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¡Viva Granada!

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One of Granada’s clean and nice-looking bus stops. Photo by celikins from Flickr.

In October, I spent a few days in Granada, Spain, with my daughter, Lorna. A quick stop by the city’s Tourist Information office gave us the info we needed about the city’s bus system, the regional bus system, and the long-distance bus service. We would soon be heading to the Alpujarras region of the Sierra Nevada mountains for a couple of days hiking and then on to Madrid, so the different bus services would be key for getting around Spain.

One thing we noticed the first day we went to the Via Gran Colon in Granada’s city center was that the series of bus-stops arrayed along the street were clean, safe, and good-looking, each equipped with an electronic display indicating the arrival time of the next bus. eyes-on-street-for-web.jpgWhat a brilliant move! With one look at the display, you could tell whether the bus was arriving soon or whether you had time to run a quick errand and make it back in time.

My daughter Lorna works at the Medical Center at the University of California, Los Angeles and commutes to work from her apartment in West Los Angeles by bus each day. She told me that an information system like this one would be a great addition for her local bus-stop. As a frequent bus rider too, I couldn’t agree more. After asking a local how Granada’s system worked, I learned that each bus was outfitted with a GPS system, indicating the exact location of the bus from which it was possible to predict its arrival time.

One of the impediments to building and retaining a strong middle-class ridership for transit systems is that many people feel concerned at the loss of “control” over their own time. (If you’re a car-driver or passenger stuck in traffic, the idea of such control can is quite illusory.) But having more information about the arrival-time of your next bus or train does improve this problem. In most US cities, subway systems now have arrival-time information boards installed on the platforms, but I haven’t yet seen them offered at bus-stops on intra-city bus systems.

Of course, it was also important that the buses in Granada arrived on time; that once they arrived the loading system was quick and efficient; that the buses were frequent, clean, and well-maintained; that the numerous bus-lanes in the city-center sped the buses along; and that the broader information about timetables and fares was clear and easy to find.

For our regional and long-distance bus connections we took a bus from the city-center to the Estacion de Autobuses that’s about 1.5 miles west of the city center, and made our bookings and departures from there. On the regional and long-distance systems we were able to make advance bookings, with designated seating, making the whole experience easy, efficient, and pleasant. Our ride from Granada to Orgiva took us along some stunning mountain roads, and past a wind farm. Our ride to Madrid took five hours, about the same time it takes to get there by train and at a fraction of the cost. What’s more, it also had a lot more options for departure times than the train did.

The contrast between the long-distance bus service in Spain and the Greyhound service I ride between Washington DC and central Virginia was stark. What? A bus system with clean terminals, helpful and well-informed ticket agents, helpful and accessible rider information, and no price-gouging on on-line ticket purchases? I’d almost forgotten such a thing existed!

My bottom line is that to maintain a strong and satisfied ridership, good customer service is really important. And finding ways to provide timely, accurate, and helpful information to the riders at all stages of the journey – from planning to riding to disembarking – is a big part of that. Viva Granada!

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