Tuesday, June 26, 2012

the Madrid metro system

It took me a while to figure out the Madrid metro system - the fees in particular. First off, the center of the city is pretty small, so taking the metro two stops is probably not worth it, since by the time you walk to the metro stop, wait for the train, and take the train, you would have walked to your destination. 
The subway is clean, on time, and not full of pickpockets. It's still better to watch your purse or backpack, but in the mornings it's mostly filled with zombies going to work reading the paper/a book, and in the evenings filled with tourists and people coming home from work. 

Metro map

Although the city is small, the metro pretty much goes everywhere you need it to go: 
For reference, I live in the triangle between Plaza de España-Noviciado-Tribunal and work near Gregorio Marañon. That's 2 or 3 stops on the metro in the morning - never more than 15 minutes.

The monthly pass

Easily the most confusing part about the metro system is the monthly pass. Is it worth it? The normal fees for a ride on the metro (as of June 2012) is 1.5 euros for one ride. You can get a 10-ride abono ("special bonus") for 10 euros. I learned the hard way that after you buy one of these, you shouldn't put it near any magnets because it gets demagnetized (my wallet has magnets in it and demagnetized the strip, rendering the ticket useless). 

If you need to go to/from the airport, you need to pay an additional 3 euros, regardless of what ticket you have. You can buy a special "10-ride airport" abono for 13 euros, and you can ride to the airport as many times as you want. 

What most locals have is called an abono mensual (monthly pass). They come in three forms: "regular", "carte jovén" and "senior citizen." The price depends on which of the categories you fall into and which zone you want (basically everything in Madrid is in zone A, unless you work out in the suburbs somewhere and need zones B1 and B2). It gives you unlimited rides on the metro for one month, starting on the day that you first use it. However, this summer, Madrid is transitioning to a new system. The old abonos are a huge plastic sleeve that have written on it your name, have a photo of you, and have a small pocket for a .5 in x 2 in card that is the ticket (you put it into a slot in the entrance machines and you get it back once the machine reads the ticket). The new abonos are just a plastic card the size of a credit card with your photo on them that work exactly like Charlie Cards - they're prox cards, but you don't have to recharge them. 

To get a card under the old system, you have to go to an estanco, or tobacco shop. These are officially-sanctioned places where you can apply for an abono. You pay about 1.5 euros, bring them a copy of your passport and a photo of you, and in 10 days come and pick up one of the giant plastic sleeves I mentioned. Then once you have this, you can go to the metro station officials and buy a monthly metro pass. This system is confusing to no end, especially when you can't tell if they're telling you that you have to pick up your card "within" or "in" 10 days. But it's even more confusing when you don't need to do this! 

It turns out that under the new system (which so far is only implemented for the abono mensual para jóvenes (monthly pass for youths) for Zone A), all you need to do is go to the Príncipe Pío metro stop, go to the monthly pass office, and get your card right then and there. For this all you need is your passport and 35ish euros. If you need anything other than this monthly pass for youths for Zone A, you have to go to an estanco and go the usual way. The plan is for Madrid to transition completely to the prox-card model of metro fairs, but until that happens, estancos it is. It's a bit strange that you can't get this plastic sleeve ID at a metro stop - you absolutely have to get it from an estanco. The only other thing these estancos do is sell tobacco, so it's also unclear to me why they are the keepers of the metro ID. But I can't complain - I have my abono para jóvenes for Zone A that I got at Príncipe Pío and have been happily using that all summer. When my 30 days run out, all I need to do is bring my card to any metro stop and they'll refill it for me for the next 30 days. 


I hope someone else reads this and doesn't have to go through all the trouble and confusion that I did!

But what else is in the metro...

What I forgot to mention is that in the metro they sell alcohol!