Bus and train cards in the Costa del Sol

(almost) all you need to know

The bus and train cards available in the Costa del Sol are very popular and extremely useful because they give substantial discounts for these two important means of transportation in the Costa. Best part? Two out of these three cards are available for everybody! The third one, though, is just for residents.

Bus and train cards
My 3 transportation cards: the green bus card, the train card and the resident’s bus card. I go far with them!

Related posts:
Transportation in the Costa del Sol
Free train tickets in the Costa del Sol – questions and answers
Free train travels in the Costa del Sol

Train card (TSC)

The train card is also called TSC, which stands for Tarjeta Sin Contacto (contactless card). It’s the gray and purple card shown in the previous picture. This card costs 0,50 euro cents and is available to anyone on the train stations; it is individual, reusable, doesn’t expire – I’ve only had one since I arrived in 2022 – and works both for regular train tickets or for the abono recurrente (free train ticket). Mine is made of paper; there is also the TSC made of plastic that costs a little bit more.

Once you have this card, you can purchase regular tickets (meaning, the tickets bought to make specific trips from stations A to B; more about it here) without buying a new card, directly from the machines or offices in the stations. If you don’t keep the card, you may end up paying 50 cents extra every time you buy tickets. The card itself is not a ticket; it is more like a wallet where your train tickets are stored.

The TSC works also for the abono recurrente (the free tickets program; you can read a lot about it here). If you choose to buy the abono recurrente in a station’s office or machine, you’ll need to have (or to buy) a TSC; if you choose to buy the abono recurrente online, you won’t need a physical card, as you’ll get a QR code instead. Using the QR code in the barrier’s reader is the same as using a physical card, except that not every barrier has a QR reader.

The green bus card

Like the train card, the green bus card is a sort of wallet. It doesn’t store tickets, though; it stores cash, that you add in tobacco shops. Why tobacco shops? It seems that, as a condition of their licence to sell tobacco, they have to provide some products of public utility, such as stamps, official forms and, of course, the green bus cards. Tobacco shops are recognizable by their sign, that looks a bit like a T in a leaf (see below), and they are quite useful when it comes to buses!

Above: a tobacco shop in Benalmadena.

You can buy the green bus card in other places as well – book shops and some other shops – for 1,80 euro (as of this writing). If you are having a hard time finding a place that sells this card, check this page in the consorcio Málaga site, that has a map with their selling points; this map is also available on their app.

The green bus card is available to anyone (meaning, tourist, local, foreigner – it doesn’t matter). Then you decide how much money you want to add to the card (5 euros, which I believe is the minimum that can be added, would give some ten trips). The card doesn’t expire and neither does the money you put in there. When you get onto the bus, and tap the card on the machine by the entrance, the magic happens: instead of being charged 1,55 euros for a trip, you’ll be charged only 50 cents (or 45, or 40 cents), debited from your green bus card balance. It is not clear why the charging amount varies, but this is the range of variation, and it is a good discount anyway.

I understand that this green card works for the lines listed in the page of the consorcio Málaga. This list includes coastal cities from Fuengirola to Torrox, passing by Mijas, Benalmadena, Torremolinos, Málaga and Rincón de la Victoria, as well as several inland towns; but it doesn’t include the cities of Marbella and Estepona. I believe Avanza has an equivalent card covering Marbella and the connection to Estepona, but it doesn’t work for the lines inside Estepona, which is served by yet another bus company. More about it on the bus part of Transportation in the Costa del Sol.

I got my green bus card on my first week in Spain, and used it a lot during the first months; then I stopped using buses and, months later, wondered how to check the green bus card balance… I had no clue, except going to a tobacco shop and asking if they could do it there. They could, they did it, and it turns out I still had 10 euros left!

People can share the same green bus card, so when Hubby, Kiddo and I are on the same bus, we just tap one card three times. It is not like the train card, that is individual. The green card can also be used for the train, in theory; but there is no advantage doing that, because there is no discount – you’d pay full price on the train ticket. You wouldn’t use the green card on the barrier, you’d use it to pay for your train ticket in one of the machines. I have never tried it, but I guess it is worth pointing out that it is possible.

Now, why the heck sometimes we are charged 40 cents, other times 45 and, most often, 50 cents per trip on the green bus card? The nice lady at InnoBen, with whom I had a brief chat while getting my resident bus card (our next topic) gave me a hint: she said it had to do with how many cities I usually visit with the bus. She explained that they ask in the tobacco shop, while I’m adding money to my card, if I want to stay in one city or more; and if I say I intend to visit more than one town with that card, it will be set to charge more!!!

Aha! That must be it. I honestly can’t remember if I was asked that in the tobacco shop, but that is the ongoing theory. Other theories are that the different charges have to do with different lines or times of the day; or maybe the price just went up. I’ll keep you posted if this science advances.

The resident bus card (the red bus card)

Some cities in the Costa del Sol offer their residents (meaning, those that are registered in the city, which is done by getting the Padrón) the opportunity of issuing a resident bus card that makes transportation free – yes, 100% discount – on some urban bus lines. And this card has no expiration date – it is valid until the city decides to finish the program, and there are no such talks going on as far as I know.

It is valid for bus lines that stay just in the city, not crossing to neighboring towns. I have (just got) the Benalmadena resident card, and in this city, there is only 1 regular line where I (and other holders of the same card) get to ride for free: it’s the M-103 line.

Bus and train cards: the M-103 bus line in Benalmadena
The route of the M-103 bus line. Image from Consorcio Málaga.

The M-103 is a great line that connects the beach to my home, so that I don’t have to walk uphill. 🙂 It also connects Torrequebrada, Arroyo de la Miel and Benalmadena Pueblo, an ultra-lovely part of Benalmadena that every Costa del Sol admirer should visit, in my opinion (bucket list, anyone? New year’s resolution?) Besides the M-103, there are two more lines that may be used with this card, lines M-106 and M-107, but these are bus lines on demand; we are supposed to book then up to 72 hours ahead and I am a bit confused about how it works.

It took me more than one year (almost two) of being a resident in Benalmadena to go ahead and make this card. I have known about it for quite some time, I just hadn’t done it yet. That is, till about a month ago, when I was on the bus with Kiddo and he noticed some people used a red card while others used a green one and asked me about the difference. When I explained that it was a free card that would make most of our trips free, his look of reprehension made me get over my inertia.

How to do the bus card for residents of Benalmadena

If you are empadronado (meaning, if you have the Padrón, if you are registered) in Benalmádena, you can get this card. The first step is to access the corresponding page on the electronic headquarters of the Ayuntamiento de Benalmadena; there, you can download, fill and sign a form requesting the card.

Next, you can either book an appointment for ‘justificante de registro de entrada’ and deliver the signed form in person or – better – do it online. To do it online, you need to have certificado digital (the digital certificate) and the autofirma program installed on your computer, which you may already have. If you are not sure about the autofirma, try to submit the form online following the instructions on the same page; if the autofirma works, great, you are all done with the request. If the autofirma never concludes, download the autofirma program in this other page of the Ayuntamiento, here (item 4, autofirma), and then try to submit again.

They will say that you should wait two weeks (or so) and then go to the InnoBen building to get your card. After that, they may or may not send you an e-mail informing that your card is ready – Hubby received an e-mail, I didn’t. Go there anyway, but make sure you arrive between 9:00 and 13:00 (their public opening hours). Your card should be there to be picked. 🙂

Above and below: the building where InnoBen is. Don’t mix InnoBen with Innova, which is another building in the city!

Bus and train cards: Innoben, bus card Benalmadena

How to do the card for residents of other Costa del Sol cities

I have only been a resident in Benalmadena, so I don’t have the experience of doing any other resident bus card; regardless, I collected a few links that seem to be the starting point for residents of nearby towns. For Marbella, check this page in the Ayuntamiento, that gives some information about their free bus card and other bus cards; for Fuengirola, check here – they offer 5 bus lines for free for their registered citizens. And their site can be seen in English!

I am not aware of other cities in the Costa del Sol offering this perk. If you are, please let me know in the comments, I’ll gladly include them here.

Final tip and conclusion

Just a last tip when it comes to buses: we enter through the front and either tap our card on the machine by the driver or pay full price in cash directly to the driver. When paying the bus with the green bus card, the machine prints a paper proof of payment that informs how much was charged and the remaining balance in the card. We leave the bus by the door in the middle or back of the vehicle.

Now you know it all, or almost. The science of why we are charged differently with the green bus card is still evolving, and there may be more cities offering local free bus cards than I’m aware of; Marbella and Estepona bus systems are also a bit misterious to me. But you now know enough to travel around Fuengirola, Mijas, Benalmadena, Torremolinos and more for very little! I hope you enjoy, get your cards and be ready to have great trips!

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