Saturday, 25 June 2011

The compelling case for trams

On Monday I will address what has gone wrong with the tram project identifying three of the key failures.  But today, the case for trams.

I was persuaded that a tram system was best for the future of Edinburgh around four years ago as I contemplated the inefficiency of buses in Princes Street as they transported large numbers of people.  It is still not unusual to see upwards of half a dozen buses queued at a stop waiting for a few intending passengers to get on the first bus.  The public in the following buses (and following cyclists and other traffic) just wait.  The Edinburgh buses do a good job in covering the city (made more efficient by the bus app for android and iphone!). But they are inefficient for conveying large numbers of people. So here are key factors which make a compelling case for trams.

  1. Efficiency: Trams are more efficient in transporting large numbers of passengers on high density routes.
  2. Growth:  Trams are needed to move a growing population.  The population of Edinburgh grew by 4000 to 5000 per year between 2006 and 2009.  The figure for 2010 was up around 8,460 (+1.8%) according to official estimates taking the current population up to 486,000.  But the number of visitors are also on an upward trend with the success of Edinburgh airport numbers particularly striking with a year on year rise of 14% to May 2011 (albeit slightly skewed by ash clouds and snow the previous year).  We will be guilty of failing to plan for the future if we seek to respond to growth - well, by doing nothing.
  3. Congestion: Trams are needed to counter congestion.  Transport delays affect the lives and livelihoods of people and businesses.  Efficient transport also gives people to have greater choices - to work in or travel to different locations.  
  4. Regeneration:  Trams are a stimulus for regeneration - and we certainly need that in significant areas of the city.  It is also notable that there has been very strong support for trams from many of Edinburgh's large institutions and trade bodies.
  5. Air quality:  Trams are more environmentally friendly.  Although there will be little difference in total emissions, harmful emissions will be removed from heavily populated areas (back to the power station which generates the electricity).  That will bring a significant benefit for air quality and consequently the health of residents.  It will also contribute to meeting the more stringent air quality standards which Edinburgh is required by law to meet.
On Monday I will address what has gone wrong - and later posts will examine the options.  None of them are good options - but some are much better (or worse) than others.


Anonymous said...

How many buses will the trams actually remove? It's all very well pointing to No.22s being taken off the street but the liklihood is that that queue of buses on Princes Street includes buses on routes that go nowhere near the tram line otherwise. And seeing as the trams bypass Corstorphine, they can't exactly remove huge amounts of buses from the city centre anyway! So some hard facts rather than empty statements about "a tram is greener a bus" are required.

Or perhaps the plan is to pedestrianise Princes Street and enforce interchanges on all residents rather than those unfortunate enough to see their bus service sacrificed to justify the trams.

The vast majority of congestion in Edinburgh is caused by the Council messing around with traffic management.

The Trams Report admits that certain areas will see permanently higher emissions levels because of traffic being routed along back streets. Using the trams money to buy a fleet of electric buses would probably have made a far greater difference to air quality across the whole city.

The Council seems to have it's head in the sand when it comes to the financial crisis and property development - you've barely raised raised a quarter of the developer contributions you planned. What Waterfront are the trams supposed to be serving?

As for trams serving as a stimulus - what about the damage caused to businesses across the city? (no intention of compensating them for the next three years of distruption either).

You say you were persuaded around 4 years ago - that wouldn't happen to be when Labour, Lib Dems and Conservative MSPs saw the opportunity to get one over the SNP?

Now can we please stop throwing good money after bad. We will never get a network of lines - just imagine trying to put a line down South Bridge and anyone can see it's a non-starter. God forbid how many billions that would cost.

dcwarden said...

I actually think even talk of replacing the 22 bus is disingenuous - line 1a (even if we were still talking about all of it), given its unique features such as the distance between stops, can only fairly be compared to a specialist service like the 100 Airport shuttle, which could hardly be described as 'inefficient'. The original business case (whatever you made of it at the time) was largely made on the basis that trams would attract 'new users' (ie former car drivers) and there was no suggestion to my knowledge that the number of buses on the roads would significantly drop at all.

I could say a great deal more on the subject but one thing which does strike me about this discussion is that it seems to be taking place in a strange vacuum where the economic realities of the day don't apply. Does the need to make 'tough spending choices' apply to every area of public life except for this one tramline? However ridiculous it may have been, the previous argument, namely 'if we don't spend the money here it'll get spent somewhere else' (which interestingly the current UK Government seems determined to eradicate) no longer applies. This money will have to come out of other budgets, and those still demanding trams should have to identify them and present them to the public IMHO.

Nonetheless your openness is appreciated and I look forward to reading your upcoming posts!

Cameron Rose said...


I'm not sure you can accuse me of saying 'a tram is greener than a bus'. It is unlikely emissions will be significantly less - it is just that they will be down the line at the power station. The overall improvement in that respect will be marginal. Far more significant is that the air quality in densly populated areas will be rather better. Efficiency is the goal because that will have benefits for traders, passengers and vehicle users alike.

As to the number of buses on Princes Street there are two responses. First, the population growth. The trams project is conceived as a means of preventing growing congestion as a result of a growing resident and tourist population. The effect will be much more significant in a few years time. Second, it won't solve the buses in Princes Street but will be a lot better than the 'do nothing' option. Perhaps you are right that the number of buses on Princes Street will not fall. I take a different view.

The Waterfront part of this project was always misconceived. It was more political than practical.

I remain persuaded about the economic benefits of a tram service.

And the decision by me 3/4 years ago was nothing to do with the SNP.

Thanks for engaging.

Cameron Rose said...

Comments noted.

Alan D Rudland said...

I agree that there will be a fall in the number of buses along the route of the tram (not just the 22!), however this will come at a cost to the travelling public in consequence of the 'integrated' transport solution.

Buses which would have otherwise run in tandem with the tram will be removed fom those sections where their routes co-incide. e.g. a number 7 bus coming down the bridges, will stop at Picardy Place, the passengers will then transfer to a tram to the Foot of the Walk, where they will transfer to another bus (which may well be a number 7) to complete the remainder of their journey.

This enforced integration will result in fewer buses on Leith Walk (for example), but require passengers to make a bus-tram-bus journey where previously a single bus journey would have sufficed.

Pity the elderly, infirm, mothers with buggies and the general populace who have to make those transitions in the depths of the Scottish winter...

As to the reduction in emissions 'at the point of delivery of the service', this is in part offset by the consequential increase in emissions from vehicles displaced by the trams, and a factor often overlooked by proponenets of the green credentials of the tram.

Tychy said...

The problem with this rationale for the trams is that it cannot ride very far on the argument that buses "are inefficient for conveying large numbers of people." Lothian buses has previously won awards for doing just this. Buses not only have obvious and numerous advantages over trams (which have been obsolete since the 1930s), but mass bus gridlock only occurs on Princes Street, and the presence of trams will inevitably make this a lot worse.

Trams will obviously not "counter congestion," but boost it. They will obviously not "regenerate" the city, unless you think that dragging it back to the 1930s is progress. As for declining "air quality" - and a post-industrial city can hardly flatter itself on this front - our forlorn tram is currently scheduled to complete a route which most people would simply walk, rather than cover by car or bus.

Infrastructure fail. Epic infrastructure fail.

Cameron Rose said...

Alan D Rudland

I fully accept that the transfer from bus to trams to bus is a negative. But that has to be set against the positives of the tram. And it is relevant that Leith Walk and its immediate hinterland is very densely populated - as is reflected in the very significant parking pressure in the surrounding streets.

As to displacement of vehicles - I expect trams to include a shift from cars to trams which will reduce the growth in car traffic. Certainly tram displacement will lead to different patterns of traffic. Though I also suspect it will lead to other opportunities - such as pedestrianisation of certain spots which has the potential to add to the efficiency of life.

Cameron Rose said...

I see the inefficiency every day. Awards don't lessen that. And see Alan Rudland's comments about a reduction of buses in on congested routes.

As to trams 'boosting congestion', as I understand it and from the systems I have seen, the evidence is otherwise. Likewise on regeneration. Regeneration does not necessarily mean heavy industry (of the 30s?) - but just what people (and businesses) want to do.
'Forlorn' the tram may currently be but I don't recall meeting many people who walk from the airport to Haymarket - or St Andrew Square

Tychy said...

Apologies: I was sharing in the "canard" that the tram would "stop well short of the airport." Indeed, I was assuming that most of its passengers would only use it for short journeys, rather than as a replacement for the (excellent) airport bus service.

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