Living in New York means a few things; barely being able to afford rent, walking more than you ever thought possible, and becoming reliant on public transportation. Over the years, the MTA has serviced millions of riders each day, but often fails to meet the expectation of timeliness and exceptional service. Instead, the legacy has involved overcrowded trains, track fires on the regular, and signal malfunctions leading to angry New Yorkers. Therefore, I bothered to ask the question, is it the same elsewhere? Having recently travelled to 7 cities in Eastern Europe, I tried to pay attention to how significant the role public transportation played in the daily life of locals. I noticed the cleanliness of stations, frequency of trains and lack of delays to name a few, which unfortunately didn’t surprise me.
Therefore, when deciding on a service for Barcelona, I figured Public Transportation and the city’s TMB system would be a great topic when trying to become more affiliated with the metro area and culture. My question for the service is “How efficiently and effectively does Barcelona’s TMB transport riders from one place to another?”
While there is always the option to drive, take a cab or sometimes even walk, thousands of metropolitan residents rely on public transportation everyday. Whether it be train, light rail, bus or even ferry, each system helps to move groups of residents from one place to another for a lower price than if individually traveling. Looking at Barcelona’s public transportation in this case, I wish to see how far the transportation system reaches out to areas of the city, how reliable and easy the system is to use, and what the general consensus is from those who use the system everyday. Coming from a New Yorker who rides the MTA everyday, I want to understand what we are doing better or worse than Barcelona, and how locals feel about the services being offered. While it would be great to sit down and interview citizens of Barcelona, for now I believe relying on surveys and media, daily ridership statistics, and news articles will suffice for information. In addition, it will also be important to understand the viewpoint of the stakeholders, and reports taken from the inside of the company.
The Metro de Barcelona represents the largest, and most widely used public transportation system in Barcelona, boasting over 572 Million Riders each year (2015 Metropolitan Transport Authority study). TMB holds 144 km of track, and services 180 stations. In comparison to a major US city, Chicago, which is home to the second largest transit system in the US, has an annual ridership of 238 Million, with a similar length (165km) and number of stations (146).The network of lines are typically identified by their color, and service riders from 5AM until at least midnight (weekends have extended hours). In addition, the system is currently expanding 2 of their lines, and when finished will bring the number of stations to 209.
Looking over the 2015 Management Report (issued in August 2016) Transports Metropolitans de Barcelona mission is to “provide a quality public transport network which also contributes to the sustainable development of the metropolitan area, ensuring that customers receive the best service and implementing socially responsible policies as part of an operation which is efficient and financially viable.” In addition, TMB aims to be one of Europe’s leading public transport companies, emphasizing its international profile and competitiveness. Highlights of the year included bus improvement services increasing the network capacity by 7%, shorter waiting times, fleet replacement and smart bus stops, and refurbishment of trains.
While the plans and ideas on behalf of the TMB sound progressive and helping out the rider, it is important to take a look about how real customers actually feel. One thing I found very interesting was the Profit for the Year in the Income Statement of 2015, and 2014. Both years amount to zero, and have the Revenue equal to the Expenses to back it up. This means that instead of turning a profit, the system utilizes the fees charged to the customer to completely cover expenses with little to no excess. The charge for a one way ride is 2,15 Euro, and a 5 Day Unlimited is 33,70 Euro.
A decent price is always key to maintaining consistent riders who don’t look for alternatives, but another is reliability. In a study taken by the Transportation Research Forum, Nine European Cities were chosen to identify perceived satisfaction based on reliability. Out of all of the 9 cities involved, including Stockholm, Berlin and Oslo, Barcelona ranked the highest in reliability, with a percentage of at least 72% on any given day(In comparison to NY, our reliability is approximately 53%). This involved a combination of waiting time, traveling time, transfers and comfort all integrated into the study, and looked over each city’s transportation on weekdays, weekends and holidays for different scheduling.
In a study from the Centre for Public Impact, it was found that the bus and metro systems were rated relatively highly by users (from a sample of 4,000), with an average rating from a 1 to 10 at a 7.5. With timeliness and efficiency being a concern for most riders, TMB has started to develop a mobile platform giving customers arrival information in real time. This, along with the transparency of the company in their spending and expansion practices has allowed a positive outlook on the TMB among many commuters.
Now, I look back to my original question which was, “How efficiently and effectively does Barcelona’s TMB transport riders from one place to another?” And the answer would be pretty well, but there is always room for improvement. Looking over the information I have gathered, there are a few important aspects that stand out to me. First, the lack of profit but rather efforts towards reinvestment boast a society which can rely on getting the most bang for their buck. Here in NY, where our fares have typically increased by a quarter every year with worse and worse service as the years pass, it is refreshing to see a system looking more to benefit the rider. After all, the company values the customer at the core of its operations, and wishes to be their one stop for any transportation.
It also struck me that in comparison to 8 other similar sized cities, Barcelona stood out as the top in reliability at 72%. With this being said, and while no system will ever reach 100, there is always the potential to increase that number. Currently, the TMB is expanding their operations and lines to new stations, while developing mobile technology to adapt to the booming number of consumers with smartphones. Additionally, in the coming years they wish to increase the freight of busses to limit waiting times, expand routes, and institute smart bus stops. Once these various projects are completed over the course of the next 5 years, I believe the reliability (if all else remains in tact) will increase to 75-80%.
Lastly, with a 7.5 rating among everyday riders, TMB is a good method of transportation in the eye of commuters, but not a great one. When looking over the service Barcelona’s Public Transit plays in the life of over 500 Million annual riders, the experience could be slightly improved. One way they could do this which has proved successful in other markets, is adapting charging stations and wifi throughout platforms during waiting times. While a great solution would always be to increase more and more lines of trains and service, the expense behind it outweighs the potential benefit. By instituting these, the customer’s experience is made easier and allows the customer to utilize their waiting time to the best ability. The new smart bus stops are one way of helping out with this, but expanding this towards the 180 train stations would help increase the 7.5 rating.