extreme experience. At the next stop, the airport, tourists wait, suitcase in hand.
Mobility consultant Vicente P. Jordá has analysed the phenomenon of the increase in the Plaza Mayor commuters.
“This is something to be encouraged, yes. But you have to plan. If you want this system, you have to create the right infrastructure. That happens by having enough parking places,” he said.
Back at the Plaza Mayor stop, Héctor Sánchez appears, a teacher who usually come s by motorcycle “Except for the days when it rains. So I do the same thing, only I come here by car.” He says he appreciates the “peace of mind” that comes about when he does not have to think about parking in Malaga.
“Also, I can also take advantage of the short train journey to go over a little of what I will teach later in class.” He generally agrees with the mobility consultant adding, “It is a pity that the trains do not run more frequently or that Renfe doesn’t add more carriages. When the train arrives here, it is already full. There are times when it is almost impossible to get on,” Héctor said.
With that, the doors to his train close and Hec tor squeezes into a spare space in the carriage - packed in as tightly as a sardine in a can.
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