Sustainable Cities™

Madrid: Changing behaviour towards sustainable transportation

In order to reduce private car use, Madrid has improved the attractiveness of its public transportation by implementing a BUS/HOV system. Increasing public the capacity of infrastructure in this way has reduced travel times and changed commuters’ behaviour towards public transport and carpooling. The subsequent improved traffic flow leads to a more fuel efficient economy and a better environment.

View fra Palacio de la Prensa, march 5, 2008, by cesarastudillo, Flickr Creative Commons.

The increasing population of Madrid's (Spain) metropolitan area has caused a large percentage of people to commute to the inner city. Although Madrid has an efficient metro system, it still manages to be flooded with people at peak hours as citizens taking public transport choose the metro over other options such as busses or carpools on congested highways. However, these congested highways could be much more efficient and can still carry thousands more people - simply by increasing the number of passengers in each vehicle.

Originally opened in North-West Madrid in 1995, the High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane is one of the more significant sustainable initiatives in Europe and the U.S. (The Spanish term for HOV is VAO - vehículo con alta ocupación.) It is created specifically for use by carpools and buses and encourages more commuters to use sustainable transportation. It also increases the capacity of the roads and infrastructure, hereby reducing congestion, travel time and transport emissions per person.

A6 BUS/HOV in Madrid, by Paul Pfaffenbichler, TU Wien

Madrid's main BUS/HOV system is located in the centre lanes of its A6 highway, which extends from the suburban village of Las Rozas to the Moncloa terminal in the heart of the city. At the Moncloa terminal, the bus and carpool lanes link to the metro, other bus routes, parking lots and other forms of city transportation. Specifically, the BUS/HOV system consists of a 12.3 km double lane and a 3.8 km BUS-ONLY lane. Private motorists are allowed to enter as long as cars are used by more than one person. The facility is physically separated from the all-purpose lane by concrete barriers and reversed in the direction of the main traffic flow to match peak flows. This means that in the morning it goes in one direction and in the afternoon the opposite way. However, even though the regional government are aiming to promote carpooling, it is actually a private incevntive to create a website where motorists can share their rides and find partners.

HOV lanes usually carry fewer vehicles but more people than regular lanes. This has greatly increased throughput of traffic in Madrid. Measurements conducted in 2008 show that the BUS/HOV moves more passengers than the two railways entering Madrid relatively along the HOV lane. The busses are able to compete with the railway because they have the advantage of being able to pick people up closer to their homes and leave them closer to their destination. Compared to the 'regular' highway, the HOV lane carry 59.3% of the morning peak hour travellers using 2 lanes, while the 3 lanes of the main roadway carry only 40.7%.

Prior to the implementation of the BUS/HOV facility, the situation in the A6 corridor was characterised by chronic congestion problems. The opening of the BUS/HOV lane has improved the situation greatly and is a key factor in increasing suburban bus patronage. Private cars using the HOV lane have also had a significant growth. The fact that the number of passengers is growing faster than the number of vehicles proves the efficiency of the system. Also, it is important to note that HOV facilities benefit transit and rideshare passengers including a proportionally large share of lower income and transportation disadvantaged people. Therefore BUS/HOV lanes are progressive with respect to income and need.

Last updated Tuesday, January 21, 2014