Madrid, Spain

Episode#32 Madrid: Public Transport, "It's All About Sustainability"

GuestsSergio Fernández Balaguerthe Head of the International Department at the Municipal Transport Company (EMT) of Madrid, Spain

Date of recording: 23 March 2022


Find transcript here


Summaries of Key Takeaways:  

  • Sustainable Mobility Focus: Sergio highlights the importance of sustainability in mobility, integrating it into Madrid's transport strategies.
  • Public Transport Efficiency: Madrid boasts a robust public transport network, including one of the world's largest subway systems and highly rated bus services.
  • Challenges in Connectivity: Addressing transversal connectivity in public transport remains a challenge, especially for peripheral areas.
  • Pandemic Impact on Mobility: The pandemic has affected public transport usage, with a slow return to pre-pandemic levels, unlike the quick rebound in private car usage.
  • International Collaboration: Sergio emphasizes learning from and contributing to international public transport discussions, enhancing Madrid's mobility solutions.
  • Innovative Free Transport Initiatives: Madrid experiments with free transport days and lines to promote public transport over private car use.
  • Commitment to Decarbonization: EMT Madrid aims for a fully electrified fleet by 2027 and explores alternative fuels, showcasing a strong commitment to environmental goals.


“To you, what is a Smart City?”

Sergio Fernández Balaguer: “Okay. Um, I would say that a smart city is a city that uses technology, um, to, um, improve the quality of life of the citizens and to improve the way it's managed. Uh, and, um, yeah, basically that would be always ensuring accessibility and uh, and sustainable development. Yeah.”   



  • Transversal connectivity needs to be developed efficiently

"I think that the most challenging aspect today for the public transport service in Madrid and in Madrid region, if we go beyond the city borders, is how to solve the transversal connectivity of public transport. Meaning that if you live in the outskirts or in a neighbouring metropolitan area, and you want to go to another one today, most of the times you need to get first to the city center to get out again. And that is something that is still not fully solved and it conditions a lot the use of private car if you have this mobility pattern. So that is why both at the regional level and at the city level, technicians are trying to find solutions for that." - Sergio Fernández Balaguer

  • International collaborations provide opportunities to exchange best practices and to gain visibility

"Perhaps it would be good to point out why a public transport operator, a local public transport operator, is interested in international activity. The main topic has a kind of a two-fold approach. The first one is because you learn a lot, so it's very good to know what others are doing anywhere: you learn and you can get inspired and get things to bring back home and to implement and deploy in your own local context. The other one is because it's very good to show what you're doing because it always come back somehow. It's because of the visibility you bring to your city. So it opens up a wide variety of either collaborations, exchanges, et cetera." - Sergio Fernández Balaguer

  • Financial resources and a shift in mindset are necessary to achieve meaningful change

"[Is there more we could be doing to reach decarbonization by 2030] is a tricky question. Because most of the time doing more means more financing, for instance. Which is in many cases a critical point. And then we need to fight against our own behavior. So I think  that you have kind of a twofold approach. First, you need to change your own mindset to be fully committed and being confident about what you're doing, but then you need resources to do that. And this is when perhaps comes the biggest difficulty: how to balance both and how to get the right proportion of both." - Sergio Fernández Balaguer

  • Making the transportation network more attractive would create a positive cycle

"EMT and the City of Madrid already started thinking about free transport days quite a few years ago. For instance, during the pandemic, the City of Madrid launched two specific bus lines called 'Zero', meaning that there were zero emissions, but also zero cost for the user, to allow people get into the city center, and trying to promote, public transport instead of private car use. These bus lines have had a great success and they are still up and running. So we've been working on this kind of free transport as an incentive, kind of a promotional measure. But in addition to that, EMT also defines some free days depending on the occasion: for instance, after summer holidays, when school [starts again], we have free days to help people, you know, going back to normality without using the private car."' - Sergio Fernández Balaguer