Light Rail Transit Association - UK Development Group 

 FACT SHEET No 117

APRIL 2001 

THE ROLE OF LIGHT RAIL IN URBAN TRANSIT SYSTEMS:
WINNING BACK CITIES FROM THE AUTOMOBILE (1)

INTRODUCTION

LRTA Fact Sheet No 116. : BUSES - "STEPPING STONES" TOWARDS LIGHT RAIL made a point that when a bus is an integrated part of a transit network its contribution is far more significant than when operating as a solo service. Since that fact sheet was prepared the UITP in Melbourne was presented with a discussion paper explaining in far greater detail why this is so. Basically, the paper compared the bus-only City of Ottawa with the bus and light rail City of Calgary, spread over a period of five years. Also a brief explanation highlighted the vastly different lifestyle, resulting from varying transit parameters.

OPERATIONAL EFFICIENCIES

In recent years there has been a much greater public awareness of total efficiency in public transport systems. A higher LRV carrying capacity and certain other factors have contributed significantly to overall efficiency and it is not surprising to learn that each tram passenger can be credited with an improved energy efficient journey to the tune of 41%. A valid but important side effect improves this even more because former motorists attracted to public transport reduce the overall energy demand, by 22% per capita compared with bus-only cities.

ROAD MAINTENANCE COSTS - A KNOCK-ON EFFECT

A constant and challenging factor for those charged with providing safe and good quality roads is finding the necessary funding. Any travelling method that will lower motoring demand is not only a money saver but also a contributory factor towards reducing that constant call for additional road construction and the "green-field" appetite that accompanies it. It may come as a surprise to learn that extra road building and maintenance expenditure in bus-only cities is greater by a factor of 1.67.

URBAN SPRAWL AND LAND DEVELOPMENT DEMANDS

A bus-only system is often perceived as a lower level of public commitment to LRT and certainly does not guarantee that level of permanence needed to justify acceptance of reliability by regular commuters. Bus operators themselves, changing travel patterns on a regular basis with adjustments to new passenger demands followed by modifications to suit operational convenience, often cause a feeling of insecurity to passengers.

A light rail service on the other hand, certainly regarded by passengers as a superior transit mode to busways, can have a major effect on land use developments. Its permanence alone can cause passenger volumes to increase reducing the need to use a car and helping to reduce sprawl. Professionally accepted ridership forecasting processes typically do not take the attraction of rail into account (MILLS 1989) thus the full potential of rail benefit is not explicitly added. Busway improvements to date appear not to have had any discernable impacts on land use.

PASSENGER LOADING POINTS

Decision makers in the field of real estate have a tendency to perceive LRT stations as significantly more desirable than busway stations when commercial development is planned. The reasons usually given for this are better understandability of LRT routes and services, more pleasant environment around stations and far more service reliability. One study in particular shows that a rail-to-rail or bus-to-rail transfer is significantly less onerous than a bus-to-bus transfer. This concept is due to the greater comfort of rail stations and the generally higher reliability of rail compared to an interconnecting bus (ALGERS ET AL 1975). Known factors which influence peoples' perception and therefore their propensity to use either mode rate LRT 50% higher than a busway and almost double that of a typical bus system. The only case where buses score better is when a passenger is familiar with the service and also where it is assumed that the population in the area concerned has had no previous exposure to LRT.

TRANSFERS CAN AFFECT LOADINGS

Ottawa, with its wide use of busways, has in the five years from 1991 to 1996 shown a ridership decline of 18% as against a population increase during this same period of 8%. Calgary on the other hand, with a mixed tram and bus transport system, has increased its patronage by 30% and identically increased its population by 8%. The explanation of this phenomena is somewhat complicated but the paper does suggest that Ottawa had reached its targets and had foreseen a gradual phase-out. Calgary on the other hand had integrated its system in such a way as to cultivate transfers and capture new riders. Transfers are a crucial element of expanding transit under the present pattern of dispersed trip destinations. Networks that overemphasise direct connections, especially in difficult-to-service suburban areas, need to restrict themselves to servicing the journey-to-work or selected events. Because the resulting spaghetti network structure is difficult to communicate to the casual choice user, and because disorganised, unintelligible and unreliable operations associated with those networks make transfers a nightmare, they will tend to lock transit into these few trip purposes only. A corollary of this is that bus-only cities tend to have a far greater line length per capita, but much lower transit service. Ottawa fits this picture with by far the highest line length, 3,351m per 1000 persons as against Calgary with 1725m per 1000. It is of interest that another research team, HASS-KLAU ET AL (2000) produced very similar conclusions (2).

MIXED SYSTEMS MAKE GAINS BUT BUS-ONLY SYSTEMS INCUR LOSSES

Furthermore, in the analysis (HASS-KLAU ET AL 2000) of 25 European cities with no underground or metro but with significant LRT systems, between 1986 and 1996, an average per capita increase in transit trips was 20.3%. By contrast, in a sample of 22 bus-only cities, the average decline over the same period was 5.6%. Of these 22 cities, 7 actually increased their capita transit usage. The principle reason for this though was a very large expansion of the bus systems and large percentage increases in use. For instance, Bristol doubled its fleet and trebled its bus routes, Liege trebled its bus fleet and increased route length by a factor of ten and Hull trebled the number of bus routes.

TRAFFIC CALMING AND ENVIRONMENT

When a portion of LRT route is built on a street by resuming traffic lanes, it adds to, not subtracts from the passenger carrying capacity of the corridor. This installation can have a traffic calming effect within that corridor by perhaps reducing a four lane road to two lanes. If introduced with a positive urban design approach it can be accompanied with an active greening of the city, tree-lined corridors and grassed track beds. For city centres and sub-centres, LRT systems integrate harmoniously with intense human activity. Transit malls and pedestrian zones are now very numerous on a world-wide basis, often re-designed to make them more people friendly. Low noise and zero local emission electric traction modes such as LRT enhance the environment in a way not possible with an internal combustion engine bus, regardless of the fuel type.

CONCLUSION

Bus systems in cities without any form of integration with tram routes to share the load have consistently registered a steady loss in patronage. Even when buses operate over sections of segregated track, public response has been somewhat muted, apparently because a bus in a city centre, guided or otherwise, does not capture the public imagination in the same way as a tram. There are many examples of new and successful tram systems actually bolstering the patronage of buses, especially when they feed into a frequent tram route. A good example comes from Strasbourg where the opening of a single tram route increased overall transit patronage. Since 1990, transit patronage in Strasbourg has increased by 40% whilst the corresponding car traffic into the central area fell by 17% (3).

REFERENCES

  1. A discussion paper by Jeff Kenworthy and Felix Laube, Institute for Sustainability and Technology Policy, Murdoch University, Perth, Western Australia, 6150. - presented to The 5th Light Rail Conference, UITP, Melbourne Exhibition and Convention Centre - October 8-11, 2000.
  2. BUS OR LIGHT RAIL: MAKING THE RIGHT CHOICE
  3. LIGHT RAIL AND MODERN TRAMWAY - June 1997.
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