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“.

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 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.