Light Rail Transit Association - UK Development Group 

 FACT SHEET No 107

OCTOBER 2000 

A CAR IS FOR LEISURE, PUBLIC TRANSPORT FOR SHOPPING OR COMMUTING, OR IS IT?

INTRODUCTION

The Commission for Integrated Transport (CfIT) has given advice to DETR on benchmarking European best practice in transport, and included a case study of how Germany manages to restrict car use despite high car ownership (1). This may seem somewhat strange to a British reader but a closer look at a typical urban journey in Britain, and a reason for it being typical, could be explained by a lack of suitable choice for a majority of the population.

It is interesting to record (2) that in München (Munich) bus routes are generally only feeders to the nearest station (or in some cases tram stop) because in the past they have proved to be much less popular than rail services. Someone who cannot reach a station on foot would rather use a private car to a PARK & RIDE station or drive directly into the city than catch a bus.

FREE BUS PASSES PROVE TO BE NO MATCH FOR THE CAR

During the recent GREEN TRANSPORT WEEK a bus company in Cardiff attempted to raise awareness of its services by being generous to the local councillors of that city. All 75 members of the City Council received free 3-month bus passes. Some interpreted it as a "poke" at their own advancing years whilst some thought it important to support the "rights" of motorists against the "threats" of public transport. On principle, most decided not to use the bus passes (3).

LIGHT RAIL NEEDS BUS SUPPORT

Light rail with bus support is more likely to be successful in tackling urban transport problems than just bus-based solutions (4). Cities with trams and buses had a much higher public transport modal split and had found it much easier to pedestrianise shopping areas. Follow-up studies are to take place during Autumn (2000) in Croydon for TfL (Transport for London) and DETR into how people perceived TRAMLINK and whether those who said they would use it were actually doing so (5).

COMMERCIAL PRESSURES UNDERMINING PUBLIC TRANSPORT

Unfortunately, commercial pressures tend to introduce what could be regarded as an unhelpful attitude, especially when a bus or tram is seen as a competitive mode to the car. One company producing motor cars would most likely not have had the environment in mind when it suggested planning unnecessary car journeys and finding any excuse to do so (6). This type of "high pressure" salesmanship could well be responsible for those advocating a stronger commitment to public transport to take on an anti-car attitude (7).

A Commons report from MP's on a cross-party Transport & Environment Committee investigating public attitudes accepted that realistically, people only switch to public transport if it is reliable, efficient, clean and with affordable fares.

BUS DECLINE NOT CONFINED TO BRITAIN

Brisbane's commuters are shunning that cities buses which are now carrying 4m fewer passengers than 11 years ago. A spokesman noted that a large number of citizens now own and drive cars and that is the city's difficulty because Brisbane cannot exist unless it can double its public transport patronage in 7 or 8 years (8). Despite the fact that buses do not go where people want them to go, the Council is pouring money into large infrastructure bus projects. Changes proposed by the State Government "would render the busways project as a white elephant".

Dealing with rail infrastructure costings (9) between heavy metro and light rail, the Financial Times compared the 10 mile Jubilee Line extension at £3.5bn with Croydon's TRAMLINK at £8m/km and also made the point that trams were seen as more reliable than buses. The same FT report used Karlsruhe in Germany to comment on its successful integration of tram services onto the Regional railway lines, a move which had persuaded 40% of passengers to switch from car use.

LIGHT RAIL FOR LIVABLE CITIES

It would seem appropriate that Melbourne, a city that has recently privatised many of its transport services and in so doing encouraged change, should be hosting UITP's 5th Light Rail Conference during October 2000. Jeff Kenworthy of Murdock University (10), a speaker at the Conference, has made a point that those cities which develop a light rail backbone for their transport networks gain considerable advantages over those that attempt to rely entirely on buses. This is an exciting time for an Australia needing some dramatic changes because its cities can no longer cope with the exponential growth in unrestricted car use.

"BUILD OUT" IN USA

Some way will have to be found to change travelling habits in USA. Buses alone do not appear to be able to break the general attitude that public transport is for the disadvantaged, an attitude that will not attract motorists out of their cars (11). The question is not whether, but when, developers will turn inwards to already developed but abandoned properties in cities and inner suburbs. Isolated cul-de-sac subdivisions tend to attract residents who rely heavily on their cars, a situation that does not provide fertile conditions for introducing quality public transport.

LOS ANGELES HAS STARTED TO BUCK THE TREND

A number of cities in California have already proved that if the problems of planning a quality public transport system can be overcome, the results will be very rewarding. The car dominated city of Los Angeles followed this philosophy with a heavy "spend" on transport projects but although the funding was selectively spread between the various modes, an overspend on the metro tunnelling caused an overall suspension of work. Fortunately for the light rail Blue line to Long Beach, its comparatively low cost and extensive re-use of a former interurban line as well as an early start allowed it to escape this moratorium. The success of the Long Beach line probably spurred on the urge to resume work on the delayed projects and the Red line metro was eventually completed in a series of phased openings. For the record (12), during May 2000 the Red line carried over 65 000/day and the Blue line over 60 000/day.

CONCLUSION

Although the exercise to convince motorist commuters and shoppers to change their travelling habit is both complicated and expensive, Britain now has the proof that it can be done. This was recently reinforced by commuters and shoppers alike with a quality tram service through a pedestrianised George Street in Croydon.

REFERENCES

  1. CfIT advice to DETR - mentioned in Local Transport Today 31st August 2000.
  2. "München explores the Stadtbahn options" by Ralf Roman Rossberg in Railway Gazette International - October 2000 (P 669).
  3. Transport Retort (T2000) - Autumn 1999 (P 16).
  4. "The public saw rail-based systems as a real commitment to public transport. Bus services could be quickly withdrawn" - Local Transport Today - 31st August 2000 (P 3).
  5. Jon Willis, Project Development Manager (TfL) - Local Transport Today - 31st August 2000 (P 3).
  6. Inside Track (West Yorkshire T2000) - Autumn 2000 (P5).
  7. "Cities with trams must act against motorists" - Yorkshire Evening Post - 9th June 2000.
  8. "City buses are full of empty seats" - Chris Griffith in Courier Mail (Brisbane) - 26th July 2000.
  9. Cathy Newman in Financial Times - 15th June 2000.
  10. Professor Jeff Kenworthy has been working on the UITP Millennium Cities Data Base - A report by Hans Rat (Secretary General of UITP) and Peter Moore (Executive Director of UITP's Australia & New Zealand Region) - Railway Gazette International - October 2000 (P 653).
  11. "New Jersey, already the most densely populated State, could be on course to reach the outer limits of development as early as the 2030's" - Karen Masterson - Philadelphia Inquirer - 25th August 2000.
  12. Dick Finley in Wheel Clicks - (The Pacific Railroad Society) Vol.64, No 5. - August 2000.
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