Another one rides the bus

There is a sort-of joke in Dallas that any time someone asks how far away something is, the standard reply is “twenty minutes.” Doesn’t matter if they were asking about the shop around the corner or a building on the other side of town, it’s going to take twenty minutes to get there.

I used it a lot, even planned my schedule on that assumption. Removed from that life, it occurs to me that the response (and getting the sort-of joke) is predicated on two assumptions:

  • One always went by car. Didn’t matter how far, one drove (and adjusted speed to make it twenty minutes).
  • The focus was on time. Trips are measured in time, not in distance, because time was seen in Dallas as the most precious commodity, especially with so many other demands usually on one’s list.

And then we moved to Spain…

We’ve written before about how the Spanish lifestyle compels one to slow down, but how does one get around when one needs? We didn’t bring a car, and somehow city planners of a thousand years ago, in their short-sightedness, didn’t really think about automobile parking or two-lane streets in the city center.

Now that we are more settled into a routine, however, we have a couple of go-to’s in order to, well, go to somewhere.

The Bus

Mention going by public transport (especially by bus), and many Americans turn up their noses. Outside of some major cities like New York, one hears immediate pushback. “Aren’t they dangerous?” “Aren’t they inconvenient?” “Aren’t they unreliable?” “Why, when there is Uber?”

The fact is, public transport is or is becoming  the standard in Europe and much elsewhere in the world, as climate change is almost at a tipping point.

It’s America that is the outlier, and to my mind it’s getting harder and harder for someone to believably say he is concerned about climate change but then routinely continue to be a part of a transportation system that accounts for thirty percent of US global warming emissions, the largest source of US carbon dioxide emissions.

Even in a mid-sized town like Granada, our public transport is cheap, dependable, and easy to figure out. The red lines work within the city, and everyone knows which line is their connection to the center. A single trip is about .85 euros, and the bus card allows easy transfers.

Apps such as Moovit show you not only which buses to take to any location, but will tell you the exact times of each leg so you can know when to get the bus and how long it will take (better than with a car!).

Getting out of the city is just as easy. We catch the 33 bus one block from our house, ride it to the bus terminal on the north side in about twenty minutes (shades of Dallas!), and then hop a green bus or other line to any part we wish, from going up to a historic old town for a couple of euros, one of the best ski resorts and mountain hiking in Europe (a mere 45 minutes away) from Granada for 5 euros, or all the way up to Madrid for as low as 20 euros. For the latter, we sometimes treat ourselves to the premium bus (40 euros), which not only takes you directly to the airport, but has seat-room like in business class, onboard WIFI, movies, and a meal (and yes, a bathroom).

I think, however, what I like best about the bus system is how it’s there for everyone. I’ve known Americans who will swear by equal opportunity, democracy, and power to the people, yet wince at the idea of taking public transport as somehow beneath them.

In Granada, EVERYONE takes the bus, including rich and poor, from elderly people to (unaccompanied) youth. It’s a part of life, and it’s not unusual to bump into a friend or acquaintance on the bus for a quick hello, kiss exchange, and plan to meet later for tapa.

Our bus stop includes electronic updates, including that our bus (33) to the central bus station will arrive in one minute.

Taking life in stride.

Thousands of years, and engineering hours, have been devoted to devising alternatives to walking, and yet most times, still, nothing beats it. We walk most of the time nowadays, and among the countless benefits:

  • We get in better shape (getting a “Spanish butt”); we measure distances in kilometers now, not minutes.
  • We see friends, or greet shop owners who recognize us.
  • We get to practice our Spanish.
  • We see things we’ve never seen before, or something different that merits checking out.
  • We feel better about ourselves, not only that we walked (releasing endorphins), but we are “in the moment” and feel more present in life.

“It gets too hot,” I remember many a Texan saying, but it gets just as hot here on the vega. We walk under shade, stop for water (and vino) often, and don’t over-use aircon when home (which acclimates the body and, to repeat, helps the environment).

It’s true, cities like Dallas, and many other ones, are not set up for walking, but short-sightedness could be corrected by public advocacy for things such as mixed-use zoning (shops on the first floor, housing above it).

Unfortunately, when we left, our own neighborhood was locked in this exact struggle, with many neighbors convinced that a more walkable (but denser population) neighborhood would bring “undesirable” people and lower property values.

C’mon baby, do the Loco-motion

Finally, a quick word about trains. It’s not an everyday conveyance for us, like the above two methods, but for distance travel it really beats planes for many, and many more, reasons.

I know my American friends will say that the States are not set up for train travel, but that’s not always true, as people in the northeast will especially confirm. Even in the big state of Texas, a high-speed “bullet” train golden triangle between Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio, has been mused about for thirty years, always on the verge, at least until powerful competing conveyance industries, supported by some “slick” allies, say it needs “further study.” Seems like it’s the only kind of a “bullet” Texans don’t want.

Speaking from our personal experience, here’s what we have found about inter-city rail:

  • We have literally “jumped aboard” at the last minute without all the hassle of getting through an airport.
  • We always have comfortable seats, or have changed seats at will, walked up and down the train to stretch, or hung out in a food car.
  • We’ve taken in the beautiful countryside, treated to shows of nature one can’t see at 20,000 feet.
  • We have actually arrived faster than using a plane, given that train stations are town-center to town-center (versus outskirts of town airports), plus the fast hop on/hop off nature of train travel (including luggage).

And all at cheaper fares and less environmental impact!

Watching the beauty of a late snowstorm from our train window. Flights were delayed; the train rolled on!

No auto, but still mobile

The bottom line for us has been that living without a car has truly been a case of less is more.

With a car and the fast-paced world of driving, time was what we valued. Here, time is merely a tool to be used to enjoy life, whether on a bus talking to people or taking a stroll and being in the moment.

Transportation is not a solitary act; it is part of the communal interconnectedness that makes for a healthier, happier, quality of life.

3 thoughts on “Another one rides the bus”

  1. Love this post! It’s been great to see how well used Amtrak is in the northeast and northwest U.S. with trains routinely sold out, so there is definitely a demand, especially among retired travelers who love the convenience of arrival right into the city. Still waiting for politicians to wake up and support the train system which their constituents are happily using. We rarely rent cars in Europe or Asia and public transport is a far more relaxing, usually cheaper way to travel. Good to see your detailed account of how well it is working for you in Spain.

  2. Carless New Yorker here. You’re preaching to the converted. I would move to a smaller city in an instant if there existed a dense, walkable US city with acceptable public transportation. It’s worth paying a premium for (and believe me, I do). Maybe a European city is next on the list.


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