Spain expands free travel offer to intercity bus services

Government introduced free travel on train journeys in September

Free train travel introduced by the Spanish government in September to offset the rise in the cost of living has been extended to intercity bus services with free travel on the 389-mile (626km) Madrid to Barcelona route as of 1 February.

A 50% discount has been in effect on this and 41 other bus routes since September and it is expected that the 100% discount will be applied to all long- and middle-distance journeys.

In September the government introduced free travel on nearly all train journeys with a 50% discount on the Avant high-speed service for anyone who made 16 or more journeys within a given zone.

Travellers have to nominate a destination and pay a deposit of €10 (£8.80) for suburban lines and €20 for middle-distance journeys, after which a QR code on the application serves as a ticket.

The deposit is refunded at the end of the year if the ticket holder has travelled at least 16 times to the specified destination or to any destination within the same zone.

The scheme, introduced until the end of 2022, has been extended to 31 December of this year.

Raquel Sánchez Jiménez, the transport minister, told a press conference that since the scheme was introduced, Renfe, the national rail carrier, has issued 2,437,394 free passes on suburban and middle-distance trains.

Since 29 December it has renewed 230,000 passes.

Sánchez estimates that for a family of four, over the course of 2023 the scheme will represent a saving of €1,800 in Madrid, €2,200 in Barcelona and more than €3,000 in Valencia.

Even on a short journey such as Barcelona to Sitges, a commuter would save about €240 a month.

The scheme initially ran into trouble with people booking journeys on the off-chance in order to reserve a seat and then failing to show up. Now, failure to cancel within 24 hours will result in a fine and after three offences the user’s pass will be revoked.

Discounts of up to 50% on some Barcelona metro tickets introduced in September will be maintained until the end of the year. As of January 1 there are discounts of between 30-60% on Madrid metro tickets.

While the measures are obviously of financial benefit to rail and metro users, there is as yet little evidence that they have reduced the number of people travelling by car.

A survey carried out by the Catalan transport service six weeks after free travel was introduced found that car travel in the Barcelona metropolitan area had fallen by only 0.4%, much lower than the impact of the low emission zone implemented in 2021.

In a ruling that came into force on 1 January, all municipalities with a population of more than 50,000 have to introduce low emission zones.

In addition to free travel, the socialist coalition government has introduced other measures to mitigate the impact of inflation.

In December it reduced VAT on basic foodstuffs from 4% to 0% while earlier in the year it cut VAT on gas and electricity from 21% to 5%. It is also offering a one-off €200 payment to households with an income of less than €27,000.

• This article was amended on 6 January 2023. A previous version said that the Madrid metro system is not offering any discounts; in fact discounts on some tickets were introduced on 1 January this year.


Stephen Burgen in Barcelona

The GuardianTramp

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