Getting a travel pass is something the vast majority of us had to do and it can be more difficult than anticipated (like everything else). First, it’s good to know what the abono is and does. It is a travel pass that is good for the Madrid Metro, both city buses (Red in color) and longer-distance buses (Green “Interurbanos”, and cercanías, which are trains that go from one town to another (Madrid Atocha to Alcalá de Henares, for example).
Warning: Do not be one of the people on a Facebook group asking if your abono will take you from Madrid to Valencia because you will be cyber-bullied, partly in jest. In short, the abono is good for all public transport inside the Community of Madrid.
Next, you have to know which abono you need. The Communidad de Madrid is divided into various zones that mostly resemble circles around the city proper, with the downtown Sol area being the smallest and closest to the center, and places like Buitrago del Lozoya and Alcalá de Henares being way outside.
The only way to know which abono you need is to know (1) where you will definitely live, (2) where you will work/teach & (3) that Alcalá de Henares is located in Zone C1. What follows after you know these constants is a complicated mathematical formula. But, like in all my Math classes, you can guesstimate. For some people, it’s very easy. If you are going to work in Alcalá and you decide (wisely) to live in Alcalá, and the university is in Alcalá, you know to buy a C1 abono. You would also have the choice of not buying one at all and just paying the fare each way. Only you will know how much travel you will do and to where. In my case, I live in the C2 Zone, work in the C2 zone and attend university in the C1 Zone. I travel through C2 all the way down south to the center of Madrid. I then travel East all the way back out to C1 (Alcalá). I was really confused on whether I would have to pay again to go back outside of the city center on my way out to Alcalá but it’s very easy.
Your abono is good for all travel within the zone(s) listed on your abono, and closer to the city center. Mine is a C2, so I can travel from C2 all the way to A, and back again if I want. However, there are abonos for people who don’t want to travel all the way from the pueblos to the city center. If you’re elderly and you just need to visit your children in C1, there’s an abono for that. You can just buy the C1-C2.
The prices from the graphic are current as of 8 April 2014. However, I recommend checking out the source because the prices change often.
The next important piece of info you’ll need is really easy – how old are you? I mentioned the elderly person – he/she doesn’t have to pay as much and neither do “jovenes,” or “youths.” If you’re applying to this program there’s a good chance you’ll get this discount. I’m old but it would have saved me about 38 Euros per month. To qualify as “joven” you must be under the age of 23 (5-22 years old). According to what my friends have told me, to get this abono, you have to wait a bit longer. You must go to the tobacco shop and order it, then wait for X number of days. Other than this waiting step, it’s normal.
But what is normal? Here’s the process. Getting my C2 abono took about an entire day due to conflicting information from everyone. In the end, I quit and walked back to my hotel. Fortunately, I walked in the completely wrong direction and happened to walk right by the place I needed to go. If you just need the simple A abono, I’ve heard that you can get these just about anywhere in the metro/train stations. But to get the more expensive ones, there are certain “estancos,” or tobacco shops you must visit.
I thought it would be easy. The woman at the info desk in Plaza de Castilla told me exactly where to go. I went there and they told me they don’t sell C2 abonos. I walked back and forth several times, talking to anyone who might know where to go and it all let to nowhere. Fortunately for you, here’s where to go: In the Tetuán barrio, on the corner of Calle de Bravo Murillo & Calle de Pinos Alta you’ll see a sign for “tabaco.” Here’s the place the sells the C2 abono. There are others, I’m sure, but I don’t know where they are. In order to get your abono you’ll need the money, passport (for ID), & a small photo of yourself. These photos are sometimes described as “passport photos” but it’s really difficult to get the correct size in the US. The Spanish use them for other things too, like getting your NIE card, so it’s a good idea to get about 8 or so at one time and be done. If I remember correctly, there’s a photo shop right about where I was standing when I took this picture.
The street jutting to the right in the photo is Calle de Pinos Alta and the tobacco shop the red and yellow sign to the right of the picture.
Calle de Bravo Murillo runs South-West from the Plaza de Castilla and Calle Pinos Alta shoots off to the North-West. The intersection is where the “e” is in “Google.” (lower left-hand corner)
After I filled out the long form with my passport info, the woman took my money and photo then spliced it all together. Afterwards, she gave me my first “cúpon mensual,” or monthly coupon. This “abono” thing I’ve been talking about is actually worthless. It has your abono number, name, photo & any information about the type of abono you have, such as if you’re a youth, elderly (tercera edad), and you zones, of course – but it won’t get you anywhere without the coupon.
Here is the coupon that you’ll have to buy every month. You put a vast amount of money inside a machine and get this tiny ticket that resembles the tickets you get playing skeet ball. Actually, those are worth more because you can trade them for stuffed animals. Anyway, to renew the coupon, you take your ID card out of the plastic case and slide it into the machine. The machine then tells you which abono you have and knows how much you owe. You put in the money and the machine spits out the coupon; it’s very easy and you can do it in English if you’re not comfortable in Spanish. You put the coupon in its slot over the bar code and take it out to use when necessary.
To use it, you pull out the coupon (don’t drop it!) and stick it into a ticket reader. The reader gives you a message saying you’re OK and gives it back to you. These “readers” are on every form of transport or at a central entrance point. Each bus has its own reader but in Metro stations and train stations there is the classic turnstile you’re probably already familiar with. Sometimes you have to reinsert your coupon upon exiting train stations but sometimes you don’t. I’ve never figured out the system.