Barcelona’s disappearing bus – and how Google Maps changed travel

April 18, 2024

Barcelona has eliminated a local bus route from Google Maps.

Bus 116 here in Barcelona was never meant to take people across town: it’s a neighborhood bus that connects the Gràcia area with the area around Parc Güell, one of Barcelona’s biggest tourist attractions.

And it’s been eliminated from Google Maps in order to make the route more useful for residents – previously, it had been so full of tourists visiting Parc Güell that “the locals” often couldn’t get on.

City Hall apparently won’t confirm that they requested the removal of Bus 116 from Google (and Apple) maps, but according to The Guardian, a spokesperson from Google says they’d only remove a bus route if the government requested it.

(The official website for Transports Metropolitans de Barcelona still has information about route 116, but Google Maps, as of now, instead suggests getting to Parc Güell with a couple of cross-town bus routes, or walking from the metro stop Lesseps.)

tourists and digital nomads in spain
Parc Güell in Barcelona…

And apparently, it works. The “activist” interviewed by The Guardian says it’s been very effective so far in getting tourists to stop using bus 116.

Come to think of it, I was in Rome about a year ago and the small local train to the beach was conspicuously absent from Google Maps. I read about it on some blogs, and it turned out to be a fast, easy and cheap way to get to the beach – but maybe the Roman city council (Senatus Populus Que Romanus, etc) had done the same thing, and requested its removal from the map.

Generally, I think this is barely even a story. Barcelona’s struggle to remain liveable in spite of mass tourism is now entering its fourth decade – the city was originally “put on the map” by the ’92 Olympics, so it’s been a while.

There’s not much else to say, I guess.

But it got me thinking about how Google Maps has changed travel, and that does seem worth talking about.

Travelling before smartphones

I remember travelling before smartphones. It was different.

My first trips around the USA and Mexico were with Lonely Planet guides in my backpack. I’d look at maps, read descriptions, and pick destinations based on the guide. I’d go to hostels and restaurants based on what was in the guide: two dollar signs and a short blurb was all I had to go by.

Later, here in Spain, I did a bit of travelling before Google Maps. You’d make a hotel reservation through some primitive website, take a train to an unfamiliar city, walk outside the train station and ASK A TOTAL STRANGER FOR DIRECTIONS.

I even remember the days when if you wanted to take your crush off to Oporto (for example) for the weekend, you had to call the bus station to ask for schedules.

Not too user-friendly if your level of Spanish wasn’t amazing… and mine wasn’t.

It was a less-than-perfect system, but we didn’t know. We were just doing things the way they’d always been done.

anti tourist graffiti barcelona
Anti-tourist graffiti in the Gràcia neighborhood.

How Google Maps has changed travel

Now, everything is easier. You don’t need to spend any time being lost in a new city: just hop on Google Maps and it’ll tell you how far it is to your hotel. Of course, you’ve booked the hotel with Booking.com, after first reading some reviews and comparing it to every other place in town.

Dropping your bags off, you realize it’s time for lunch, so you get back on Google Maps and look for places nearby. There’s much less exploring or guesswork than there used to be: search for Thai food, find something rated 4.7 stars, get directions for the 7-minute walk and you’re good to go.

What did people who wanted Thai food even do before this? Walk around and hope? Consult the yellow pages and then a map of the city? I remember what I probably would have done: wander around hungry, looking in the doors of local restaurants until one appealed to me. Very hit or miss.

Is everybody travelling with the help of a lot of apps these days? I’m not really sure. I’m completely dependent on them. My wife Morena is even more extreme: she spends lots of time looking at restaurants before we’ve even reached the city, so she knows where she wants to go in advance. She’s also looked at pictures of food, so she knows what she wants to order.

Some people use TripAdvisor, or (presumably) Yelp or something similar to find out about restaurants and other things to do.

I tend to use Google Maps because I’m already on it for transport or walking routes, and Google will just tell me about other places along the way.

The problem with restaurant reviews… and critics

Google also has the system of reviews that help you decide if something is worth doing or not.

This is somewhat unfair to the restaurants, I guess: a place has been there for 100 years, you go to have coffee one morning, the waiter is slow, and you give it two stars. It’s not exactly rigorous restaurant criticism.

Then again, I don’t read restaurant critics. I don’t care what El Comidista says about anything, at all, ever.

(El Comidista is a big deal here in Spain, though. He used to make random Chinese restaurants in Usera, in the south of Madrid, into famous culinary hotspots with a stroke of his keyboard. I’m just saying I never paid attention – I’d only hear about it from others.)

I do, on the other hand, trust random strangers to give their honest opinions.

This is a personal bias, and I admit it: the critics, in any field, may be telling you what they think you should like based on snobbishness or hipsterism or other factors that have nothing to do with your (or my) personal enjoyment.

Google Maps will have some guy named Ramón, who says that the croquetas were soggy and the service was subpar, and I tend to believe Ramón.

Having said that, it’s all wildly subjective.

Be careful who you piss off

There’s a bar here in Barcelona that has a one-star review from me, just because the waiter pissed me off.

I was studying for the Spanish nationality test, so I’d bought a copy of the Constitution – the Spanish constitution of 1978 is long enough to be printed as a small paperback book.

Afterwards, I went to this bar, up in Gràcia, and I was waiting for Morena, and I started reading, and in a minute the waiter came up and said “Ah, I see you enjoy reading science fiction!”

He was dressed like a typical Catalan leftist (it’s a vibe, don’t ask), and thought this was a pretty funny joke.

I disagreed. So, one star for them.

(In all honesty, I was half expecting to be mocked or insulted by the bookseller for asking if they carried copies of the Constitution, but the bookseller was fine… she took my 7 bucks and moved on with her life. In any case, I knew I was flirting with controversy by appearing in public with such an obvious symbol of Spanishness.)

All this to say, Google reviews are subject to all the regular human foibles, and that’s okay.

Is your dog urinating on 2-star dirt?

You can rate almost anything on Google Maps, incidentally. Geographical features, thousand-year-old architectural marvels, anything.

You can go to the Serengeti in Tanzania and leave a review, if you want: “Hot and buggy. Too many zebras. Two stars.”

Plaza de la Villa in Madrid – 4.5 stars.

From Google I learn that the supermarket I shop at almost daily has 4.2 stars, whereas the dog park outside my window (the “pipican”, in local parlance) has 4.5 stars. The place next to the Clot neighborhood market where I buy industrial-sized tubs of yogurt? Also 4.2 stars. My butcher? 4.8 stars, which she fully deserves.

The parking area for motorcycles on the corner? Five stars! But only one review, unfortunately.

You can see where I’m going with this.

If everything is up for criticism, and everyone empowered to be a critic, who knows what could happen?

There are plenty of stories about people wandering into restaurants and demanding free stuff in exchange for not leaving a bad review. I’ve even seen reports of scammers putting up fake negative reviews, then demanding money to take them down.

But back to how Google maps has changed travel

I suppose travel used to be more “adventurous”.

You showed up somewhere with little idea of what you were going to get, and had to improvise.

It also used to be much less mainstream. My trips across the US by Greyhound bus were considered pretty eccentric back in the early 2000s. And going to Mexico just for the hell of it? I mean, everyone knew Mexico was down there… but you weren’t actually supposed to go there.

Since then, the internet has made it a lot easier to plan in advance, get opinions from previous travellers, look at pictures and watch videos of people going about their lives in faraway places. And all of this has made travel quite a bit less scary for your average person.

On the other hand, cities (and whole countries) now have to deal with the consequences of mass tourism.

In conclusion…

I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing. I just know we’re often wrong, as a species, about where massive trends are going to take us in the long term.

Remember when people thought that Twitter and Facebook were going to create a global village in which everyone was happily connected via the wonders of social media? It seems stupid in hindsight, but I thought that… I think a lot of people did.

So: apps are making travel easier, and more people are doing it. Does travel still expand your horizons? Or was it the adventure and uncertainty that did that? Is this global village going to be peaceful? Or just have people at each other’s throats in new and creative ways?

I guess one day we’ll look back and the answers will seem clear.

For now, I’m off to buy some 4.2-star yogurt.

Hasta la próxima,

Daniel.

P.S. I think that travel does (or at least can) expand a person’s horizons. What the actual consequences of that are is less clear to me. If you want to shift your perceptions of what our species is up to on this planet, head over to India. It’s wild. Have fun out there…

Related Posts

May 19, 2024

I’m in Toledo. This was once the capital of Spain, and it’s Read More

May 14, 2024

I recently got a private tour of the Prado Museum. (The empty Read More

May 13, 2024

Visit Madrid in spring. I dare you. Visit Madrid in spring and Read More

About the Author Daniel

How did I end up in Spain? Why am I still here almost 20 years later? Excellent questions. With no good answer... Anyway, at some point I became a blogger, bestselling author and contributor to Lonely Planet. So there's that. Drop me a line, I'm happy to hear from you.

Share your thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. I generally ignore reviews. I'll only look at star ratings if there are a lot and only to see what the trend is. I tend to have a good sense of direction so before Google I'd look at a real map to get an idea of where I was going. 😊

    As for Barcelona, I've successfully avoided it for the last 20 years. I went there on my first visit to Spain. It put me off of wanting to return for at least 12 years. Then I discovered Madrid, Andalusia, Valencia, Castile-Leon and have avoided Catalonia like the plague, mostly because of attitudes like that waiter. Someone I know moved elsewhere in Spain "in search of a better class of Spaniard." 2-stars 😂

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}