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!)”.

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).

Electricity makes trolley buses more efficient

This was posted on the Evening News website:

“A trolleybus is different from a normal bus: it runs on electricity from overhead wires (all or most of the time). This makes it (a) more efficient (around twice as efficient as a diesel bus) and (b) clean: no harmful emissions are released in our streets”.

This is very true. Trolley buses are a good solution in many situations.

BUT running on electricity does not exempt them from getting stuck in traffic and all the other myriad disadvantages of driving through a congested city centre. Because of this, they cannot realistically be timetabled as efficiently as a tramway with traffic light sequences etc married to their progress to ensure that they are not snared in traffic.

They are still prone to the “you wait ages, and then 3 come at once” problem because they too would pile up behind each other at traffic lights etc. And in fact it would be even worse due to the fact that because they are connected to wires, it is harder (though not impossible) for them to overtake each other. The more often this has to happen, the more you lose any benefits due to their being trolley buses, and there is time loss for connecting and reconnecting to the overhead wires every time. Having said that, it need not be the case that this be too dramatic apparently

(regarding that you tube clip – the trolley bus there in Beijing appears to be a normal bus, it would still get stuck in traffic. So my point still stands: trolley buses only offer a solution in Edinburgh where they are physically segregated. In which case you may as well have trams)

Guided busway in Cambridge?

It is often repeated that “other places” are spending money on guided busways instead of trams. Cambridge is often cited.

A quick look at their system reveals that this is true. BUT the guided parts of the routes are all out of town. As soon as they hit the city, they become normal buses again.

Reason? You cannot physically put guided bus ways in city centres. How does other traffic cross the guided bit? How do they overtake each other? What happens when one breaks down?

Anyone who seriously suggests guided bus ways through a city centre is even possible, much less desirable, does not understand what a guided bus way actually is. They just think it sounds good.


Wonder what happened to the Cambridgeshire badgers?

They may work on selected routes with few stops and few services, but they are just not an option in the city centre (as Kenny MacAskill told us in 2000).

Guided bus ways dismissed as rubbish – by SNP

Some at the top of the SNP, and other opponents of trams, claim that guided bus ways are the perfect alternative to trams.

Strange, that is not what Kenny MacAskill said about guided bus ways in 2002:

He said at the time: “Edinburgh seems to be the only place daft enough to go down this route. What we are being asked to do is spend a lot of money for a fancy bus that runs on an ugly bit of concrete. Let’s bin it and concentrate on more realistic solutions such as tramways and investment in rail links.” (from the Scotsman, 20 June 07).

Back then, he was opposing the guided busway, or CERT route out to the airport. But guess what the SNP are proposing now? Yep – guided bus ways instead of trams.