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A wheely suitcase in Europe #4: Llanca to Zaragoza

Leg four of our journey took us from Llanca to Zaragoza, as illustrated below.

trip 4

Compared to previous journeys (here, here, and here) this one was relatively straightforward: We caught a train from Llanca to Girona, and from there caught our ride share direct to Zaragoza, as illustrated below. This was the first, but is not the last, ride share we will take on our holiday. I think it’s worth discussing how it works because, for most of us, the concept of ride share is probably somewhat novel. But it’s something you’ll want to get your head around, because I get the feeling that in 5-10 years this will be the new norm.

Before I do I just want to give a shout out to the (relatively senior) man working at the Llanca train station cafe. With good grace, and despite our poor Spanish language skills, we happily negotiated our way to the best coffee we’ve had in Spain thus far. And all this happened at 730am on a Sunday morning. And for 1.50 Euro per coffee. Splendid.

Perhaps the next thing to mention is the circumstances that caused us to turn to ride share in the first instance: We decided to change our original travel plans at short notice. Initially we had planned (and booked) to travel all the way from Llanca to San Sebastian, which would have taken circa 9-10 hours. Instead, we opted to split this journey in two to travel in a more relaxed fashion, and in doing so we would be able to visit the city of Zaragoza, which we’d heard was rather fabulous.

So at short notice (2 days prior) we had to work out how to get from Llanca to Zaragoza? My first instinct was to consider trains, so I looked at the Renfe website. While there was approximately one service every hour between Girona and Zaragoza (via Barcelona), all the services between 9am and 4pm were already fully booked. This meant that if we’d caught the train, then we would have had to travel relatively early, or arrive in Zaragoza after 7pm, neither of which was particularly attractive.

Next, I checked out the BlaBlaCar website. For those who haven’t heard me rave about Blablacar in the past, you can read more about it here. I know that some people who work in the transportation sector tend to pooh pooh ride-share initiatives. While this is somewhat understandable, insofar as there’s been a lot of promise and false starts, it’s also true that Blablacar has taken off in a way that no other platform has managed. The previous link put is thusly:

BlaBlaCar now has 20 million members in 19 countries. In 2013, they declared that had successfully coordinated 10 million rides (covering 3 billion kilometres), which is as many passengers as the Eurostar (of which I am a big fan and consumer)

BlaBlaCar works as follows: They have created a ride-sharing community designed to connect those who are driving cars with people who need a ride. BlaBlaCar really took off a few years back, when the Icelandic volcano Gods decided to disrupt millions of people’s flights across Europe for several weeks, and it now covers most countries in Europe.

One of the more interesting aspects of BlaBlaCar in terms of urban transportation is that it caters for both one-off and regular ride-sharing. If you search for rides between any reasonably proximate urban centres, for example Amsterdam and Rotterdam (as shown below), then you will find a number of rides being offered by people who make the journey regularly. In the following figure, you can see that “Jos K” shows up twice – he appears to travel this route every Wednesday and offers rides for 7 GBP.

Blabla

Thus BlaBlaCar is not only for tourists, but it also enables people to ride share in a way that could meaningfully impact on congestion. Unlike earlier ride-sharing platforms, BlaBlaCar, has for whatever reason, been able to achieve a critical mass of users that makes it useful for many journeys. One of the key advantages, from a travel perspective, is that BlaBlaCar is a very cheap way to travel. Indeed, I haven’t crunched the numbers but apart from flying it’s probably the cheapest per kilometre travelled.

Travelling from Girona to Zaragoza by train, for example, cost approximately 80 Euro per person for a 3.5 hour journey. And we would have had to travel either quite early in the morning or relatively late at night, because the trains in between those times were all full. In comparison, our BlaBlaCar journey cost only 30 Euro per person for the same travel time. So in this particular case, BlaBlaCar enabled us to travel at a convenient time and for a price more than 50% less than the train.

Pleasingly, uptake of BlaBlaCar has grown rapidly over the last few years, and it was recently able to raise hundreds of millions in venture capital to fund its ongoing development and expansion. Growth in the number of annual Blablacar rides to 2014 is summarised below.

So BlaBlaCar is cool, and it’s worth considering when making your way around Europe. If only beause it is a real useful travel option for those who are 1) price sensitive and/or 2) are looking to make a journey that is not well-catered for by more traditional transport modes. When combined with planes, trains, buses, and Uber, BlaBlaCar seems to represent the final piece of the transport jigsaw puzzle for those who don’t like all the hassle and cost associated with driving and parking?

How does the BlaBlaCar process work? Well, anyone can search for rides, so feel free to have a play. If you find a ride that you want to book, then just sign up with your personal profile (including identity verification and payment).

You can create ride alerts for journeys that you want to make well into the future. This means that if you are planning a trip in Europe, then you can actually create ride alerts well in advance, and be notified when they become available. It’s worth mentioning that most rides become available 2-3 days beforehand, so BlaBlacar may not be attractive for those people who like to plan in advance and/or are not flexible.

That’s enough about BlaBlaCar. The upshot is that it really helped us out of a bind, and saved us a lot of money in the process. If you’re planning a trip to Europe then I’d really recommend taking a look at the website and searching for some rides. It’s definitely the sort of thing that you feel more comfortable with once you have tried it. Of course the other thing you can do, if you do happen to be driving from place to place, is to offer your own rides to others.

But what about Zaragoza? Well, we stayed at Hotel Catalunya el Pilar, which made for an interesting change from the AirBnbs that we had booked until this point. The Hotel itself was a grand old building located right in the middle of town, and on the edge of a beautiful plaza replete with trees, fountains, and benches plus a giant cathedral of course.

Hotel el Pilar

Zaragoza itself is the capital of the Region of Aragon, and it has a history dating back to Roman times, when it was called Caesar Augustus. The Romans loved Zaragoza primarily due to its strategic location at the confluence of several important rivers, and it thrived in the period from 100 to 400 AD. During the 1980s and 90s, four previously lost Roman ruins were uncovered in the city centre, and can now be viewed for the cost of 7 Euro. I particularly appreciated the Roman latrines, which provided an open-plan pooping environment. I expect the passive surveillance resulted in less graffiti and mess compared to modern public bathrooms. Zaragoza’s come a long way in 2000 odd years.

Zaragoza’s long history means it is replete with a number of spectacular religious buildings. During the middle ages, Zaragoza was apparently “the” place to be. One of the more interesting churches is St Leo, which has changed hands between Muslim and Christian occupants over the years, as have a number of churches in Spain. Napoleon laid siege to Zaragoza at some point, and eventually won the day. In terms of more humble buildings, I particularly liked the art deco neighbourhoods located immediately to the south of the Old Town.

Ultimately, however, it is food – and in particular tapas – that nourish Zaragoza’s soul. The old town houses a tapas district known as “El Tubo”, which is one of the largest and buzziest restaurant districts I’ve encountered. While some of it is a tourist trap, there’s also a pleasing array of cheap-eats and dive-bars, especially in areas less well-frequented by tourists. We found it easy to dine out on fabulous food for less than 10 Euro ($15), including drinks.

And lots of street art. Love (source).

Aside from the dense city centre, there’s nothing particularly notable about Zaragoza from a transport and land use perspective. It has a single LRT line running on a north-south alignment across the river, with other public transport needs provided by buses. The long-distance rail and bus station is unfortunately a wee way out of town. To catch our early morning bus to San Sebastian we opted for the 10 minute taxi ride, which cost 8 Euro, rather than a 40 minute walk.

In a nutshell, if you’re ever travelling through northern Spain then I can highly recommend spending at least a couple of days in Zaragoza. While the summer weather is hot (approximately 35 degrees), it’s a dry heat. So if you plan your schedule to avoid the middle of the day, for example to write blog posts, then it’s perfectly pleasant. If you had more time then you could even use Zaragoza as something of a base to explore to the north and west, where you can find towns like Huesca, Logarno, Pamplona, and Valladolid.

Well I’m currently sitting on the bus from Zaragoza to San Sebastian, which is our next destination, and the view outside the window is getting increasingly interesting. So I think it’s time to close the laptop. Until next time, take care and have fun.

Rest assured that from afar I’m busy toasting to the passage of the (albeit imperfect) Unitary Plan, and Auckland’s future success. The next step? Central Government needs to get its act together and reduce incentives for property investment (NB: Please note that such moves are independent from people’s ethnicity. Anyone who comments on this post about ethnicity in relation to property investment in New Zealand will have their comments edited or deleted. I’m sick of dog-whistle racist shizz).

30 comments to A wheely suitcase in Europe #4: Llanca to Zaragoza

  • peterc

    I’ll say it again, capital gains tax + land tax.

    • stu donovan

      2 years ago i would have said the same. Now i think a combination of 1) pushing out brightline test to 10 years rather than 2 and 2) capital gains tax would do it.

    • mfwic

      Hell No! I just turn a large lot zone into a Single House zone. I can either bowl the house and split the land into 4 or keep the house and put a new house in front and another in the back. What ever I have said to disparage the council I take back. I am officially now a land banker.

      • stu donovan

        Sounds like you are a property developer?!? Nothing wrong with that – please go ahead and supply those houses. As an aside, because you’re developing the property tp such an extent you would always be liable for income tax, so the change to the brightline test would not effect you. CGT might, but that’s just a reason to get cracking!

    • SDW

      Would have though with a comprehensive land tax we wouldn’t need a CGT as well? The land tax would incentivise highest and best use of land, whilst CGT might work against this. Without a land tax (and complimentary drop in income tax), CGT seems like a necessary.

      • Stuart Donovan

        I’m not sure. My main problem with land tax is the windfall loss it imposes on existing landowners. Seems better to tax profits on land ownership.

        However, that would probably imply we should add a third mechanism to the mix: Tax on imputed rents for owner-occupiers.

      • MFD

        I would have concerns about the effect of land taxes on agriculture. My wife and I are seriously contemplating buying more horticultural land and investing in fencing, water supply, shelter belts and trees. There would be no income from the land for at least 7 years (and plenty of interest payments) and then there are weather and disease risks to contend with. A land tax would increase the financial burden and risk. It’s fine to talk about land productivity in an urban context but a tax that is incurred irrespective of the profitability of the business will deter investment in such horticultural endeavours. Land that is covered in native bush, for example, is unlikely to generate income. There will be pressure to flatten it and put the land to commercial use.

        The worth of agricultural land that has no prospect of being divided up for housing is largely driven by the net income it can generate and the availability of such land. A significant land tax (and I have seen suggestions that it could replace income tax) would play havoc with the valuation of such land on which the tax were based.

        • tuktuk

          A capital gains tax on land then? In other words, you get taxed if you eventually sell that horticultural land but while you have it in use (or no use as in a native bush reserve), no tax need apply.

          Perhaps the way to deal with land that is, say; planted in natives that you wish to keep that way; is to reclassify as some form of a reserve via a covenant on the land. The loss of ability for a new owner to commercially develop the land will surely be reflected in the sale price. Is there way to covenant an orchard in a similar way?

          There is a school of thought that says that land, especially dairy capable land has up until recently at least; been subject to the same sorts of speculation pressures as the Auckland Housing Market. Is this still the case? I would have thought that this sort of property speculation in the rural sector benefits no-one apart from the banks, and the speculators.

          The girl – little red riding hood – in the mural has a rather neat wheely suitcase which I’m sure has already been noted 🙂

          • MFD

            The land is an asset of the business and any gain on the the sale of it would be subject to company tax (or personal income tax if distributed to the shareholders as dividends). The real problem lies with the so-called “investors” who buy rental properties as personal assets with the stated aim of collecting the rent as the income stream. The IRD states that gains on the eventual sale are not taxable. The NZ Property Investors Federation claims that such “investors” are providing a valuable service to tenants. As such I contend that they are not passive investors gaining an income from personal assets but they are running a commercial business and should be taxed accordingly. That would mean that gains on the sale of the assets of the business would be subject to company tax.

            As for capital gains tax, I am all for it. The previous 2 countries I lived in (the US and UK) had it and frankly, I don’t see why unearned income gained by those with access to capital or leveraged finance) is free of tax while people working their arses off to get by are taxed on every dollar they earn.

  • mfwic

    The Unitary plan gets released today at 5pm. On the West Wing they referred to 5pm Friday releases as ‘Putting out the trash”

    • stu donovan

      “Friday friday gotta get down on friday, im gonna go hang with my friends. And talk about the unitary plan.”

      – rebecca black 2016

  • tuktuk

    Capital Gains Tax + Land Tax offset against lower company tax. Great post by the way again, I like that intriguing piece of street art.

    • stu donovan

      Thanks and isn’t it fabulously intriguing? I feel like there’s a lot of symbolism going on here that i don’t understand, probably related to european and/or Spanish themes, yet i can still find interesting and fun.

  • Bruce

    Love the picture of the city with all the 6 level apartment buildings (with shops on the ground floor). Auckland needs this!

    • stu donovan

      I agree Bruce – and I’d suggest that most parts of isthmus within 1km of frequent public transport route should be zoned 6-7 storeys unless there’s a good reason not to, like geotech etc.

      • Luxated

        Stu, why should geotech affect zoning? Surely the viability of taller buildings is a matter for the constructor, any detrimental downstream effects would be resource/building consent issues I would have thought.

        • SDW

          The experience of Christchurch comes to mind…

          • Stuart Donovan

            good answer Luxated, and good answer SDW. What I was referring to (admittedly vaguely) is that geotech conditions have implications for the resilience of network infrastructure, like road and wastewater networks. Hence, I don’t think we should be enabling higher density development in areas with poor geotech qualities, at least given our current approach to pricing infrastructure provision.

            But Lexated is right to observe that site-specific geotech constraints are something the developer is best placed to manage.

  • Matthew W

    “reduce incentives for property investment ”

    And there I was thinking we needed more houses.

    • stu donovan

      Property investment is somewhat distinct from property development!

      • Matthew W

        Somewhat distinct but developers like to have customers as I understand it.

        • stu donovan

          They do, but property investment is effected by many factors that do not necessarily relate to property development. The reality is we need more homes, but does that necessitate more investment in housing? I think not. I think fewer, larger investors who are interested in long term outcomes is what NZ needs. All the small two-bit property investors in NZ are a problem: they’re not in the game for proper commercial reasons.

  • Guy M

    Nice mural ! And big – crikey! But hey, a question. From what we can see of Zaragoza in that aerial pic, it appears the whole town is pedestrianised (or at least those streets visible) – do you know if there are
    A) no cars
    B) only tiny cars (like Smart or Bambina) or
    C) service trucks before 7am or some such?

    I’m always intrigued to know how other countries can make it work, when we have a national revolt if you even suggest to remove a carpark. How do they make it work?

    • Stuart Donovan

      Yes that mural is huge. To answer your questions:

      A) Large swathes of the old town are pedestrianised, but once you get beyond that then the street network is a more “normal” mix of modes.
      B) Like most of Europe there are lots of small cars, but there are some larger vehicles too. I think the narrow street geometry provides a good incentive for people to buy appropriately sized vehicles.
      C) Yes, from what I could figure out service vehicles have restricted access to pedestrian streets up until circa 9am.

      How do they make it work? Good question and I’m not exactly sure, but if I was to hazard a guess at three factors it would be:
      – Road design guidelines, such as AustRoads, are genuinely not used to design urban streets in Europe. The way NZ designs streets and roads is generally incompatible with urban areas.
      – More balanced demographics. The baby-boomer generation is not as disproportionately influential as it tends to be in Anglo countries. This flows through to impact on elected representatives.
      – Stronger sense of civic pride/duty, which means people do not focus exclusively on their own self-interest when it comes to management of urban spaces.

      Note that these are simply my gut instincts; I could be completely wrong and/or other important factors I have overlooked. What do you think?

      • nonsense

        Coming from one such place I think there are 2 reasons for this: 1 stronger sense of civic pride, as Stu said. my village is part of my house and vice versa.2 campanilismo: if the next place can do it we must do better.
        Also businesses are not untouchable. If you want deliveries you do it before 7am tough life.

        • stu donovan

          Yes, nicw distinction. There’s a kind of friendly rivalry between home owners and businesses here that is rather charming. Competition, but more from a sense of pride than commercial motives.

      • By the time road design guidelines, such as AustRoads, were written, those streets had already been there for centuries. By the way, am I the only one reading that as au-stroads?

        Coming from Belgium, most cities (and smaller towns as well) have pedestrianized streets. And yes, there were protests when these pedestrianized areas were introduced. Until businesses figured out that it doubled or tripled their turnover. Services and deliveries are usually allowed a few days per week, or until 11 am or so. How did they make it work? Not sure, but I think it involved a bit of “let’s do it anyway”.

        How do you make that work with cars? The biggest problem is not driving, but parking. First, I think for much more people than in Auckland, it’s genuinely possible in these cities to get by without a car at all. Second, people with a car don’t necessarily store their car right next to their house, but instead they may rent a garage somewhere. Third, if you don’t need a car every day, you can subscribe to a car sharing service.

        A big reason why this works is walkability. Auckland CBD is kind of dense, but the huge roadways (often 6 lanes) also make it rather unpleasant to walk in most parts. European cities generally are much more pleasant for pedestrians.

        How do you fit vehicles through? Carefully and slowly. How do you fit trucks through? Trucks (and buses) often need the entire street width to turn. So if you see a truck or bus turning your way, you stop 20 m short of the intersection until the truck finishes his turn. No rocket science involved, just some common sense and courtesy.

  • Sanctuary

    Spanish cities are dense for cultural reasons that are largely foreign to Anglo-Saxons, and consequently their apartment blocks feature a lack of privacy (the infamous “radio patio” is a thing) that New Zealanders would find intolerable.

  • mfwic

    Stu if you get a chance during your break have a look at Bernard Hickey’s column. http://www.interest.co.nz/opinion/83184/bernard-hickey-says-surge-low-skilled-migration-frustrating-natural-forces-supply-and
    I think there is a position where people can question immigration without being racist. The whole debate doesn’t need to be based on ethnicity even though some people just cant help themselves.

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