LRTA logo Light Rail Transit Association
Light Rail for better public transport

The LRTA Submission
to the
House of Commons
Transport Sub-committee of the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee

  1. Introduction: The Light Rail Transit Association (LRTA) was established in 1937 by a group of people concerned about the proposed closures of tramways in London. The Association has grown over the intervening 62 years into an international body with around 4 000 members around the world, half outside the United Kingdom. Although the LRTA’s members come from all walks of life, they share a common concern with the development of good quality public transport through the use of light rail and tramways. Many are professionals working in the transport industries. The Association’s monthly magazine, “Tramways & Urban Transit” is widely regarded as essential reading around the world by those concerned with the development, building, operation and use of light rail and tramway systems.

    The Association’s objectives are to educate people about light rail and modern tramways and to advocate the adoption of such systems as core components of modern integrated transport systems.

  2. The Sub-committee’s Inquiry into Light Rapid Transit: The Association welcomes the opportunity to present evidence to the Sub-committee’s Inquiry. It feels that the Government has made a grave error in putting virtually all its eggs in the one basket of buses as the way to improve local public transport in cities and towns.

    1. Buses are necessary but not sufficient: Whilst buses are, and undoubtedly will be, very important elements in any integrated transport system, the LRTA feels that there is ample evidence from towns and cities around the world that car drivers and users cannot be tempted in large numbers from their cars merely to ride on buses - traditional, low floor or guided. However, a much larger proportion are prepared to use public transport when a modern light rail or tramway system is their mode of transport for all or part of their journey e.g. where buses feed in passengers to light rail lines in the main transport corridors.

    2. There is no “cheap fix”: The LRTA is concerned that the Government sees buses as a low cost answer and will realise slowly and painfully over the next 5 to 10 years that only relatively modest transfers of car users to buses can be achieved - the evidence from UK experience with quality bus routes is that although such provision is popular with existing bus users and those without their own transport there is a insignificant modal shift from car to bus. If urban traffic congestion is actually to be reduced, rather than simply moderating the rate of increase, an increase in bus use in the order of 500 to 900% is needed over the next 20 years - or to put it another way, an average annual increase of between 25% and 45% - the exact percentage may be disputed but the order of magnitude of the shift from cars to buses is certainly in the right ball-park. To put the size of the problem in context, earlier this year the Deputy Prime Minister celebrated a 1% increase in bus use year-on-year. That leaves at least 499% to go! (see end of report for calculation details)

    3. Public Transport needs serious, sustained capital investment: The LRTA argues that massive investment in high quality public transport is necessary over the next half century, comparable with that which has gone into the trunk road and motorway network over the half century since the Second World War. The Association believes that a large part of this investment should be in providing every city and town and urban area of more than 200,000 population with a light rail/tramway system as the core of its public transport system.

      This is not an unreasonable or unrealistic target - it is what has been achieved in many if not most continental countries and at least the embryo has been achieved in a handful of British cities - Manchester, Sheffield, Croydon, Tyne & Wear, Birmingham/Wolverhampton. Most of this investment will need to be by the public sector, as was that in roads.

    4. Much of the investment has to be public investment: Initially, the returns which the private sector require from an investment are inevitably not achievable from light rail schemes. The developer has to provide and pay for at the outset both the infrastructure and the vehicles. In a free society, people will not transfer voluntarily from their clean, comfortable, warm, secure cars to present day public transport which is perceived as (and often is) grossly inadequate in frequency and extent and as dirty, unpleasant, insecure, unreliable and inconvenient and private sector investors reasonably expect ridership and revenues of new schemes to be modest initially and so not to justify the whole cost of the investment from the private finance market.

    5. Private sector naturally cautious and risk averse: So, at the time new light rail systems are planned, planners and financiers take cautious and prudent views of ridership levels and fare revenues - normally basing their expectations on existing public transport usage levels with cautious views about passenger growth. This inevitably means that many schemes fall at the very first hurdle - on paper - and even those schemes which survive and get built expect - and commence - with modest ridership levels initially, especially where there was not already an established public transport customer base for the transport corridor concerned.

    6. Preoccupation in minimising initial cost results in higher cost long-term: However, once people realise there is an acceptable alternative to sitting in traffic jams, growth in ridership takes off and - because initial expectations were so low - the bizarre situation can arise in which before long the system is full to capacity and once more the car and traffic jams begin to look not such a bad alternative after all. Because all the recent UK light rail systems have had to be built down to a price the Government of the day was prepared to spend, this situation is likely to become a familiar scene - there is already evidence of it in Manchester. Preoccupation with the initial capital cost can also lead to higher costs over the 30 years or so “financing life” of the system, not only to reinstate things which were cut out to save money initially, but also because penny-pinching decisions at the time of construction can come home to roost as high maintenance cost items in the longer term.

    7. Vicious circle has to be broken: So there is a classic example of the chicken and egg situation - until there is good public transport car users will not ride on it and until people will ride on it there are not the returns to fund private sector investment, so there is not the investment in high quality public transport infrastructure and as a result there is not good public transport for car users to switch to.

    8. “Buses-only” solutions may not do the job required and may not be as cheap as is claimed: The cost of bus developments are, in our view, often understated in that the infrastructure on which they run and depend is often ignored. This infrastructure is publicly funded and, effectively, provided either free or at a low “rent”. The private sector is relieved of the necessity to pay for bus infrastructure, and only has to take on the incremental cost of investing in new buses. The public sector makes the investment in the infrastructure and maintains it - the roads, bus-stop lay-bys, guided and unguided busways, bus gates, bus lanes, traffic lights, signs, policing etc. and even, in many cases, bus shelters, stops and information systems. There is nothing wrong with the public sector paying for these infrastructure elements but in comparing the costs of different modes it is important in all cases to be counting the cost - both capital and ongoing - of both vehicles and infrastructure and so making “like-for-like” comparisons. Sometimes this has not been done by, for instance the advocates of guided busways, the track costs of which can greatly exceed those needed by light rail systems. The new “quality partnerships” for buses involve the bus companies doing what they would do anyway for normal commercial reasons (e.g. replace old buses with new ones) and the public sector doing much more than would have been the case - both elements must be counted or an accurate understanding will not be gained.

    9. Limits to private sector investment: The private sector has been shown to be willing to contribute to the achievement of the core networks of light rail, though, being risk-averse, not to take the risks and costs of surmounting all the hurdles and barriers (such as acquiring powers and complying with much more stringent safety requirements) that beset light rail in this country.

    10. Light Rail essential to achieve high quality mass transit: The combination of high quality core networks of light rail lines integrating as seamlessly as possible with high quality modern bus networks needs to be in place before car users can, in a democratic society, be enticed, taxed or forced out of their cars for urban journeys. This means, necessarily, that returns on capital will be lower initially than the private sector require to justify private financing (typically 20%+ per annum).

      The public sector, which in reality is much less risk averse, and should not be using commercial rate of return as its principal criterion, has to fill this gap. However this sector is currently starved of public funding and the achievement of high quality integrated networks capable of being regarded as a fair and reasonable alternative to the car is currently not happening.

  3. Evidence in respect of the 4 points listed by the Sub-committee:

    1. “examples of rapid transit systems recently constructed both in this country and worldwide;”

      1. Number of systems, worldwide: Around the world, there are some 95 metro/underground systems, 75 light rail systems and 350 tramways. A comprehensive listing is available on the Association’s website - - go to main index on home page and select “World Systems List”.

      2. Number of recent systems: 61 new tramway and light rail systems have opened since 1978 (excluding heritage tramways):

        1978  - 1  Edmonton, Canada
        1980  - 1  Tyne & Wear, UK
        1981  - 3  Calgary, Canada;  Helwan, Egypt;
                   San Diego, USA
        1982  - 1  Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
        1983  - 1  Utrecht, Netherlands
        1984  - 3  Manila, Philippines;  Constanta, Romania;
                   Buffalo, USA
        1985  - 3  Vancouver, Canada;  Nantes, France;
                   Tunis, Tunisia
        1986  - 1  Portland, USA
        1987  - 9  Buenos Aires, Argentina;  Grenoble, France;
                   Brasov, Romania;  Cluj-Napoca, Romania;
                   Craiova, Romania;  Ploeisti, Romania;
                   London Docklands, UK; Sacramento, USA;  San Jose, USA
        1988  - 5  Mosyr, Belarus;  Tuen Mun, Hong Kong;
                   Resita, Romania;  Ust-Ilimsk, Russia;
                   Valencia, Spain
        1989  - 2  Guadalajara, Mexico;  Istanbul, Turkey
        1990  - 2  Genova, Italy;  Los Angeles, USA
        1991  - 6  Campinas, Brazil;  Monterrey, Mexico;
                   Pyongyang, North Korea;  Botosani, Romania;
                   Lausanne, Switzerland;  Cheryomushki, Russia
        1992  - 4  Paris, France;  Konya, Turkey;
                   Manchester, UK;  Baltimore, USA
        1993  - 1  St Louis, USA
        1994  - 4  Rouen, France;  Strasbourg, France;
                   Sheffield, UK;  Denver, USA
        1995  - 3  Ankara, Turkey; Buenos Aires (2nd system), Argentina
        1996  - 3  Oberhausen, Germany;  Dallas, USA;
                   Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
        1997  - 3  Sydney, Australia;  Saarbrücken, Germany;
                   Izmir, Turkey
        1998  - 1  Paris (2nd system), France
        1999  - 4  Croydon, UK;  West Midlands, UK;
                   Antalya, Turkey; Salt Lake City, USA
        Total over the last 21 years = 61
        Many more systems are under construction or planned around the world. To instance just one country of similar population to the UK, France - Further lines and extensions in Grenoble, Nantes and Strasbourg; new systems in Clermont Ferrand, Lyons, Marseilles, Montpellier, Mulhouse, Orleans, Valenciennes.

      3. Evolution into modern systems: Many German, Central and East European cities retained their traditional tramway systems after the Second World War and could neither afford to abandon them nor were willing to contemplate doing so, and adopt motor buses as happened in the UK and France. Such cities have generally found it both desirable and possible to update and develop their traditional tramway systems, in some cases into modern, extensive and effective networks incorporating modern light rail/tramway technology and practices.

      4. Entirely new systems: Perhaps of even greater interest are those new systems which have opened in the last twenty years in places which either never had a “traditional” system or where it had been completely taken out of service and the tracks etc removed many years earlier. The recent systems built in France and the United States provide some of the best examples of such new schemes.

      5. Nature of the UK’s systems: In the United Kingdom only Blackpool’s tramways have survived from the earlier era, though reduced in extent. New systems have been developed in Newcastle/Tyneside, London Docklands, Manchester, Sheffield, Birmingham to Wolverhampton and Croydon - and Nottingham is about to commence construction. Leeds has powers for its proposed Supertram, South Hampshire is awaiting approval of its application for an Order under the Transport & Works Act and Bristol is developing a scheme (see case study, later).

        So far UK schemes have generally involved the conversion of rail routes to light rail/tramway or the re-use of disused rail routes to some extent and there has not been the extent of planned integration with the physical planning of cities in order to create an urban renaissance that has happened elsewhere in Europe and the United States.

        Extensive street-running is a feature of only the Sheffield system (though without the benefit of extensive priority measures which extensive street-running requires) and the Croydon system, though the systems in Manchester and Wolverhampton/Birmingham have relatively small amounts of street-running. Of course, segregation from street traffic ensures there are no delays due to traffic congestion, whilst street-running in town and city centres, particularly where it is in pedestrianised areas, is highly desirable to allow accessibility and convenience to passengers.

        Trams/light rail vehicles in pedestrianised areas are much more acceptable than motor vehicles or buses as it is exactly predictable as to where they will go, whereas pedestrians, not surprisingly, give buses and other motor vehicles a wide berth for safety and by having to do so the whole ambience of a pedestrianised area is fundamentally degraded.

      6. Integration: Most of both the new and the evolving systems have a high level of planned integration with the bus networks in the same towns/cities - some are absolutely text-book examples - e.g. Hannover and Zurich. However, in the UK, since 1986, other than in Greater London, deregulation of bus services has both destroyed and prohibited such planned integration. It is doubtful if there are any examples in the UK of the sophisticated integration which can be found in cities such as Hannover, where buses wait across platform for light rail vehicles to arrive and allow immediate and very easy interchange. Even in Greater London where there is a planned and regulated bus system it cannot be said that integration of this quality exists between buses and underground and Docklands Light Railway (or, probably, Croydon Tramlink).

        Interestingly the one exception to the lack of integration in the UK (outside London) may prove to be Midland Metro Line One (Birmingham - Wolverhampton) where the same private sector company is the operator of both the light rail line, local train services and the vast majority of bus services. Here it may be said that the evolution of a local private monopoly enables (but does not ensure) the planned integration which in other countries is achieved by public sector control. Whether it is in the long term public interest for such a monopoly to be in private hands is another matter, especially in the absence of a Regulator for the bus industry to ensure protection of the public interest.

      7. Track-sharing: An important development of the last decade or so is the development of through running of light rail vehicles on heavy rail tracks in cities such as Karlsruhe and Saarbrucken in Germany (and planned for Mulhouse, France). This enables seamless journeys for commuters - serving suburban settlements and penetrating city centres as well as more modern and appropriate vehicles for suburban and urban journeys and better utilisation of often under-used rail infrastructure. It can also greatly reduce the capital costs of infrastructure as compared with the costs of building totally new lines. It can make good financial sense for both the heavy and light rail operators. The safety and “cultural” issues - once thought to be insurmountable barriers - have been satisfactorily solved in the countries where track-sharing is now operating and, at least conceptually, progress seems to have been made in the UK (see case study, later). Within four years passenger loadings on Karlsruhe’s first track-sharing line had increased by more than 400% (compared with previous heavy-rail service) at over 12,000 per day and about 40% of these passengers are former motorists and a high proportion, 72%, walk to their local station suggesting that the policy of providing additional stations on the track-shared line was soundly based (Source: Tony Young, LRT consultant)

      8. Well proven technology: Light Rail Transit is a tried and tested technology which has evolved and developed over more than a century into the highly sophisticated and attractive transit systems that are in operation and built now.

    2. “the problems they have faced, both at the time of their construction and afterwards;”

      Hurdles & Barriers: Light Rail projects in Britain face difficult hurdles from their very conception - hurdles not faced by buses. First of all any light rail/tramway scheme has to obtain statutory powers. It used to be said when Private Bills were required that this cost £1m for each line. The reality was more like £2m. Now, application has to be made for an Order under the Transport & Works Act 1992. The costs are almost certainly higher and the time-scale and complexity longer. Costs of this scale are inevitably daunting for any promoter and especially so for those concerned with ULR (Ultra Light Rail) projects which are small in scale and cost but have to go through the same process to obtain powers with similar costs. £2m to £3m to obtain powers for a £200m scheme is burden enough, but for a £20m scheme it is an insurmountable hurdle and the potential rewards to a promoter are not likely to justify hazarding such a large sum given the uncertainties of success.

      Even more significant is the time involved and the uncertainty of the outcome. This has meant that, so far, it has only been public authorities which have had enough stamina to promote schemes, to win the support of local authorities, obtain the powers to construct and operate and justify the case to central government and win central government and European funding. Due to the requirements to transfer as much risk as possible to the private sector and to maximise the private sector’s contribution, all the recent schemes have ended up being constructed and operated by private sector consortia.

      The Chartered Institute of Transport produced a report proposing changes to the Transport & Works Act procedures but, so far, no commitment has been given by Government to implement any of the proposed changes.

      The biggest hurdles facing LRT promoters are (a) getting clear Government support for their projects at a reasonably early stage and (b) financing the project (raising the funding) - the two are crucially interlinked - without Government support in principle, as well as to funding, raising finance from other sources, private and public, is much more difficult. Treasury/Government has set its face against major transport infrastructure schemes. The basic rules set by the previous Government, and continued by the present Government, seem to be:

      1. no operating subsidy must be required or paid.

      2. users should pay through the fare-box for all the benefits they derive and that only non-user benefits (i.e. the benefits to people who DON’T use the new tramway or light rail system) can be counted in the social cost-benefit analysis). It is assumed that the fares people pay equal the full value of the benefits they derive.

      3. the cost-benefit analysis must give a high enough positive net present value. In practice this is a very difficult criterion to achieve because the principal benefits of a public transport system are not allowed to be reckoned as benefits (time value of passengers not at work), though this is allowed in assessment of new road construction projects.

      4. the project’s risks must be largely transferred to the private sector.

      5. the maximum contribution possible to the capital cost must be obtained from the private sector (and that contribution must be high compared with other competing schemes).

      6. cautious estimating of ridership must be verified by techniques such as stated preference surveys - asking people whether they will change their travel mode to use a not-yet-built alternative and interpreting the results cautiously almost inevitably produces very cautious conclusions which are then key factors in gauging the viability of the proposed scheme.

      7. Finally, and most importantly, since the beginning of the decade, promoters of schemes have had to demonstrate by rigorous analysis that there is not an alternative mode or solution which is more cost-effective. The fact that at least a few schemes have survived and been built is, in a sense, extraordinary and says a great deal for light rail/tramways possibilities in a more receptive environment.

    3. The construction and operation of light rail is subject to a much more stringent and demanding safety regime than exists for its competitor modes (principally cars, but also, in this sense at least, buses). This inevitably imposes a cost burden on to light rail systems which does not have to be borne by, for instance, buses. We do not argue that trams/light rail should not be as safe as they are (indeed this is one of their merits), but we do argue that it is unfair that competitor modes, especially cars, should be allowed to operate to much less demanding safety standards.

      Light rail is, comparatively, discriminated against in other ways, for instance the contribution that utilities have to pay towards renewal of their equipment when this has to be moved to allow for the construction of a light rail or tramway line. Proposals to reduce the contribution the utilities have to make towards the renewal of their assets from 18% to 7.5% have recently been sent to the Secretary of State for approval - this represents a considerable bonus for highly profitable utilities and a most unwelcome additional cost to LRT promoters - representing an additional cost to Manchester of some £5m for its proposed extensions to Metrolink. Can it really be the case that there is only a 7.5% betterment element when decades-old utility services are renewed? Light rail is also subject to planning controls (e.g. over the design and siting of stops and stations) which do not impinge on bus operators.

      The obsession of Government/Treasury with minimising capital cost has in almost every system in the UK led to consequences which do not make good sense in the longer term - e.g. the number, size and capacity of the Midland Metro vehicles and the number of stations/stops had to be reduced to get the cost of the project down. The consequence will almost certainly be the need, within a short time from opening, to lengthen the vehicles to provide adequate capacity at a much higher cost than it would have cost initially. Some last-minute cost-savings have led to environmental or aesthetic degradation by effectively tearing up commitments made and design standards set e.g. the design of the poles to support the overhead in Croydon town centre.

      Light Rail schemes inevitably cost quite large sums of money because they have to create the infrastructure as well as provide the vehicles (LRVs). However, the cost of light rail vehicles could be reduced if there were not such a proliferation of designs of light rail vehicle. In the last 15 years 25 different low floor light rail vehicles have been designed, with the result that an average of only 46 of each design have been built, so the economies of scale that builders of cars, trucks, vans and buses and coaches achieve have not been achieved and the consequent cost per vehicle has been unnecessarily high, which has not helped LRT projects achieve good cost-benefit ratios and, with marginal schemes, has probably meant that some schemes have, as a result, not gone ahead.

      Part of the problem has been each city wanting its own design of vehicle, and each manufacturer also wanting to have its own unique offering. Consolidation in the industry and the encouragement of standard approaches by, for instance, the UITP Light Rail Commission and the trend towards modular designs which can be customised cosmetically (i.e. to look different in city A from city B) are beginning to improve this situation.

      The weight of light rail vehicles has tended to drift upwards, with all sorts of undesirable implications for the costs of energy to propel them and the strength and cost of the infrastructure to support them. Fortunately, there are now signs of the latest vehicles moving downwards in weight (towards the desirable weight of something like 30 tonnes for a typical LRV as against the 50 - 60 tonnes of some well-known LRVs produced in the current era). The trend to higher weights has been partly due to ever-increasing sophistication, partly to ever more demanding safety requirements and partly due to the inappropriate influence of the heavy-rail culture on light-rail design.

      Clearly, for vehicles to cost more to buy and more to run than is necessary is undesirable and doesn't help the achievement of schemes.

      The lack of real strategic thinking in the town planning system of the UK has meant that there is seldom a clear decision by the planning authorities, for instance in Structure Plans, that development is conditional on the provision of high quality public transport provision, such as light rail. Structure Plans have tended to be platitudinous about the desirability of public transport and the reality is that individual planning applications, due to their penny packet nature, have rarely, if ever, been seen to be dependent on the provision of a whole local system of public transit, such as a light rail line. All too often developers have satisfied the planning authority simply by paying for improvements to the local road system (as well as “development gain” sweeteners in terms of community centres or whatever).

      The new Local Transport Plans system announced by the Government in the Integrated Transport White Paper promises a remedy to these shortfalls but little is evident so far to suggest that this will be achieved. Indeed the short-term, low-cost focus of the first provisional year of Local Transport Plans give concern that this new system may not encourage the sort of long term strategic vision which is necessary.

      Despite these very severe hurdles, the fact that a number of schemes have been built in the 1990s in the UK shows that light rail has surmounted hurdles which other modes do not even have to consider - what could be achieved if the playing field was not so heavily tilted against light rail?

    4. “what successes they have had, particularly in terms of removing traffic from roads and thus reducing congestion or restraining its growth;”

      There is increasing evidence from recent systems around the world that light rail is able to attract car users whereas buses, even guided buses, cannot do so in anything like the same measure. This is particularly important, not only from the point of view of a system’s viability but also in terms of it achieving the objectives of transport policies designed to reduce congestion.

      There are two types of evidence - firstly, modal shares of public and private transport before the building of a light rail line or tramway compared with the shares afterwards. It must be borne in mind that in most developed countries the mobility of the population has been rapidly increasing, mainly through growth in the numbers and utilisation of private vehicles. A survey by UITP in 1997 showed that car drivers had transferred to using LRT in 93% of the cities which had surveyed modal choice since the opening of LRT - the average % being 11%, the lowest 1% and highest 16%. Bearing in mind that in most British cities quite modest reductions of traffic levels to “school-holiday” levels effectively restores free-flowing traffic conditions cities, the achievement of an average 11% reduction in peak hours car numbers could at least put cities back on the move again and further measures to discourage or prohibit car use (which have not been applied in any measure so far) might be expected to bring about further significant levels of transfer from car use to public transport use - provided there was an acceptably good mode, such as LRT, available for use.

      In Nantes (France), where the first of the new era tramways was built (opened 1985, extended 1989 - 14.2 kms with 30 stops), its inhabitants make 3.60 journeys per day (1997) an increase of 19.2%. Much of this increase has been in use of private transport, but between 1990 and 1997 the use of public transport has accelerated, the increase in use of private motor vehicles has moderated and the decrease in cycling has stopped. Between 1984 (before the tram) and 1995 the ridership of light rail + bus increased by 65.1%. 43% of the total public transport journeys are now made on the trams (33m journeys per year). 16% of tram users had never used the bus network before the tram was built and 39% of tram users had a private vehicle which they could have used - they prefer the tram to the car for certain journeys. The main reasons for choosing the tram are its rapidity and accessibility to go to work or to go shopping. More than 80% of the tram users go to the city centre to do their shopping and 85% of them are satisfied with the tramways. For 31.5% of them, public transport was an essential or important criterion in the choice of the location of their accommodation. (Sources: UITP Light Rail Commission and Town Planning Agency of Nantes area, 1998)

      In Strasbourg total public transport ridership increased by 45% (1990 to 1997) since the opening of the tramway, car use in the city centre reduced by 17% and the central square, which used to have 50,000 vehicles a day in it, now has just trams and pedestrians. The number of parking places in the city centre is being reduced by 1000 and replaced by more park and ride places in the suburbs (Source: M. Roland Ries, Mayor of Strasbourg). The evidence is that tramways/light rail not only attract passengers to themselves but also, where there is good integration between modes, increase ridership of the public transport system as a whole.

      In cities which have had extensive tramway and/or light rail systems for many years it is inevitably not possible to have the before and after comparisons. What can be illuminating is to look at the modal splits in such cities and compare them with, say, British cities which have only buses as their public transport. In Zurich, a city of around 300,000 population - a similar size to Coventry - only 29% of journeys are made by private car, whereas in Coventry the figure is more than 75% . What makes this comparison even more impressive is the fact that car ownership rates are actually higher in Zurich than in Coventry, but people do not use them for many of their urban journeys. To quote an ordinary citizen of Zurich, “I own a car with someone else - no-one in Zurich needs a car just for themselves”. Zurich has an integrated public transport system which utilises buses, trolley-buses, trams, light rail, commuter trains, funiculars and passenger ferries in a dense and highly utilised network. Coventry has buses and one lightly used commuter railway line with just two suburban stations and the city’s main railway station within the city boundaries. Two other lines have no suburban stations within the city and the main railway station is itself outside the city centre. To all intents and purposes buses are the only mode of public transport within the city boundaries.

      The size of the problem: Our calculations, based upon statements by Prof. David Begg, Chairman of the Government’s Commission for Integrated Transport, that a 1% reduction in road-passenger kilometres would require a 17% increase in bus-passenger kilometres, are that the ridership of buses will have to increase by between 700 and 900% over the next 20 years if the increasing congestion on the roads is to be countered and indeed reduced to reasonably free-flowing conditions compared to the present heavily congested and future total grid-lock conditions which will otherwise apply. Even to confine car traffic figures and congestion levels to what they are now will require a 170% increase in bus use to be achieved over the next 20 years.

      We do not believe that there is even the very slightest chance of bus patronage rising by 170% let alone 500 - 900% (The Deputy Prime Minister has recently celebrated a rise of 1% after 25 years of continuous decline, so this puts the scale of the task into some perspective). To accommodate a ridership increase of 500 - 900% would require an increase in the national bus fleet of huge proportions which in itself would cause considerable traffic congestion, especially in city centres, a problem which some city centres already suffer. There is also great doubt whether sufficient bus drivers could be recruited especially as they have fallen in status to be some of the lowest paid workers in the country and recruitment is already difficult in many places. If pay rates had to rise in order to recruit sufficient bus drivers the entire cost structure of bus operation would rise, further improving the case for light rail.

      The LRTA submits that it is conceivable that transitions of this magnitude could be achieved if multi-modal, fully integrated, public transport systems are developed for every large town and city based upon a combination of high quality buses, light rail lines for the main corridors and use of the heavy rail network for both heavy and light rail services. Cities with modern tramways or light rail at the core of their public transport systems, fully integrated with bus networks which gather and distribute passengers to and from the light rail core are the only realistic options for getting people out of their cars and on to public transport. Light rail is mass transit and very efficient both in energy and environmental terms and in terms of manpower - one driver can carry as many passengers as can 3 to 5 (or even more) bus drivers and the practical passenger carrying capacity of one light rail line is dramatically higher than that of one bus lane, and indeed is only exceeded by that of heavy metros such as London Underground.

      The question of seamless interchange is a key one - in cities like Hannover light rail vehicles arrive at suburban interchange stations and passengers walk across a platform straight on to buses which take them on the last part of their journey. Buses are synchronised to connect with light rail/trams and they do not drive out of the interchange as the light rail vehicle comes in, nor do the passengers have to wait 10 or 20 minutes for the bus to depart - the waiting times involved in local public transport are as big a deterrent to car users as any other single factor (i.e. why stand around a cold, wet, draughty, unpleasant, insecure bus-stop or bus-station when you could be sat in a nice warm, secure car - even if stationary?)

      Finally, we do not believe that the ability of light rail transit in terms of removing traffic from roads and thus reducing congestion or restraining its growth is the only criterion of importance. Whilst many people have cars and use them, many others don’t and, effectively, have become second class citizens. Light rail can be liberating for them, as well as providing an acceptable alternative for car users. A survey by UITP showed that in 100% of the cities responding, customers rated LRT as being more accessible than buses, 73% rated LRT as more reliable than buses.

    5. “whether it is appropriate, and if so what help can be given, to assist the growth of rapid transit schemes in the United Kingdom.”

      Currently, Government seems to present us with an unsolvable conundrum - i.e. that car users will not get out of cars (and cannot, in a democratic society, really be expected to) unless and until there is a reasonably acceptable alternative - but until they do the expenditure on providing the extent and quality of public transport which would get them out of their cars cannot be afforded.

      Arguably, it is only in London (despite all its shortcomings) that there is really a choice (obviously there are beginning to be some others - e.g. parts of Manchester, Newcastle/Tyneside, Sheffield) but Government seems to want to bring in the sticks before the carrots - the theory perhaps being that if you force passengers on to public transport the return to the private sector will go up and this will enable the private sector to justify investing in new projects. This doesn't allow for the extent to which motorists have a propensity to stick with their cars, even if costs go up a lot (after all no-one would have a car at all on a purely financial justification yet in reality people spend as much on their cars as on food), nor does it allow for the democratic revolt factor - of which there have been recent signs that the Government is aware.

      There has always been a problem in getting Government to commit itself to supporting individual light rail schemes; the attitude has seemed to be that everything must be in place and then the Government will think about it. This is not at all helpful to promoters of schemes in assembling both the wider support for and financing of projects which is essential. There was a period when project promoters were expected to show that they had maximised the contribution from developers and other land and property owners who would benefit from the scheme. This is fair enough in theory but the reality is that promoters are denied any mechanisms to tap the increases in development value - there is no legal mechanism which can be used to require developers to contribute anything at all, even though the value of their land and buildings may increase substantially. Nor can the promoter capture the development gain himself because promoters have been precluded from incorporating any land whatsoever into the limits of deviation for the project beyond what is strictly required for operational purposes.

      What has happened in practice is that developers have seen no reason to pledge funds towards a scheme which they have no confidence the Government will allow and support. So they don’t. At the eleventh hour and fifty-ninth minute, when the Government does deign to support the scheme, it is then too late to get the developers’ money (as the total funding package has had to be assembled in order to get the Government support). Indeed, at that point developers can then see that the project is definitely going ahead and, in the absence of any legal requirement for them to contribute, they naturally prefer to keep their hands in their pockets and hang on to their money.

      Indeed the above scenario could be described as the “Eleventh Year, Eleventh Hour and Fifty-ninth Minute” syndrome, because, so far, it has taken something like 10 to 15 years to get light rail schemes from conception to completion. In this time-scale the average private sector developer has probably moved through 4 or 5 successive schemes - the time-scale for the achievement of these public transport infrastructure schemes are so incompatible with the speed at which commercial property developers operate that it is very difficult to both capture and retain their interest and involvement. Whilst it is probably true that such major public infrastructure schemes will never be achieved the same time scales as the average business park, office development or housing estate, the only factor which has caused them to take 10+ years instead of 5 or 6 years is delay and procrastination by governments unwilling to approve and help finance such schemes. This is well demonstrated by the case of Saarbrücken in Germany where the city’s innovative track-sharing LRT scheme was achieved in 5 years from conception.

      The Government is proposing to introduce legislation to permit congestion-charging and workplace parking charges schemes to be introduced by local authorities. What is vital is that this legislation permits, and Government in practice agrees, to advance the funding so that major improvements in local public transport infrastructure, such as a light rail system, can be undertaken BEFORE the introduction of the new charges. We believe that many motorists, even those who decide to pay the congestion charges rather than use the improved public transport, would recognise the reasonableness of the charges in a situation where they can simultaneously see the improved public transport available for them to use, and they can see the beneficial effect on road traffic congestion which results from other car users making the decision to change their modes of travel. It is the LRTA’s firm and confident belief, based upon experience around the world, that many - though by no means all - motorists would choose to use that improved public transport if it were a modern light rail or tramway system - and this would be a higher proportion by far than in a situation where all that was on offer was only buses - be they new, low-floor, kneeling, bendy, guided, low emission diesel or whatever.

      A case-study is attached in summary form of the proposed Bristol/South Gloucestershire LRT scheme which exemplifies both the problems and opportunities of light rail schemes. The LRTA is pleased to be able to present this to the Sub-committee on behalf of the promoters, the Citylink Consortium and Railtrack, their partners. Link to case study

  4. Conclusions: A solution has to be found to the several “chicken-and-egg” situations which exist -

    1. motorists cannot and will not be tipped out of their cars on to the grossly inferior forms of public transport which are the norm today in the United Kingdom. If they are forced to do so they will vote with their vote and the result will be a stalemate situation with horrendous and worsening road traffic congestion, energy waste, unnecessary environmental pollution and damage to human health stretching into the indefinite future.

    2. the uneven playing field suffered by light rail projects must, in the public interest, be levelled out otherwise the high quality public transport, which can attract people out of their cars and which many cars users would accept as a reasonable alternative to car use, simply will not come into existence.

    3. there is a crucial need for Government approval and funding to be timed so that new light rail systems, such as that proposed for Bristol, can be built BEFORE congestion charges are introduced. Many car users will accept congestion charges as reasonable and sensible when there is a good alternative that they could use - and many of them will indeed use it - others won’t, and will pay the charges, and will see the benefits of doing so (i.e. less road traffic) and so won’t be so antipathetic to the charges.

The Association would be very happy to answer questions on this response and/or to provide further information to assist the Transport Sub-committee in its Inquiry.

On behalf of the Light Rail Transit Association,
Robert J. Tarr, BA, BSc(Econ), CPFA, FCIT, FILT, Secretary General, Light Rail Transit Association, 37 Warwick Avenue, COVENTRY, CV5 6DJ. Tel/fax: 024 76 679099, e-mail:
8 October 1999

Note on the calculation of increase in public transport passengers if reasonably free-flow conditions are to be achieved on Britain’s urban roads:
Link back

Let current quantity of road traffic = 100. Reasonably free-flowing conditions are, in most provincial cities, achieved at present in school holiday periods when traffic may be reduced by, say, 10% = 90. The White Paper on Integrated Transport says, if nothing is done, car traffic could increase by one third over the next 20 years = 133. But in order to keep urban roads reasonably free-flowing at peak times, traffic has to be no more than 90 - which is a reduction of 10% on current levels and a 32.3% reduction in what the levels will otherwise reach in 20 years time.

Prof. David Begg, now Chairman of the Commission for Integrated Transport, said, earlier this year, that car trips account for 87% of land passenger kilometres and if this was to be reduced by just 1% by car users transferring to buses, bus passenger kilometres would have to increase by 17%. So if car use in 20 years time has to reduce from 133 to 90 = 43 and each of those 43 points would require a 17% increase in bus use, then it follows that bus use would have to increase by 731% (unless people are to be prohibited or discouraged in some way from making those trips at all). 731% can also be expressed as being an average of 36.6% per annum over 20 years - 36 times the actual increase in bus use achieved from 1997 to 1998, every year for the next 20 years.

Depending on what you regard as the necessary reduction on present traffic levels to achieve a reasonable or even tolerable level of road traffic, so, of course, the percentage transfer changes. If, for instance you assume a 20% reduction is needed then the figures change so that a 53% transfer would be needed, which, using Prof. Begg’s conversion factor means a 901% increase in bus use.. If you think that a reduction of road traffic of only 5% would do the trick, the figures become 38% reduction need, so a 646% increase in bus use is implied. Even if you are quite happy with current road traffic levels, and want to keep them the same, in 20 years they will probably have grown (according to DETR) by 33%, so to get them back to present levels would require a 561% increase in bus use (33 x 17%) - an average of 28% per annum over the 20 years. Even if traffic increases by only 10% over the coming 20 years, and it is felt that present day traffic congestion levels are tolerable, on Prof. Begg’s figures, a 170% increase in bus use is necessary to achieve a situation in which urban car traffic (and hence traffic congestion) does not increase.

This calculation may seem to produce such grotesque results as to be unbelievable, but the question must be, is the calculation methodology wrong or are the “desired state” assumptions wrong or is Prof. Begg wrong about the increase of bus use which would be required to reduce car traffic by 1%?

We submit that the methodology is sound (everything is calculated against the base year of 1999); Prof. Begg is well informed so the !% reduction in car use means 17% increase in bus use is accurate; and that traffic levels in 20 years time cannot possibly be allowed to be 20% (or even 10%) up on now as, without massive road building, the resulting implications for grid-lock, pollution, health and the general sanity of the urban population are beyond contemplation. Most importantly, of course, it is inconceivable that buses alone could handle anything like the above levels of increase - but integrated networks of quality buses and light rail transit can do so - but only if they are actually built!

LRTA Response - 8 October 1999 Link back

CASE STUDY: The Bristol/S.Gloucestershire LRT Scheme - (link back)

  1. The current proposal for the Bristol/S.Gloucestershire scheme is a light rail system based on track-sharing to link the city centre of Bristol with Temple Meads station and thence, via the railway corridor, to Filton Abbeywood, and on through the “northern fringe”, via a major transport interchange at Bristol Parkway, terminating at a large Park & Ride site at Almondsbury on the M5.
  2. The railway corridor offers the only practical route that LRT could use to link the city and its northern suburbs. Once 4-tracked, the corridor currently carries 2 tracks between Lawrence Hill Station and Filton Junction, but with the disused portion of the alignment still unencroached. Although a defined “pinchpoint” in current Railtrack terms, the restoration of a 4-tracked railway (with 2 “main lines” and 2 “slow lines” to convey local diesel services and the new high-frequency LRT service) would, through track-sharing, optimise the potential of the strip of land available and cater for the stated growth aspirations of heavy-rail operators. The adjoining alignments (street-running within the city centre, and north of Bristol Parkway on a safeguarded roadside strip of land) have been defined.
  3. Planning for enhancement of Filton Junction (at the new Abbeywood station) for planned heavy-rail growth has taken into account the LRT requirement, through the partnership that has existed between Railtrack and the Citylink Consortium since its formation in 1997. At Bristol Temple Meads, the major Temple Quay development also embraces the future LRT alignment requirement, parallel to the historic (Grade 1 listed) Brunel & Digby-Wyatt train shed structures.
  4. The overall financial case for the LRT submitted by Citylink to DETR in August 1998 suggests that the earnings of the LRT operation could finance around two-thirds of the gross scheme costs, over a 30-year project life. It has been assumed that Railtrack will fund that proportion of the works falling within the rail corridor, amounting to approximately half of this sum. This would be remunerated by the LRT operating company, in becoming a new customer of Railtrack, paying for access through a long-term Access Agreement.
  5. In the absence of a Section 56 or other capital grant to fund the balance of around one-third of the gross scheme cost, Citylink, Railtrack and the Local Authorities favour an approach whereby congestion charging revenues could be hypothecated to this project. Local consultation carried out by Bristol City Council has suggested that this would be politically acceptable once the new services were running (but not before).
  6. Railtrack are therefore keen to see that the means can be identified whereby the Citylink scheme for Bristol & S.Gloucestershire LRT can be progressed, which would encourage development of the local rail network and satisfy clearly stated Local Authority transportation objectives. If progressed, the system would represent the first significant application of the “Karlsruhe method” in Britain whereby street-running LRT vehicles shared heavy-rail routes to practical and economic advantage.

Mike Tedstone, Project Development Manager, Railtrack plc

LRTA response - 8 October 1999 (link back)