Another Holyrood?

The PR spending disaster that was the building of the Holyrood parliament will forever haunt major public works in Scotland. Every time a large and expensive project comes along, oponents will just shout “Holyrood” to justify their opposition.

But there are a few things about Holyrood that rarely get mentioned.

First of all, the original quote of £40m was based on a parliament building to house 129 MSPs and 129 associated staff. It never occured to the original designers that maybe there may be more people in there than that. So of course, the building needed to be bigger and so up went the costs.

Secondly, and this rarely gets mentioned, after 9/11 Westminster introduced much tougher rules for the construction of new public buildings. They had to be constructed from much tougher bomb-proof materials than had been previously been the case. And of course these things don’t come cheap and had not been taken into account in the original price.

Obviously there is way more to the whole debacle than the two points above, but it is far too simplistic to use Holyrood as an excuse not to build trams, or anything else. Otherwise we would never ever build anything ever again, not a motorway, a bridge, a railway line or even a by-pass.

And of course, you never hear those who go on about the costs of the tram system say anything about the stupendous and ever-increasing costs of the new Forth crossing or the M74.

But it is impossible to get consistency from the anti-tram lobby.

Trolley buses in Leeds and Lyons?

Tonight the SNP were on Newsnight Scotland extolling the virtues of trolleybuses. Their example was Leeds where they are being installed in lieu of trams, which the government refused to back.

He forgot to mention that Leeds is still also actively pursuing trams (check out the the West Yorkshire passenger travel website).

Another city that is often used as an example of trolley buses is Lyons, which is also installing them. But Lyons also has one of the newest tram systems in France, which is currently being extended (after public campaigning). In the city centre, old trolley bus lines were replaced with trams (and public transport use went up straight after). Trolley buses are being put in on routes unsuitable for trams.

Why is this all happening if trolley buses are so great? It is because they are not an alternative to trams – they need to be in addition to trams.

PS – many people think the SNP may yet back down on trams (but not EARL – they are 100% correct to oppose that nonsense). Check out the BBC’s Brian Taylor’s blogsite. Let’s hope he is right.

SNP alternatives II

This was contributed by a reader in response to the SNP’s alternative to trams:

“It isn’t the number of buses, routes nor their frequency that is the main problem in improving bus services in Edinburgh (and therefore attracting more passengers). None of these tackles the major remaining barriers to increasing passenger numbers, namely the ever-lengthening journey times. In fact, more services and increased frequencies actively conspire against making journey times faster – witness the oft-quoted number 22: its very success now means that travelling on the 22 takes longer, and is more crowded than ever. That route has reached maximum capacity. Putting even more buses on (of whatever service) will only make it worse.

To make bus travel better, much more attention must be paid to expanding and viciously enforcing parking restrictions, bus lanes and giving absolute priority to buses at junctions and traffic lights. On every route, each of the weak points must be addressed, for example in the case of the number 22 route, we need absolute bus priority at Elm Row and Picardy Place roundabouts, the Waterloo Place junction with Princes St as well as at the West End of Princes Street.

Across the city, instead of having bus lanes ending before a junction, there need to be separate bus traffic lights, for example. The SNP, in proposing merely more and somehow “better” buses, seriously fail to understand the problems faced by a bus network in an ever-more congested city centre and associated transport planning solutions. Around the world, cities face similar, often worse, problems than Edinburgh. We need to look there to learn from success and failure, rather than devising populist and ill-informed policies that any transport planner will tell you will deliver nothing like the results of a tram system.

If the SNP are serious in their commitment to expanding public transport use, and reduce car use, in Edinburgh based solely on buses, they must devise serious and drastic planning measures across the city and re-shape the balance between car and bus, together with the design of the street infrastructure. None of this is cheap, straightforward or even popular. And even then, the best they can hope for is a few percentage point increase in numbers and little in the way of serious non-bus traffic reduction, which has to be the aim of transport policy in a city with a fragile economy.

And one of the key lessons is that on heavily-used existing public transport corridors (such as Leith Walk/Princes St) there comes a point where the route reaches absolute saturation and no more can be done by buses alone. The very success of that corridor poses its greatest threat as over crowding gets worse and journey times get longer. This is precisely why cities across the world are putting tram routes in these corridors. What is being proposed in Edinburgh, that of putting a tram on a successful bus route, is exactly what has proven most successful (both in terms of attracting new passengers and raising revenue) elsewhere.”

This seems to correlate with the facts and statistics in the posts “French tram lessons” and “trams won’t cut car use“.

SNP alternatives?

Given that it is only the SNP who want to scrap the trams, it is worth scrutinising their alternatives.

So, what do they have planned? You can read their plans on Davie Hutchison’s cool site North to Leith, but in essence this is it:

Davie’s post says: “When we form the Scottish Executive after the 2007 election we will create a £4m per annum Capital Bus Route Development fund. The fund would allow bus operators in the Edinburgh City-Region to bid for funds to secure the future of the bus service, enhance the frequency of current services and to develop new routes”.

Kenny MacAskill said that the trams would potentially threaten the future of Edinburgh’s award winning bus service” despite the fact that all the evidence from other tram systems shows that bus use goes up as well when trams are introduced (see French tram lessons). Funny how in 2003 Kenny thought the opposite and wanted trams protected from competition from buses!

Kenny also said that “it (the £4m per annum) delivers much more for far less. In terms of bangs for bucks its must be buses not trams” despite the fact that according to PTEG, “significant” investment in buses alone only produces a 5% increase in public transport journeys, compared to 20% increases with trams.

Steve Cardownie, SNP council leader, said: £4m per annum for the development of buses routes in Edinburgh would allow for two existing routes, every year, to be increased in frequency to 5 minute intervals. That’s two routes a year becoming as frequent as the 22″

So, he wants to add two more routes every year with the same frequency as the 22. Will he be building more roads through the city for them to go on? Some bus journeys already take three times as long as making the same trip by car. If you add to that a vast increase in the number of buses on the streets, coupled with the predicted 25% increase in car traffic within ten years, that is a recipe for even more gridlock.

More buses on key arterial routes leads to more congestion.

More congestion leads to longer journey times.

Longer journey times mean less people catching the bus instead of driving.

“Bangs for bucks?” – no, the opposite. A shot in the foot.

Of course, there is a lot that can be done to continually-improve the bus service, and new routes are planned after trams, when there will be the chance to re-deploy Lothian Buses’ existing vehicles to different parts of the city/the Lothians linking in to the tram network. But why do the SNP think that Edinburgh will somehow succeed ion massively increasing bus use beyond capacity when every other city has failed and is frantically looking at alternatives?

This was some of the reaction to this announcement on the Evening News:

“What a half baked idea. Substituting capital expenditure, which leaves the city with a lasting legacy, for current expenditure, which could be withdrawn, and gets whittled away in any case, is hardly sensible accounting. If you want to ditch the trams and use the money for something else, at the very least make it something that leaves a legacy”.

“I can often walk up Dundas Street, reaching the top before the bus can. I’ve had to get off a bus and finsh my journey on foot as it was quicker. There are far too many buses in my opinion”.

“Roads in the town centre couldn’t cope with that amount of busses. Princes street is normally chocked full of nothing but busses”.

“Did you lot know that London gets tens of billions of pounds spent on it’s transport every year and yet Edinburgh can’t even get a fraction of this. Good old SNP, looking after Edinburghs interests”.

“Here we go, more capital transport bashing from the Strathclyde National Party. FWIW more buses will increase congestion. Any fool knows that”.

“Well as an Edinburgh resident (who doesnt own a car) who spends more time on stationary buses in packed streets than moving ones, the notion that more buses will help solve our congestion problems and entice people out of their cars is one I would have thought most people wouldnt give a lot of time to (but apparently not!)”.

French tram lessons. Bus use goes up too

France has been investing in new tram systems for some time now, and the statistics from there make dismal reading for tram opponents.

On public transport passenger numbers, they shoot up after trams come along. This is directly pertinent to Edinburgh as French trams are usually built on routes that are already extremely well used by buses, as is proposed here. Look at this table from a Faber Mansell report looking at French trams:

Public transport use (bus and tram) after introduction of new tramway

Nantes 1985 – 1986 +26.7%
Grenoble 1986 – 1988 +21.3%
Rouen 1993 – 1995 +27.7%
Montpellier 1999 – 2001 +36.3%
Orléans 2000 – 2001 +17.8%
Average +26.0%

These figures INCLUDE bus journeys. In other words, once trams come in, bus journeys go up as well. The report gives some key lessons from French trams:

Lessons Learned from Tramways in France

  • Implement in corridors with strong existing bus ridership. LIKE WHAT IS PLANNED IN EDINBURGH
  • Restructure buses to support, not compete with, tramways. LIKE WHAT IS PLANNED IN EDINBURGH
  • Construct in-street to regenerate streetscape, advertise tramway, and displace cars. LIKE WHAT IS PLANNED IN EDINBURGH

Trams hold up the “traffic”

First of all, trams will be part of the traffic.

Secondly, with segregation of trams and properly-managed traffic light sequences etc where trams and other vehicles mix, then traffic flows, both of trams and other vehicles should not be disrupted.

And in any case, it only stands to reason that vehicles carrying around 200 people (i.e. a tram) should have priority over vehicles carrying 1, 2, 3 or even 4 people (i.e. a car).

TRAFFIC is made up of buses, cars, taxis, lorries, cyclists and soon trams (with any luck).

There is an assumption that traffic equals cars and that cars have priority – you see this in discussions about bus lanes, which somehow cause congestion, despite the fact that they carry way more people than the non-bus lanes.

The fact is that transport policy is about the flow of people through the streets, not cars. It is all about efficient use of space.

I found this quote on a site about public transport myths in Melbourne, Aus:

“The basic traffic problem is moving people, or goods, and not, as commonly and erroneously supposed, moving vehicles…. [A] traffic count taken by the Town and Country Planning Board in 1947 showed that in the heaviest half-hour of the peak Swanston Street trams carried 5,472 southbound passengers over Princes Bridge on one track, while in the same half-hour two lanes of motor cars and taxis carried 727 people, including the drivers…. It is therefore apparent that public transport is by far the most economical user of street space when considered in relation to the number of passengers for which it caters.
—Major-General Robert Risson, Journal of the Institute of Transport (Australian section), August 1955″

It is 50 years old that quote, but it is as true now as it was then.

Trams won’t cut car use

The business case for the tram project predicts that new public transport trips will be 17% of total passenger trips, rising to 20% by 2031. Most of these extra trips will come from existing car journeys.

This is backed up by evidence from the other new tram systems in the UK. Research from these shows that:

  • 1 in 5 (i.e. 20%) peak-hour travellers on trams in the UK formerly commuted by car.
  • At weekends as many as half of UK tram users previously used a car to make the same journey.

Trams in the UK already account for 13 million fewer car journeys every year.  See also “French tram lessons” for more statistics.

People will use trams where they don’t use buses.

Trams attract far more motorists than major improvements to bus services. The latter may generate significant increases in patronage but typically attract only round 5% or less of their total ridership from former car users.

So, investment in trams means around 20% of total journeys are diverted from car use. Significant investment in buses only means 5% of their total journeys are diverted from car journeys.  S

The information above comes from the Passenger Transport Executive Group which represents the six Passenger Transport Executives of Greater Manchester, Merseyside, South Yorkshire,Tyne & Wear, West Midlands and West Yorkshire. Strathclyde Partnership for Transport and Transport for London are Associate Members.

Trams will cut car use.

Who are the tram opponents?

It is true to say that many people do not want trams, and they are very vocal.


This post on the Evening News website under a story about the second Forth road bridge costing in excess of £1 billion sums up a lot (but not all) of their thinking:

“If a report had come out stating that the proposed trams for Edinburgh were going to cost more than £1 billion, by now there would have been dozens of postings expressing screeching outrage. But so far not a peep. If any proof were needed that the anti-tram brigade are all car drivers who grudge any money being spent on public transport, but don’t mind how many millions are wasted on environmentally damaging roads and bridges, this is it”.

But there is more to it than that.

The anti-tram lobby can be split into two:

  1. those that have genuine arguments against them, and propose sensible alternatives, such as people who propose trolley buses
  2. those that are just against them for whatever reason and seize on any argument against them (hence all the myths that keep being printed as seen on this site)

There is also another category, that of people who have concerns about some aspects of the proposals, but accept that the greater good outweighs these. For example, Spokes, the cycle campaign, were/are deeply concerned about the loss of cycle facilities on the Roesburn corridor. They are still not that convinced about the replacements. The same applies on Princes Street. However, they are right behind the trams as they see the greater good of improved public transport.

Category 2 (above) are in the majority amongst tram opponents, and usually flatly contradict each other making it very hard to debate with them. For example, some people say that the trams should use the old railway lines (which is a viable option in many places, hence the routes chosen), but then others go mental at the thought of all the badgers that would die.

Some say that trolley buses are a better alternative because they too use electricity, others scream about the fact that trams won’t reduce pollution because, err, they still use electricity.

Some people are convinced that the trams will require continual public subsidy (despite all the predictions to the contrary) and then campaign vigorously for changes to the route that would decrease passenger numbers and so ensure continual public subsidy (such as those who want it to direct to the Western General – this is a laudable aim, and in an ideal world it would, but not it in a political environment that does not allow continued public subsidy).

Some claim to be concerned solely with the cost to the taxpayer, but say absolutely nothing about other grossly-over prices schemes, such as the M74 (each of the 5 miles will costs over £100 million – makes the tram seem a bargain).

And then there is the SNP who were once vocal in supporting trams, and then totally changed their minds. They rubbished things like the guided busways, and now they propose those as alternatives.

And many people even deny there is a congestion problem! In which case there is not even any point having a debate at all.

When the Eiffel Tower was built, the people of Paris were up in arms. There were demonstrations. Can you imagine what would happen now if the mayor of Paris proposed knocking it down? Neither can I!

Politicians have to take difficult and long term decisions based on serious evidence from those who know what they are talking about. Strategic long term transport planning is a professional occupation. The detail of our transport plans should not be dictated by a small vocal minority.

Not everyone can have their own way. Personally, I would have chosen slightly different routes for the tram. But at the end of the day, because my changes were not taken on board, I am not going to throw my toys out of the pram and object to the whole scheme.

Trolley buses carry more people

This is a fantastic site about the relative merits/demerits of trolley buses, it also has some great mockups of pictures of trolley buses in Edinburgh: although none of them going around roundabouts or stuck across a set of traffic lights. (The picture in the link is of a trolleybus at Elm Row, though the artist’s impression does not show there being six other buses there at the same time, which is normally the case).

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against trolley buses, and if trams are ever ruled out I would start campaigning to have trolley buses instead as the next best thing. In fact, once we get trams, we could then start campaigning to have trolley buses put in around the rest of the city.

The main argument against trolley buses is that to get near the same benefits as a tram, you would need to segregate them from the rest of the traffic on separate routes, especially if you want one trolley bus to carry as many people as a tram. That would involve almost as much work as installing a tram line. Those who think that trolley buses are a quick, simple alternative to trams really need to look into the matter a bit more closely.

The way to think about it is to think of a bendy bus. That was trialled in Edinburgh and quickly withdrawn. To make it work would need drastic changes to the infrastructure and layout along the whole route, such as junctions, traffic lights, roundabouts etc. That can be done, by the way, with similar (but not quite as much) disruption as trams, but for a little extra money, you may as well have trams.

Click on this link and see a picture of a 200 person trolley bus in Geneva and imagine it going round the roundabouts at the top of Leith Walk. (By the way, Geneva is busy replacing its buses with trams – see the link to the right about trams in Switzerland).

Another rant on the Evening News website!

Someone called Hmm… posted this on the Evening News site about this site:

“… In Edinburgh could be called a propagandist – or did I just not find the part that details the disadvantages of trams? Without that, the website cannot in truth be “the truth”!”

He/she seems to have missed the point entirely! Sure there are disadvantages to trams (you can’t change the route, for example), but everywhere we read the most ridiculous myths about them, and this site answers them as best it can. That comment also demonstrates what we see so often in tram opponents – dismissing everything that does not concur with what they already believe.

And maybe Mr Hmm… could list some of the advantages of trams?

There do exist reasoned arguments against trams and at the end of the day it is a political/strategic decision to decide whether those disadvantages outweigh the many benefits, but so often, all we get from tram opponents such as Hmm… is hysteria and ill-informed nonsense (one notable site said that people pushing for trams would be responsible for every death on the A9).

Please feel free to email in any REASONED arguments against the trams: welovetrams @ (you will need to cut and paste).