Light Rail Transit Association - UK Development Group 


JUNE 2001 



In any town or city with a well-balanced and reliable network of public transport services, the need to introduce "heavy handed" measures to force motorists out of their cars is rare indeed. It therefore comes somewhat of a surprise to hear that Brisbane in Australia has spent probably more than the average city in that country to create segregated bus routes, and then sees a need to threaten draconian measures to force commuters out of their cars and on to public transport (1).

To a certain extent, motorist resistance had been foreseen at academic level with a professor at the Centre for Transport study at the University of Queensland suggesting that although a busway network for Brisbane and its flexibility advantage was ideal for Brisbane's low population density, it could produce a challenge of how to get people onto buses (2).


Drivers will have until 2007 to reduce their car trips or face some strong measures:

Probably trying to soften these measures, the Director of Transport Planning added, "we're not saying that people should get rid of their cars altogether, the community just has to realise that using the car all the time is not a sustainable option". A new system would see motorists paying a small fee to get their cars on the road, then be charged a small variable amount per trip depending where and how far they travelled.


When mixed tram and bus systems are created in British, French or North American cities, the resulting patronage is almost always spectacular and a modal change of 20% is not unusual. This is not by chance though, and only happens when the new service is reliable, integrated and of high quality. An important point is that when a motorist uses it for the first time, was he or she was coerced or actually attracted. This then invites the question, with so much infrastructure funding invested in Brisbane's busway network (AUD 599m over 5 years on the South East Busway) why is it so necessary to threaten the proverbial stick instead of the friendlier carrot usually associated with quality public transport?

A statement in the media, "Brisbane residents will soon be able to enjoy one of the world's most efficient public transport services" (3) failed to inspire local press reports and their follow-up questions. One unanswered question suggested a lack of agreement on integration between the Brisbane City Council and the State Government, a factor blamed for a deterioration of services (4). The press did not mince their words when describing Brisbane's transport direction followed by a "look" at the city when trams used the streets, "we couldn't have the traffic held up by trams - - no matter how many people used them". Long term road upgrading also played a part in continued road use, encouraged by the City Council's lack of support for a light rail project. "Smart" cities add a tram system as the ideal compromise between suburban railways and diesel buses. This was recently demonstrated in Los Angeles, a city which has invested heavily in light rail projects. Unlike Brisbane , Los Angeles met, and then overcame, motorist objections. It seems that jams are accepted by some motorists because they represent a freedom that goes with owning a car. It is a costly freedom though, because one US estimate has put this cost at USD2000 per year in wasted time and petrol (5).


For many years the DETR [now DfT] insisted on some form of road charging as a means of funding light rail projects. One city (Leeds) did try to overcome the hurdle by installing the less costly but less rewarding guided bus transport mode but soon realised that a major shortcoming was a poor public appeal compared with say Metrolink in Manchester. In order to gain some financial help for its Supertram project, an offer was made to conduct trials for road charging but with an understanding that it must be in the best interests of the city and that a viable public transport alternative to the car would already be in place (6). This created a potential for some form of impasse (7), an impasse that faded away when the Government dropped an insistence on "up front" congestion charging and offered generous infrastructure funding towards the Supertram project. Whether or not it was influenced by a newspaper poll of its readers may never be known but public response was 30 to 1 opposing road tolls (8). This whole issue is immersed in a certain amount of confusion following a DETR document (9) providing guidance on charging schemes. Authorities will now receive the Secretary of State's approval only if they provide transport improvements at the time a scheme is introduced, or before.


In general terms, the motoring community has shown that it will respond to an appeal for modal change if a quality alternative transport mode is provided first. To provide what many would describe as a second-class mode has already been shown to generate motorist resistance. In Brisbane for instance, busways can hardly be described as a cheaper alternative to light rail and if the public will not use them, it brings into question as to whether the light rail option would have been the better choice.


  1. HOW THEY PLAN TO DRIVE MOTORISTS OFF THE ROAD a special report by Steele Tallon - (Queensland) SUNDAY MAIL 8 April 2001.
  2. Professor Phil Charles - University of Queensland Centre for Transport Study - (Brisbane) COURIER MAIL - BUSWAY SPECIAL 27 April 2001.
  3. Queensland Transport media release - BUSWAY NEARS COMPLETION 28 March 2001.
  4. FAMILIAR ROUTES - Michael Yeates - (Brisbane) COURIER MAIL: 4 April 2001.
  5. Darrell Giles - (Brisbane) COURIER MAIL - 9 May 2001.
  6. YORKSHIRE EVENING POST - 23 March 2001.
  7. YORKSHIRE EVENING POST - 28 March 2001.
  8. YORKSHIRE EVENING POST - 26 March 2001.
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