Saturday, 22 February 2014

Edinburgh Tram v Bus ?

On a recent visit to Edinburgh I couldn't help notice that everything is in place to welcome trams to the city. The rails and other infrastructure are all in place and we all know that to reach this stage the population of Edinburgh have had to put up with massive disruption whilst services have been diverted and roads rebuilt to accommodate the trams.
During the Edinburgh tram saga there was controversy and disagreement about funding such an expensive scheme, the result being that the route has been cut short of the original target of serving the Leith area of the city.  In other words the scheme was sold to the residents and tax payers based on the grand idea of trams travelling east west through the city and now due to lack of funding it will now only travel 8.6 miles west to the airport.

 The 34 travels east to Leith and the Ocean Terminal. It will still need to do so when the trams arrive as the trams will terminate in the city centre rather than continuing east to Leith. The tram tracks can be seen on the right of the picture veering off to the terminus.

I travelled west out of the city by bus to the Gayle Centre and noticed with great interest that the new tram route will use a series of flyovers and dedicated tram tracks that are completely separate from the existing road system. This should ensure that the trams are not held up by the congestion that our bus was delayed by and will give passengers a much quicker and more reliable journey for those lucky enough to live within the catchment area of the new service.

It would have been massively more cost effective 
 to have built a busway for Edinburgh. Buses could 
have been released from congested roads to 
travel on dedicated tracks just as the trams will do.

However, as our bus edged slowly forward, surrounded by commuter traffic, it also got me thinking how much more cost effective it would have been to have built a dedicated busway instead of a tram track. Wherever busways have been built in the UK they have been instantly successful, far exceeding the passenger forecasts and in some cases requiring extra vehicles to be acquired in order to boost the original planned services.
We are in the midst of an exciting transformation in the world of bus travel, whereby full size electrically powered vehicles have just entered service in London.  A fleet of battery powered buses operate In Milton Keynes that are charged whilst dwelling at bus stops. Hydrogen powered vehicles are in use in central London and hybrid powered buses are a common sight on the streets of numerous cities.

 So far trams have been tested on Edinburgh's city streets mostly at night but it is expected to commence day time testing during February. Many forecast gridlock when the long trams are mixed with buses.
One of the previous advantages of the tram was that it was emission free at the point of service but that considerable advantage has all but disappeared as buses can now offer the same as a tram.

 Van Hool showed their ExQuiCity at Kortrijk in 
October 2013. How much would Edinburgh have 
saved if they had gone for vehicles like this?
No digging up of city streets, the same benefits
for a fraction of the price.
 As we all know, the tram is limited to where the tracks are, but the bus can use dedicated busways and then take to the roads at either end of the route. Bus routes can easily be changed at little or no cost to suit changes in demand whereas tram routes are fixed and in this era of restricted finances those promoting the extensions of the tram route have a tough job to convince tax payers to extend tram routes.
Plans to extend tram routes do exist in Birmingham and Manchester where trams have become established, but again the massive financial burden cannot be ignored. We need to look at what advantage the tram now offers compared to the latest bus technology which is fast improving and ever changing. Why were trams ever allowed back on UK streets? A major reason was that trams could minimise pollution which as we now know is no longer an advantage to the tram.

 Edinburgh trams will mix with buses so the queues at traffic
 lights will be longer - good use of road space?

Trams were perceived as being more reliable as they travelled on dedicated tracks and were supposedly not held up in as much traffic congestion. Well, this doesn't apply to all tram systems and those travelling on the Manchester trams for instance can be held up in areas where the tram shares road space with other vehicles.

 Electric buses that are charged overnight can spend a full day
 in service  thus eliminating the main advantage that trams had
over the bus. Here is a Chinese built BYD in service in London

Going back to the new Edinburgh system that is about to come into service. If a dedicated busway had been approved by the city it would have been in service some years ago at a fraction of the cost. A busway would have been 'the icing on the cake' for a city that already has a well run, smart efficient transport system. Instead the city will be burdened by a tramway that serves a limited corridor and is never likely to be extended or modified due to the massive costs required. When the trams arrive rationalisation will need to take place in bus services and it is to be hoped that bus passengers in the west of the city will not find themselves with an inferior service to what they have now. If tram fares are more expensive those on a limited budget will need to make the decision as to whether they can afford to use the new service or stick to the bus.
Edinburgh residents are very upset that traffic has been diverted to residential areas to make room for the trams and are complaining that air pollution levels have increased as a result.
Whenever trams arrive in a city bus services are regarded somewhat as second class. A good example is in Birmingham where buses have been diverted away from the city centre pending the arrival of some on-street running of trams. Bus passengers are now expected to walk a considerable distance to the heart of the city which is largely traffic free. The council will argue that it is all part of a grand scheme to pedestrianise the city centre but in effect it is the council failing to realise that the bus plays a massive part in the success of the city and just because a few trams will impressively be seen on the streets again is no excuse to penalise bus passengers.

 Trams are always given generous road space, much of it 
completely separated from other traffic. Here we see one 
of the West Midlands trams on separate track and 
on the right, buses trapped in the congestion with cars.
If the money that is being spent on bringing the Birmingham trams from their dedicated ex-railway routes under the city onto the streets for a short distance could have been invested in dedicated bus lanes to improve bus reliability the city would have actually achieved something really positive.
Towns and cities that pay lip service to having bus lanes and no car lanes and then not enforcing them are guilty of setting a bad example. Our local city council are very guilty in this respect. They have 'bus only' lanes right in the heart of the city which are never enforced. Every extra vehicle that sneaks through adds congestion  to where buses set down and pick up. I have seen complete gridlock being caused by one extra vehicle that shouldn't have been there in the first place and when the council are asked what they are going to do about it they say the police should do the enforcement and when you are ask the laid back police they say it's not a high priority.
Back to trams versus buses, it is now reasonable for the UK to declare that due to progress in zero emission buses no further new tram systems will be allowed and that a massive focus on bus priority measures will be undertaken.
The strange concession given to taxis whereby they are allowed to benefit from the use of bus lanes should also be withdrawn, leaving much more free road space for the vehicle that does all the hard work - THE BUS

It will be no surprise to hear that there is much criticism about the Edinburgh Tram project, some of which can be read here

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