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!)”.

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.

Salmond shows his true colours

The SNP commissioned Audit Scotland to review the tram project to check whether costs were “out of control” as the finance minister had previously claimed (based on no evidence other than wishful thinking).

From the BBC:

SNP Transport Minister Mr Stevenson insisted it was normal to review projects to establish whether they would provide value for money.


“Who wouldn’t want to make sure they were still getting the benefits they expected at the price they had been promised?” he said. “It is completely natural for the new Scottish government to want to look at what we’ve inherited and check whether it is fit for purpose.

“It is even more normal, natural and necessary to review projects that you have inherited not from the parliament but from the previous administration.”

That sounds eminently sensible, and it is hard to disagree, even if you support the trams.

The previous week in parliament, the SNP backed an opposition motion calling for the Executive not to “arbitrarily” scrap the trams. They supported this on the basis that they would obviously do nothing “arbitrarily” (except scrapping tolls on the Forth road bridge maybe…). Any decision would be based on proper scrutiny. We need consensus on things nowadays, don’t we?

So, the SNP commissioned the report from Audit Scotland.  Back came the report, giving the project a clean bill of health. The initial stage of the project, phase 1, was being built to budget.

You would expect, therefore, that the SNP would go ahead with it, wouldn’t you?  If costs were the only reason to scrap it, then that reason no longer existed.

But no.

Despite all of this, it seems that they are still going to scrap the trams (they can do what they like with the airport rail link).

So maybe (and it pains me to say it), the Labour party (Des McNulty) are right when they say:

“The selection of these two projects is bluntly, blatantly, party political.

“Ministers presumably hope that Audit Scotland can provide some evidence or finding which would help justify the decisions the SNP desperately want to make.

“But the cloak of Audit Scotland involvement cannot mask the fact that the SNP for now is defying not just the previous decisions of parliament but also the majority view of members of the current parliament.”

Whether you agree with trams or not, you have to agree that there are no financial reasons to abandon the trams (and the money already spent).

The SNP have run out of excuses. It must be getting harder and harder for Kenny MacAskill to get his way. Salmond must stand up for proper government in Scotland and not resort to petty politics to score points (and this applies to everyone else too, mind).

Alex Salmond and the SNP said they were going to scrap trams because the costs were “out of control”. Audit Scotland says they aren’t. So if Salmond scraps them now, it must be for another reason. 

SNP claim costs “out of control”. Proved wrong.

Stewart Stevenson said on 30th May: The costs of the trams project are “running out of control”.

Tavish Scott replied: “I do hope the government can absolutely demonstrate what advice Mr Stevenson got to make that remark in public.”

They couldn’t. They just had Kenny MacAskill’s word for it.

Audit Scotland report, 20th June: “The current anticipated final cost of Phase 1 in its entirety is £593.8 million and estimated project costs have been subjected to robust testing.” The project benefits from “clearly defined project management and organisation”, “sound financial management and reporting” and has “procedures in place to actively manage risks associated with the project”.

On what basis did Stewart Stevenson make that statement on 30 May? He is now the Finance Minister. Government Ministers cannot go around making wild accusations like that. The SNP is no longer in opposition.

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.

Does Alex Salmond know how things work?

This must surely be the daftest thing anyone in high office, running a country, has ever said:

From the Scotsman, “But First Minister Alex Salmond questioned why so much money had been spent so far on the (tram) scheme without a single track being laid“.

First of all some facts:

As at June 2007, £79m has been spent to date on the trams.

This is the figure that seems to so astonish Mr Salmond.

BUT does he expect the tramlines to be built BEFORE any surveying work was carried out, BEFORE a business case had been prepared, BEFORE the route had been devised, BEFORE any environmental impact assessment had been done and BEFORE parliamentary approval had been given?

As an example, it cost £17m putting the two tram bills through parliament (all these figures, by the way, are from Audit Scotland).

Alex Salmond therefore must fall into one of the following categories:

1. He genuinely does not know how much transport projects cost.

2. He genuinely believes that you build a tram first, and then think about the costs/routes etc afterwards.

3. He is just being populist and jumping on an anti tram bandwagen.

Surely it can’t be either 1. or 2. can it? The man now runs the country!

The SNP welcome trams

Here is what Kenny MacAskill said about the trams in March 2003:

Scottish National Party transport spokesman Kenny MacAskill welcomed funding for trams. However, he said it was “vital” that regulations were introduced to protect a new tram network from predatory competition*”.

Check the original on the BBC.

But then Kenny MacAskill also described the airport rail link as a “win win situation” when he supported that as well!

*(How ironic that the only “predatory competition” now comes from Kenny himself, and that Brian Souter, who bankrolled the SNP, has just won the contract to run Manchester’s trams).