Improving liveability in Santiago de Compostela: integral approach for the public transportation system transformation

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In September 2016 the draft for the new bus routes of the public transportation network of Santiago de Compostela was made public. The transformation was based on the need of addressing several challenges highly related to the relationship between transport and the city structure; and had as main objective the increase of the efficiency, accessibility and attractiveness of the system.

Improving the bus system is only a part of a wider mobility plan the local government is currently working on, aiming to encourage a softer mobility. As explained by the responsible of the city’s Citizen Spaces, Housing Rights and Mobility Department, the ultimate goal of this plan is to make the city more liveable.

Santiago de Compostela, a small but complex city

Santiago de Compostela is located in the northwestern Spanish region of Galicia. The city has got a lively cultural scene, as well as a remarkable touristic, gastronomic and educational offer. It also hosts many administrative functions. This all means that, even if it is a small city it constitutes a complex core of activity.

Galicia and Santiago de Compostela locations. Source:

Its current population is close to 96.000 inhabitants [3]. However, it acts as a focal point for a wider metropolitan area that gathers around 150.000 people [6].

The municipal territory is roughly divided into urban and rural. The urban core includes the Old Town dominated by the huge cathedral and characterized by its granite buildings and narrow streets; the “Ensanche”, with residential buildings as well as commercial activity; and other areas like the two university campus, shopping malls, some housing developments and the hospitals.

The rest of the municipality is often considered as rural but it would better be described as a low density population area. It is estimated that about 63% of the inhabitants reside in the urban area (in darker colour in Figure 2) while the remaining 37% are dispersed in the rest of the territory [6].

Santiago’s population distribution inside its municipal territory, with more populated areas in darker colour. Source: Santiago de Compostela PMUS [6].

Collective transport system inside the municipality

The local government of Santiago is in charge of the public transport inside its territory only. The autonomous regional government has the competency in the metropolitan transportation service.

The collective public transport service inside the municipal territory consists of a bus network operated by a private company which was chosen through a tendering process. In addition, there is a municipal owned company (TUSSA) in charge of the study and planning of public transport at the municipal level; inspection and control of urban transport operation; and other tasks related to public parking lots and bus stations [4].

Globally, the bus service offered is positively rated by the users with 7,4 points out of 10 [9]. However, it has been proved not to be capable of attracting new users and the modal share indicates that only 12% of the total trips in the municipality are made by bus [6].

Modal share of total daily trips. Source: Santiago de Compostela PMUS [6].

The transportation system should act as an structural element of the city

The fact is that the existing bus network is the result of partial modifications carried on the old network designed in the 1960’s. This means that it is not really adapted to today’s city configuration and dynamics. [7]

In 2012, a greater modification was carried out following the conclusions of the Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan (SUMP) [7]. It had positive effects on the reliance of the service due to the implementation of ICT based solutions. However, it did not improve the attractiveness of the network for the non-users nor its overall performance. Moreover, very important aspects such as frequencies, bus routes and state of bus stops continued to be poorly rated by the users [9].

Bus stop with real time information screen in the city centre. Source: Concello de Santiago [1].

An integral approach for the updating of the whole system is necessary, and the challenges to be addressed are very diverse:

Social challenges. The coverage of the territory is unequal, with nonexistent or deficient service in some areas outside the urban core and in the old town surroundings. Furthermore, the so-called “private car culture” continues to reign users mobility habits, which means that potential users still choose to use their own car due to cultural habits and misconceptions about the bus service.

Technological challenges. Technological challenges concern three main aspects: bus routes, bus stops and vehicle fleet.

    Bus routes. The overlapping of bus routes causes hiper-offer in some areas and also increases the negative effects of road congestion. Additionally, routes are very long so as to serve some areas of the municipality with low population density meaning higher travel times and low occupation of the vehicles.

   Bus stops. Often have an insufficient capacity in the urban area, resulting in congestion of the bus stops and inconveniences for pedestrians and network users. Besides, many of them have an inadequate design. This causes difficult and unsafe accessibility of passengers inside and out of the vehicle, and also that stops are often invaded by private vehicles, consequently increasing stop times.

    Vehicle fleet. It is outdated and not suitable to serve many of the narrow streets of the city and some rural areas. Moreover, the number of available vehicles is currently limited.

Jurisdictional challenges. Interconnection and interoperability possibilities are few due to legal reasons and political discrepancies.

Economical challenges. The service is not economically profitable and financial resources are limited. The contract with the private company operating the service states that this company must obtain an economical benefit. That is, the municipality has to subsidy the system by covering the difference between costs of the service and earnings plus a percentage for the private company own profit. Aside from this, numerous users have subsidized fares based on reasons which may not necessary cause an economical disadvantage.

A piece of the current network plan, showing the remarkable overlapping of routes. Source: Tussa [4].

Integral approach for the system transformation

The local government, aware of all these conflictive elements present in the current system, decided to start an integral reform of Santiago de Compostela public bus network.

A deep study of the present situation was carried out during 2015 and 2016. Available data from the operation of the service was used but also surveys, users counting and origin-destination estimation [7].

As a result, a new map for the bus routes was created in which accessibility and geographical coverage are increased, overlaps reduced and the distribution of the routes in the urban area balanced, so that congestion of bus stops will not exist anymore and congestion with general traffic will not affect the system that much. Moreover, frequencies are improved reasonably, with a 10 minutes interval at peak hours in the main routes (though the necessary number of vehicles for operating the system increased).

The draft for this proposal was presented publicly in September 2016. In the following three months, politicians and technical staff working in the project had meetings with the diverse neighbourhood associations and compiled impressions and suggestions about the proposed network. This input is now being taken into account for making the final design.

It is hoped that this radical change of the system increases equability and attracts new users. In this way, social conflictive elements of the system would be addressed.

Additionally, special events and activities are being organized as to encourage a change in mobility habits into softer modes and increase public transport use. An example for this is the “Car-free day” inscribed in the European Mobility Week, in which the municipality offers the bus service for free. According to official data, passengers increased by 13% on this day in the year 2016 [1]. It is an opportunity to spread knowledge about the system and attract potential users.

In order to face the second worst rated element of the system, the state of bus stops, a study on bus stop design, boarding platforms and special curbs was done. The implementation of some of the solutions studied could improve accessibility and safety, ease boarding and reduce stop times.

The issue of the outdated and insufficient vehicle fleet is still to be addressed. However, some changes in their characteristics are being taken into account, like the implementation of smaller electric vehicles for some of the routes.

Hence, the above stated may be considered as measures to address the technological problematic elements existing in the current system.

The jurisdictional challenges are still to be overcome. Five municipalities of Santiago’s area demand to the regional government the creation of a supramunicipal body so that a better planning and coordination between urban and interurban bus routes is possible. Meanwhile, the new bus network aims to provide more and better interconnection options with the metropolitan bus network inside the city.

Regarding the economical difficulties, the local government is studying the re-municipalization of the operation of the service. That means, that no money would be spent on commercial or industrial benefit for a private company. As a positive point, the municipality already owns a company, TUSSA, that could assume this task (though an increase of staff might be necessary).

Finally, fares may not be increased further than the usual annual updating. Still, the subsided fares are likely to be revised and set according to the economical status of families or individuals (i.e.: number of family members, unemployment, etc.).


Santiago de Compostela is a small city but offering a wide range of activities and serving diverse functions such as political, educational and cultural ones. The local administration is in charge of offering collective public transport service to all of its territory, which consists of an urban core and a low density population area. Currently, this service is offered trough a bus network operated by a private company. It is outdated and does not accurately match the city’s structure. It presents several social, technological, jurisdictional and economical problems.

The present local government is aware of the deficiencies of the existing system and is working to address the problematic elements with an integral approach. It aims not only to improve the overall performance and attractiveness of the public transport service but also to enhance the city’s liveability.

References and sources

[1] Concello de Santiago

[2] Instituto Nacional de Estadística

[3] Santiago turismo

[4] Tussa

[5] Concello de Santiago, 2008. Plan Xeral de Ordenación Municipal (PXOM) de Santiago de Compostela. Availabe at:

[6] Concello de Santiago, 2011. Plan de Movilidad Urbana Sostenible (PMUS) de Santiago de Compostela.

[7] Concello de Santiago, Tussa, 2016. Caracterización da nova rede de transporte público de Santiago de Compostela. Available at:

[8] Deputación da Coruña, 2014. Ordenanza do servizo de transporte colectivo en autobús da cidade de Santiago de Compostela.

[9] Tussa, 2015. Enquisa de satisfacción dos usuarios do servicio de transporte urbano de Santiago de Compostela.

This piece is the original writing of the author(s). The view points in the post is the author’s personal opinions and do not reflect IGLUS/EPFL’s viewpoints. The author(s) is the sole responsible person regarding the accuracy of the information presented in the post and will be liable for any potential copyright infringements.

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