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Public transport

Dec 22, 2014

What would it take to build a tram network the size of Melbourne's?

Melbourne is fortunate it inherited the largest tram network in the world, because building something like it today - say in a city such as Sydney - would be extraordinarily expensive and difficult

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Melbourne has the largest tram network in the world; makes these US streetcar systems look anemic. Source: Matt Johnson (LHS), Rob Amos(RHS)

The US has over 45 operating streetcar and light rail systems but none of them are anywhere near as large as Melbourne’s tram system. Melbourne has the largest extant urban streetcar network in the world with 249 kilometres of double track and 487 trams.

Cost

If Melbourne’s tram network had been removed in the 1950s and 60s like similar systems in Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and many regional centres were, it would be astronomically expensive to build something like it today from scratch. The cost of rolling stock alone would be in the region of $3 Billion (1).

Based on the actual $1.6 Billion it cost to build the newly opened 13 km Gold Coast G:link line, a network the size of Melbourne’s could have an all-up cost in the region of $30 Billion.

Or if we extrapolate from the estimated $2.2 Billion it’s taking to build Sydney’s new 12 km CBD and South Eastern Light Rail system, the all-up cost could be in the region of $45 Billion.

Of course these are ‘light rail’ rather than ‘tramway’ systems i.e. most of the network runs in its own right-of-way, whereas around 80% of Melbourne’s network shares road space with other vehicles.

However if Melbourne were building a new system today from the ground up – or if (say) Sydney sought to build something of similar size – it  would face the same sorts of pressures to provide a much better and more costly network (e.g. with more segregation from traffic) that other cities are experiencing. Decisions made many years ago simply wouldn’t be politically viable in today’s car-oriented world. (2)

A brand new 250 km network would have the advantage though of offering an opportunity to obtain substantial economies of scale. However whether that opportunity were realised would depend on the sequence of construction; Melbourne’s network was built incrementally over the course of a century.

There’s no guarantee, or even likelihood, that any new network of similar size would be constructed in accordance with the most efficient schedule. No matter what they might say, politicians don’t think or act like that.

Even if the all-up cost of a similarly sized network were (say) a mere $20 Billion, that’s equivalent to two or three “once in a generation” transport projects. The benefits would have to be equally massive to justify that sort of outlay. (3)

Mode share

But here’s the challenging issue. Melbourne’s trams carry 3%-4% of all motorised passenger trips per day in the metropolitan area. A brand new system built to a higher standard should do better, perhaps 5% or even 6% when completed. (4)

Melbourne trams do much better though in their key “market”: this is (a) trips to work (b) in the city centre made by (c) inner city and inner suburban workers.

Around 15% of all CBD workers in Melbourne arrive by tram, as do 12% of those who work in Southbank and Docklands. This is where trams do best; more than half of all the work journeys made by tram are to these three geographically tiny locations.

Moreover, up to 25%-30% of commuters living in inner suburbs like Brunswick, Northcote, Albert Park and Kew travel to work by tram.

There are three reasons why trams nevertheless have a relatively small mode share when viewed from the whole-of-Melbourne perspective. (5)

One is that only around 8% of the metropolitan area’s population lives within 5km of the GPO (the inner city) and around 25% with 10 km of the GPO (inner city and inner suburbs).

Another is that while the CBD, Southbank and Docklands constitute by far the biggest and densest concentration of jobs in Melbourne, they still together only account for around 15% of all jobs in the metropolitan area.

And finally and most importantly, the journey to work only accounts for about 15% of all trips. Workers who travel by tram to get to work tend to use other modes – especially cars – for their more numerous non-work trips.

Trams (and trains) do best in terms of mode share when cars are not a viable option i.e. primarily for work trips to the CBD where traffic congestion and parking costs make cars unattractive. (6)

Key messages

There’re two important messages here. One is that Melbourne is extraordinarily fortunate that it retained this asset when other cities removed theirs (Sydney’s network was actually larger than Melbourne’s). It was assembled incrementally over 100 years, almost all of it in eras when the politics of construction in built-up areas was easier than it is today.

The other is that providing rail-based infrastructure is extraordinarily expensive to retrofit into established areas relative to the impact it has on car use and traffic congestion. It’s difficult to see how “just build more infrastructure” is a viable strategy for coping with projected population growth in major metropolitan areas. (7)

City policy-makers will have to think much harder about ways of managing the demand for travel in cities rather than accepting all demand should be catered to. They’ll also need to focus on how to extract much more value from the legacy infrastructure they’ve fortuitously inherited.

Future expenditure on what will surely be a relatively limited number of new major infrastructure projects will have to be highly targeted; no more boondoggles or “nice to haves”. (8)

Update: the source of the LHS panel of the exhibit is Matt Johnson; the author of the RHS panel is Rob Amos.

___________________________________

  1. Based on the current $300 million contract to provide 50 E class trams.
  2. One of the key reasons for the general escalation in infrastructure costs over time, especially in Anglophone countries, is the higher expectations of users and the public.
  3. And if the costs were reduced through cost-saving decisions like less segregation, then the benefits would likely be lower too.
  4. Estimates differ. McGeoch estimates trams had a 2% mode share of daily motorised trips in 2007/08. BITRE Yearbook 2013 estimates trams accounted for 1.4% of all passenger kilometres in Melbourne in 2010. A light rail system would significantly reduce the number of buses required (most patronage would come from buses, not cars). It would also reduce operating costs, but that’s not necessarily a given – this report says the operating costs of Portland’s much vaunted light rail are double those of the city’s buses.
  5. Although small relative to private travel, at a mode share of 4% of motorised trips, Melbourne’s trams are not that far behind trains, which have a mode share of circa 6%.
  6. There’s an interesting question here about how the benefits of trams match up against the costs, but I’m not going there at this time.
  7. The proposed 9 km Melbourne Metro rail tunnel, which the Andrews government has signalled it will have difficulty funding, has an estimated cost of $9-$11 Billion. The now abandoned 6 km East West Link motorway was to cost $6.8 Billion.
  8. Update@Kestinen reckons the longest ever system in the world was the Belgian NMVB which he says had a staggering 1528 km of track in 1950. That easily outdoes the previous leader, Buenos Aires, which had over 800 km. Melbourne of course kept its trams when all those around were losing theirs, so it remains the longest existing network. Not clear if the Belgian example relates to a single centre or whether it’s a national figure.

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68 thoughts on “What would it take to build a tram network the size of Melbourne’s?

  1. Alan Davies

    Brendan Natol #67:

    The Clem7 tunnel only cost $3.2 billion, all of it private money. The Airport Link only cost $4.8 billion, all of it private money. The Legacy Way hasn’t opened yet, but will only cost $1.5 billion; that will be recouped from tolls.

    The issue isn’t “surplus revenue” – no one expects that from publicly provided infrastructure; it’s the ongoing operating deficit that presents the budgetary problem for government.

    The $20 billion figure I mentioned wasn’t provided as an estimate of the cost of building the network. The closest I gave to an estimate was $30 billion to $45 billion.

  2. Brendan Natol

    Ah I know this is a late comment, but as I read it the gist of the article is that tramways are too costly to build and unviable to run. Here in Brisbane a quick search identifies the build cost or the following roads built over the past 5- 10 years to be around $20b; Clem 7, Airport link & Legacy Way tunnels; Ipswich, Pacific and Gateway Motorway upgrades. As far a I can find none of these roads make surplus revenue, and they have had little impact on the functioning of the city. Yet we are all happy to see them built but not tam networks which are environmentally better, better for the city and more equitable for the lower income population!

  3. China Plate

    This seems like a waste of discussion….no city will build a tram network until there are no cars, and we here in Melbourne will have some lovely wide bike lanes to run along the trams.

  4. michael r james

    #64 Dudley Horscroft at 7:37 pm

    [Aha! Caught out, Michael James!!!!! The A train does MOT go to or near JFK Airport.]

    Since you appear to agree on the important points, I suppose it is churlish to correct you on this. The A-train does go to the airport and for about 50 years it was the main PT conduit. The station is even called “Howard Beach-JFK Airport”; true that you then had to take the free Port Authority Shuttle bus to the terminals. The 75 mins that I cited is for the A-train segment only; the shuttle could add between 10 to 30 mins.
    As you say, today there is the Airtrain which costs $5 when leaving it at Howard Beach or Jamaica (it is free for intra-airport journeys)–it uses the same Subway tracks as the A train though there must be some new track that allows it to cross to Jamaica Centre–which gives air travellers direct access to E & J trains that they would previously have had to change/backtrack etc. At Jamaica you can also catch the LIRR (Long Island Rail Road) which the A train doesn’t join until almost in Manhattan. (This presumably encourages more travellers, even those who live way out on Long Island, to use it instead of driving or a taxi.) Ultimately the Airtrain is supposed to go all the way into Manhattan (but it will be expensive and these Metro tracks are intensively used).
    I haven’t been to NYC since the Airtrain was opened, but obviously I would use it (and to hell with the extra $5! A taxi from JFK now costs >$50; A Uber hybrid ride to JFK airport costs $65.)

    I liked your:
    [Just about every conversion from bus to tram (“light rail” in the USA) has resulted in from 20% to 35% greater demand than previously existed, notwithstanding the adverse transfer effect.]

    That LA Blue Line will entice people who would never contemplate a bus ride from Long Beach because it will be perceived as, and actually be, safer (this goes thru some of the toughest districts in LA). (Notwithstanding that this was the line on which Jamie Fox and Tom Cruise had their final shoot-out in the movie Collateral–it was a very late night movie on tv last week; also it was the line on which a traveller died in his seat and travelled up and down for about 12 hours before anyone noticed, as related by the Tom Cruise character earlier in the movie 🙂

  5. Dudley Horscroft

    “In NYC I doubt if there is a time limit as short as 90 minutes if only because of the size of the system. It takes ≈75 mins to take the A train from JFK up to Columbia Med School (168th st) and the line goes further (at both ends; at southern end it continues beyond JFK to Far Rockaway another 7 stations).”

    Aha! Caught out, Michael James!!!!! The A train does MOT go to or near JFK Airport. I checked and find that you have to catch the Airtrain from JFK to either an A or E train station (Howard Beach for the A train, Sutphin Ave for the E train). The trip will cost you $2.50 if you have a card or cash or $2.75 for a single ticket on either A or E trains, BUT you then are charged another $5.00 for the Airtrain. There are local buses from JFK that run to the stations so you can avoid the Airtrain fare – but you would be mad to do so, unless like Dr Smithy you were a bus addict.

    But just about everything else you have said is correct and can be justified by real world experience. A point, in Los Angeles, the Blue Line trams operate from Long Beach to the CBD. Demand is of the order of 75 000 per day. There was – maybe still is – a competing express bus. On the LRPPro site we were advised by the late Edson Tennyson – an expert at digging into the National Transit Data Base, that the bus gets nowhere near that figure, in fact I believe it is now about 8000 persons per day. Just about every conversion from bus to tram (“light rail” in the USA) has resulted in from 20% to 35% greater demand than previously existed, notwithstanding the adverse transfer effect.

    Buses are good for very light routes, and feeders to tram or train. Take Parramatta Road – there are 36 buses in in the peak hour, add the extra buses coming from Glebe Point, City Road, and other buses entering the Parramatta Road/Broadway route and there are 94 buses per hour from City Road Junction to George Street. They get in each others way (especially at stops where the dwell time is excessive), and the result is slow and unsatisfactory travel. Replace by trams three or four times the size (from Norton Street in, and from Newtown and Gleve Point), and the result would be faster and more comfortable travel, and quite possibly profitable as well. For every bus in service you need at least 2.5 drivers – those 3000 extra buses would require at least 7500 drivers! Not on your Nellie, would any authority countenance this.

  6. michael r james

    As if proof is needed of Australia’s do-nothing approach to PT, Jacob Saulwick has a piece in today’s SMH headed “Green Square ‘a ticking time bomb’. Even when a successful TOD is created and apparently “will form the densest precinct in the nation” “when completed, the Green Square area will have an average density of 20,000 residents per square kilometre” (that’s serious Parisian density), they still won’t build or upgrade rail-PT.
    Extracts (my emphasis):

    [But two major reports commissioned by the government include numerous recommendations about the transport capacity of the area that have not been acted on by authorities.
    The transport management plan says buses through the area will need to double in the next 15 years. “This is likely to place additional pressure on already congested city streets an CBD bus termini,” the report says.
    And it recommends a “high capacity public transport corridor” along a route the City of Sydney has mostly reserved for a light rail line.
    A spokeswoman for Transport for NSW said 187 new bus services a week had been added on two routes in the area .. and a bus corridor on Botany Road would be “subject to future targeted investment”.
    But the department was unable to provide examples of better priority for buses– a key issue for residents.”
    In addition, the report highlights the need to significantly increase the frequency of rail services. “The rail network must deliver a minimum of 20 trains an hour during peak periods, in both direction, or it will not fulfil its critical targets,” the report says. Sydney trains now runs about eight trains an hour through Green Square Station. Transport for NSW would not say when an upgrade to 20 might occur. ]

    So, all the usual inability to plan or act. There must be tens of billions of dollars of investment in Green Square. Its geography–between the CBD and the airport–will ensure its success. But still they can’t even bring themselves to leverage the existing infrastructure to mid-20th century standards of 20 trains per hour from the current pathetic 8 tph (the best city Metros manage up to 30 tph.) Naturally they will take the drsmithy & Alan Davies* approach: more buses. Jam the place and the roads with hundreds and hundreds of more buses. Yeah that’ll work!

    *Ok, I know this is a bit trollish. I exaggerate for effect (but it is not entirely untrue). Enough, I’ll stop (well, unless I am provoked yet again by posts suggesting buses are the wondrous solution to PT in Australian cities.)

  7. michael r james

    #60 Austin M at 6:21 pm

    Too many buses in your “preferred” system. And the Monash study shows why. People can’t be fooled, even if bean-counters who don’t actually use buses, allow themselves to be lulled into the false notion that they can somehow build a better bus system.

    The study claims that buses incur the 10 minute penalty relative to LRT. However I think that is an underestimate. (Remember that no one should look at some of these figures and assume it is solid high-quality quantitative data as quite a lot of this stuff is estimates, and from pax surveys and: re the bus comparison it starts from the assumption of an “equal” start, but we all know that is rarely the case for buses relative to anything else.
    The study also shows transfer from bus to bus is worse than to any other mode. Though it claims bus to LRT (on-street) is not hugely better; again anyone actually using PT knows that this is simply inadequate. Even with the vastly improved BRT and Glider (semi-express) in Brisbane, you can be left waiting 20-30 minutes when the service claims every 10-15 minutes. Naturally it feels like an hour, and this feeds into bus-user conditioned responses (1. don’t ever rely upon buses; 2. avoid buses; 3. especially avoid consecutive buses to get anywhere). There is no point some bean-counter saying that the average is x, when the relevant factor for the pax is the expectation of the too-frequent blowout.
    Some of it is even mysterious. With the Glider it only takes the bus 10 minutes from the CBD to the Teneriffe terminus so how can it be delayed 20 minutes? (out of peak hours; I am not exaggerating any of this; I have often wanted to ask the driver but you know where that leads… my own theory is that it is indeed the driver which unlike LRT or any rail system, can just arbitrarily choose to .. I dunno, spend 10 mins smoking a fag at the terminus or otherwise waste time. Then on the BRT, there are the notorious ghost buses: indicated on the electronic display board but never appear before disappearing from the board, and which usually means waiting the full interval to the next bus (my theory here is that the controllers simply decide–again arbitrarily–to cancel a bus probably due to the chronic shortage of drivers as mentioned earlier). Whatever, this kind of arbitrariness just hardly ever happens on rail systems.

    Thus a network that involves bus-to-bus transfers is an absolute no-no. It will drive users away, for good reason. Equally it is important that LRT or whatever, that carries the load, must be frequent and reliable. Interestingly, the study shows that Melbourne trams have one of the worst performances in the world (slide 21). This is developed into an argument against “streetcars” but it seems to really be a lesson in that if you want street-based LRT to work you must give them priority and push cars aside–at least to the extent of meeting certain minimal performance. The photos shown indicate that cars still rule the streets in Melbourne, locking the trams up in their gridlock. This is almost certainly a political issue, ie. maybe Melburnians doesn’t like their trams as much as they claim.

    (21) Mixed traffic impedes performance
    Shows Melbourne at average 15-16 kph.

    (42) LRT claims speed and reliability advantages.
    This shows LRT (on street) with peak capacity 5k to 11k pax ph, compared to bus at 2k to 4k pph. (please note drsmithy). It shows LRT on exclusive ROW at 6k to 22k pph.
    Then in #43 the authors show that Brisbane’s BRT can achieve 13k to ≈16.5k pph, thus almost “matching” LRT on ROW. Well, doh, yes, because Brisbane’s BRT ROW is really no different to LRT (and to build it also costs very similar to building LRT). Apparently its designers made sure it would be possible to upgrade to LRT in the future (because they obviously know that it will outperform buses and will be needed one day; we have reached that point of bus congestion as I explained in earlier posts). And when you see the bus congestion at Southbank at peak-hour you know it ain’t nothing like 22k pph.

    Again all this really shows is that planners must take active measures to facilitate the passage of light-rail if they want to get the max benefits. This almost certainly why recent LRTs like the Gold Coast, cost a lot more than one might hope.
    The rest of the presentation/study works towards the recommendation of BRT almost exclusively on the basis of cost. Yes, it’s drmithy’s 3,000 bus argument! It also recommends bus routes all the way (slides 29-33) to the CBD or wherever, ie. to avoid “forced transfers”. This is the rationale behind Brisbane’s BRT with buses with humungous routes and all converging at pinchpoints with unavoidable congestion.
    However, as per earlier point, to expect a BRT to perform nearly as well as LRT you will have to spend almost as much (especially today; the latest Northern phase of Brisbane’s BRT cost a fortune; the concept of running on dedicated road lanes–which will have to be stolen from car drivers–is absurd in Australia). Also this study is out of date. As I have previously noted, Brisbane’s BRT now suffers congestion, declining pax share and escalating fares; obviously as the city grows it won’t cope any better. (especially if they buy 3,000 more buses). Likewise there is no mention of Curitiba’s similar decline, and partial conversion to LRT.

    Other notable headers: (please note drsmithy):

    (48) The positive impact of LRT/rail on Transit Oriented Development (TOD) is well documented.
    (49) Research aimed to identify TOD pros and cons of bus relative to rail: rail is a clear winner.
    ……………………….
    Buses have their role, and a not insignificant role, but the concept of designing either a whole city PT network as a BRT, or even in new (outer) suburban areas, is seriously misguided. Their own “data” show it is seriously suboptimal in creating a TOD. It won’t convince anyone (except the trapped/disadvantaged) to patronise PT. Road congestion will ineluctably get worse and cause ever-more money spent on hyper-expensive roads + tunnels & their upgrades, without solving anything, indeed making it worse. It is almost always a short-term non-solution that turns into long-term disfunction. Welcome to Australian urban planning. Hey, but it’s cheap! Well, except for the congestion and the ultimate remediation (which we already see is vastly more expensive than it ever needed to be).

  8. Austin M

    I must confess I haven’t read all that is contained above however noticed there was a lot of discussion about bus vs light rail.
    For people interested in the topic Professor Graham Currie of Monash Univesity presents some info on why buses are likely to have an average 10min mode specific penalty factor in mode choices over rail options.
    http://www.infrastructureaustralia.gov.au/publications/files/lightrailvsbus.pdf
    For what it’s worth I think the logical way for public transport to evolve would be:
    – A frequent grid pattern of regular arterial busses crossing a metropolitan area.(ideally 10min to 15min frequency)
    – Bus frequency increasing with demand
    – Bus Routes being upgraded to BRT routes with demand
    – BRT routes being upgraded to LRT routes with demand
    – LRT routes being upgraded to HRT/metro routes with demand
    (BRT=bus rapid transport, LRT= light rail/tram, HRT= heavy rail/underground metro)
    Of course cities haven’t developed in that fashion and to some extent they shouldn’t need to. Its obvious to most that a single 15min bus is unlikely to service all the demand between Frankston and the city. So the question then is how we upgrade the network now to provide as much access and utilisation as possible.
    For mine the train and tram network perform well at the radial task and actually need very little additional coverage perhaps a few logical extensions and improvements to allow a reliable minimum of 10min frequencies is about it.
    Where Melbourne has lacked is its circumferential travel, some of its middle/outer radial access and its arterial bus grid. For mine its not a hard fix and as Allan hints we are very fortunate to have the hard/expensive stuff (the rail network) largely sorted:
    – A grid network of 10min frequency arterial busses.
    – Services like DART and other BRT solutions to capture wide areas in middle/outer suburbs and provide them fast radial links via the freeways/dedicated rights of way to the city (upgraded to better BRT/LRT/HRT with demand).
    – Circumferential BRT/LRT/HRT solutions to allow transfer (thus likely to be a LRT or BRT due to reduced demand without the radial focus) and not force all users to go in and come out (a grid bus network is a start it but it is an access network not targeted at transfer/commuting)
    The existing radial freeway network is well suited to perform a BRT radial function to the outer and middle sububs much like DART does now with options for further upgrade. The existing route 3 tram/ outer circle/ middle circle/ showground’s/Williamstown reserve could be adapted to perform a mid point LRT circumferential line and the ring road/NE link/eastlink to perform an outer BRT transfer line.

  9. drsmithy

    So now Vanuatu is your model for cities … like Melbourne & Sydney?

    Just trolling, then.

  10. michael r james

    #53

    [The surreal part of this is I’ve had numerous arguments with people advocating an equally extreme opposing position – no managed public transport at all, just locals driving minibuses (like you find in, say, Vanuatu) and Uber-like private hire cars. They’re always complaining about authoritarian urban planners wanting to dictate where people live, work and socialise and how they get around those places. Now I know what they’re talking about.]

    Wonderful! The full neo-con finger-stabbing at socialists (& Keynesians I suppose, same thing). Of course many Americans point at NYC and label it a socialist republic, never mind that it is one of the few American big cities where mobility is easy–and that single thing brings all else everyone loves about the city together. Same for SF. And then there is the popular T-party slur of “senator from Massuchusetts”; Boston too is quite livable but mostly within the inner core (still a quite big area). But you couldn’t get me to live in one of those sunbelt cities (and I was offered a good position in Dallas once) where the desolute sameness of everywhere, the endless tacky malls, parking lots (take a look at Google earth, one third of these bloody cities is parking lots), the soul-less downtowns is a direct result of urban planning that gave total dominance to the car and relegated 30% of the population to the tryanny of buses as the only means of PT. That is your real neo-con “freedom lurving” paradise.

    Paris of course is the socialist real-deal. (Though it happens to be the 5th biggest economic entity/urban area on the planet, funny that.) It is true that the ≈2.1m who live inside Paris (and another ≈2m in the petite couronne/inner ring) are cossetted which is a result of history and the explosion of the suburbs post-war. But they are trying to catch up with all those plans I have discussed: the massive expansion of the RER, some new Metro (particularly the circular line #15 entirely extra-muros/outside Paris), those new tramways that together constitute the Métropole Grand Paris plan. The concept is to create high-quality urban areas all around the greater Paris area (the Ile de France) with the critical component of all being interlinked to provide high & efficient mobility. You can’t do that solely with cars and buses.

    But let me indulge my Parisophilia (I freely admit it is a version of Stendahl syndrome) a bit more: the city has an amazing night-time (00.30 to 05.30) bus network called Noctilien. It is mostly radial but still is quite extensive (though I recall only 2 buses per hour, sometimes only 1 ph) and will get you fairly close to home where ever you live in Ile de France. It looks a bit extravagant to me but I suppose in such a big city there are enough people (workers, banlieusians partying late in Paris) to warrant it (it may have also been expanded in line with tougher drink driving laws & their implementation). Yes, I’ve used it more times than I want to remember, returning to Paris from my Villejuif lab (south of Paris) when I’ve worked past the Metro closing time!

    Yes, such a socialist hell-hole, huh?

    That, IMO, is a more than adequate answer to your #56:
    [The fundamental question going unanswered is this: What is the objective ? Extending the reach of public transport to more people, or make existing coverage nicer to use ?]

    I think it is so clear, it is a almost a mathematic law: the higher percentage of transport done by PT then the more livable the city. Sure that is too simplistic but this rule would have even worked for Curitiba in its peak bus years: Brazilians considered it to be their most livable city (part of its problem of course as this attracted more people). You can have your sprawl-world of Phoenix, Houston, Atlanta etc (and LA but it is in transition).
    ………………….
    # 55 Dylan Nicholson at 10:04 am

    +1
    ………………….

  11. michael r james

    So now Vanuatu is your model for cities … like Melbourne & Sydney? (But I give you brownie points, you finally did find a place that met your criteria! And more, it’s French! .. once was)
    It’s very hard to take your points seriously.

    You are peddling a false dichotomy fallacy and an association fallacy.
    From what I’ve seen thus far, I imagine he’s answered it numerous times …

    No, he doesn’t. His argument is almost identical to yours. Which is the simplistic econometric one of “its cheaper”. He can never come up with a reason why all the international airports in the world (that you would want to pass thru) have rail links. Most recently he invented a concept of Tullamarine needing a minimum of 30m pax p.a. before it could justify rail. (meanwhile they are about to spend $800m+ on adding an extra road lane to the Tulla freeway—which is exactly where this dumb “thinking” leads; with your GC plan: and $1,585,000,000 still in the bank to use extending public transport coverage throughout the rest of the region: what, more buses, that no one wants to use? No, they would use the (non-existent) “savings” to add extra road lanes to whatever congested road is overdue for a billion or so. It’s you and AD who deploy false dichotomies all the time: the choice when spending transport dollars really does come down to this: PT that people will use and which is the only hope of reducing congestion and improving mobility, or yet more roads, tunnels and fkn useless, hype-expensive road-widening to suck yet more cars onto the crowded roads.

    you still haven’t defined any metrics for “good” public transport.
    Of course I have, over and over. It is visible in many of the cities I mentioned: 55% of all commutes in NYC are by Subway and total 82% by PT + walking + cycling. That’s good. Paris is excellent (I can’t find modeshare data; they cite Parisian region which is not as well served as all NYC, hence the Paris Grand Metropole Plan). Their new-ish T3 tramway carries 30m p.a. and that is at the periphery.

    How can a bus cause more congestion than a tram ?
    (And it is a curious mix of over-loaded buses and underloaded, indeed sometimes empty, buses.)
    Right. Because you never see really full and nearly empty trams and trains. Just doesn’t happen.

    That’s right, you don’t, except occasionally way outside working hours. I don’t know what is so difficult to see here. Though note that my comment was in the context of the Brisbane BRT where I tell you that not only are there plenty of newspaper articles about this phenomenon but I have documented it myself standing on the pedestrian overpass at Southbank bus station looking towards Vic bridge. It is sheer madness.
    First, (to repeat since you ignored it) thousands of buses are coming from all over the city and trying to converge through the pinhole of Southbank–it may be that many pax get off at Southbank, SouthBriz or the West End stations but there are plenty of these buses that have few, sometimes no pax–even at peak hour. Second, with a single major, or a few tramway routes which would be picking up pax at interchange stations being fed by buses from all over, those trams would be chocka at peak hours (and hardly ever, probably never, empty at other times). But not only is such a tramway a vastly more efficient use of the route, it is documented (if not totally bloody obvious; I have a file on this but cannot find right now) that lightrail has several fold the pax carrying capacity than BRT. Sure you can (and no doubt Brisbane’s BRT planners did the same calc and probably are in denial as to why it is not working) make those theoretical calcs with 3,000 buses etc like you did for the GC, but it simply doesn’t and never can operate like that.
    Incidentally there is another feature of the busway I haven’t previously mentioned. There are several of the big stations in Brisbane notable Southbank where it is a awful shambles because so many buses and bus routes pass it: there is no designated stopping place for any particular bus so you never know where it will stop and the quai is ≈100m long (5 buses can stop simultaneously but yours could be at the front or at the rear; and if you missed it coming in you may not be able to tell which is your bus from one end or other; oh the pollution levels at SB are terrible–reminds me of Oxford Haymarket!).
    Also, a victim of the same thing, the electronic Arrivals board is useless as there are just too many buses for it to cope (ask anyone anywhere in the world with a BRT and you’ll find the same thing. Oh, and they have contemplated much bigger double reticulated buses. As if they can solve the problem rather than make it worse! Think about it for a millisecond, they will just make it worse–and really it is an attempt to make buses perform more like trams!
    The above characteristics also partly explain why buses don’t scale the same way. A factor on long routes (from those exurban wastelands) is that most planners are not going to run (low occupancy) buses all the way, so instead they make people change buses, and everyone hates it. For the simple reason that you always end up waiting and waiting. Buses are never as reliable as light-rail (you know it, it’s the phenomenon of waiting forever then 3 come at once; fyi, this still happens on Brisbane’s BRT even though it is generally better than free-ranging buses on the open road). Indeed it is this kind of experience that makes some people early in their life to swear to never use buses ever again in their lives! If you deny this then, well you are in denial.

    Oh, another funny thing about trying to run your 3,000 buses or whatever: huge salary running cost and difficulty getting/keeping drivers (a big issue for Brisbane, probably because they don’t pay enough and the job is shit, who knows, it’s reality.).

    I’d prefer evidence to “wagers”. (on GC tramway)
    Me too, but it only opened in July so we’ll have to wait a while for actual evidence. I don’t know how long. But at ≈500,000 it is Australia’s 6th city and relatively compact (if long) and so the tramway should serve a lot of the population quite efficiently, so I am confident.

    That this comfort benefit falls almost entirely on the upper end of the demographic, and the lesser coverage and accessibility on the lower, is an additional negative consequence, not the only one.
    What? You think that is true for NYC, Paris, London, Tokyo or almost any city on the list? We have to start somewhere, and that unfortunately after half a century of doing nothing (because it was too bloody expensive and we can get by with buses, FFS!) it means a long job. But that doesn’t mean leaving great gaps in any future network. The GC tramway will cover 14 km of the coast, and I’ll also wager in all likelihood they’ll extend it (to replace yet more patchy bus service that people refuse to use).
    Again, on this point who is being weird or dishonest or in denial? Me? I don’t think so.

    If your statement was true then why does that endless list of world cities bother with anything but buses?
    Existing investment ? Inertia ? History ? Culture ? Geography ? Scale ?

    That’s a lot of question marks. You need to choose rather than present an indeterminate laundry list. But you probably haven’t read my piece on the Paris tramway plans. I suppose you will somehow distort what I say or think but IMO the French authorities (city & state & transport bodies) put the functioning of the city and its people above all else, ie. commercial and vested interest lobby groups play a minimal role (unlike many places even the Anglophone world). So part of their 20-30 year plan for improving the greater Paris region is (amongst other more expensive plans, namely the new RER lines and new Metro lines in the suburbs) the tramway plan. There are zillions of buses (almost certainly more than 3,000; you’d be delighted!) everywhere in the banlieu, but for some perverted reason they are putting in tramways. In a short space of time, from zero to 104 km (and soon probably double that). You think this is just for the rich and pampered? Or some giant scam & collusion with big biz?

    a Paris or NYC metro ticket “gives you freedom of their entire networks without time limits” is patently false.
    Groan. You’re seriously nitpicking on this? The facts are that a flat fare ticket gives you the freedom of the entire network (in both cities) which is hundreds of kilometres of the entire Paris Metro (even where it extends deep into suburbia, still same fare) and even further expanses in NYC (ie a bigger geographic spread). In Paris ticket control is only on entry, not on exit (except for RER within Paris). I can’t remember if a 90 min limit applies, but seriously I doubt ticket inspectors are going to fine you if you spend longer (in fact there is a game whereby people try to cover as much of the network in one day on one ticket, though of course that could mean avoiding inspectors). The reality is that if you live in Paris you will have what in my day was a Carte Orange (new system now) that indeed gives you total unlimited freedom of the system (including buses, RER within Paris) 24/7/365; possibly travel bargain of the universe. (There is a lesson there but in Oz we follow the f-wit Brits, horrified at the thought they would be giving some pax a “free ride”, instead of course of encouraging people off the road all the time. I don’t advocate free PT but it needs to be cheap enough that people don’t hesitate to use, and it doesn’t become a line item on their monthly budgets.)
    In NYC I doubt if there is a time limit as short as 90 minutes if only because of the size of the system. It takes ≈75 mins to take the A train from JFK up to Columbia Med School (168th st) and the line goes further (at both ends; at southern end it continues beyond JFK to Far Rockaway another 7stations). Anyway, WTF, my point is completely valid: by any means of comparison you want to make our city PT is truly expensive and this should change. This is yet another argument with AD who, incredibly (but not for an economic rationalist I suppose) advocates increasing PT fares on some specious user-pays nonsense (that was some time ago and he copped a lot of negative feedback so I don’t know if it is still his position).

    So your insistence on the alternative being a bus-only system is just another false dichotomy fallacy.
    That is dishonest. It is not me insisting on a bus-only PT system. AD makes an econometric case against almost anything else whenever a rail project is proposed (like with the airport train) because, you know, buses are always cheaper. I have repeatedly said there is a significant role for buses in any (big) city PT network. Just not for its basic backbone. And certainly not for major international airports to a city destined to become 7m or more.

    you are conflating and swapping heavy rail and light rail at will. This is phenomenally disingenuous.
    I don’t know where I am doing that and I have no idea why it would be disingenuous. Ambiguity does arise when talking about light-rail (trams) and Metro. They can be both. There is clear distinction in Paris/NYC/London but look at SF or Boston where they are really the same thing. When I talk about converting Brisbane’s BRT to light-rail, it would be closer to SF & Boston because though it has near-complete separation from roads in the inner area, trams could be extended onto roads shared with cars further out. I don’t quite know why you are getting steamed up about this.

    Obviously big dense cities are greener.
    Really, you can’t accept that NYC is the greenest city in North America? You think that Nature paper you cited proves that? (I have >6 papers in Nature stable journals and I have no idea how that paper got in; probably filled a quota on “urban planning” or “climate change”; it was a statistical nitpicking trees-instead-of-forest mess. AD would love it.) Most European cities are even greener (heavy taxes on imported fuels helps; regulation on car mpg etc; Paris is possibly the greenest because, you know, it uses almost zero carbon to generate its electricity). You don’t believe those statistics I cited for NYC? I think this really shows up an ideological intransigence.
    http://www.nyc.gov/html/planyc2030/downloads/pdf/greenyc_climate-change.pdf

    The surreal is reached when you discuss advocates of no managed public transport at all. That is what neo-libs want of course. But again, other than Vanuatu, is there any serious city where it would work? In fact that is more or less what was imposed on Oxford in the great Thatcherite experiment. It was awful, and not just for the public. The drivers hated their jobs and the pressure often showed. I cannot imagine it survived, just like the privatization of the rails collapsed.
    Maybe some Asian cities “work” like that? All those pollution-belching tuk-tuks in Bangkok or equivalents in some Asian mega-cities? Manila? Mumbai? (But the same neo-libs would end up advocating the old Soviet system of reserved road lanes for those who can afford the tolls for their chauffeur-driven Mercs. No buses filled (or not) with plebs to block their way. User-pays right? Entirely rational.) Is that what you want? Not me. I know in which cities and which system of PT that best serves its citizens, and a majority of its citizens. And it sure as hell is not one which has an over-reliance on buses. We are one of the richest countries in the world. We can well afford to do PT properly instead of opting for a do-nothing second-rate (bus-based) system like some third-world city. It would have been much better if we had done proper urban planning over the past 6 decades (post war when we deliberately set out to grow a lot) but even at today’s silly costs.

  12. drsmithy

    I’m not sure it’s possible to come up with absolute metrics for what constitues “world class”, but it’s one of those classic “you know if you see it” things: the sort of public transport system that makes you wish you had the same in your own city; where you can get almost anywhere quickly, easily, comfortably and safely without a car.

    Even some metrics would be a distinct improvement over none. But having lived in cities as different as Zurich and Phoenix, I know what you mean. 🙂

    But I suspect there’s an implied “anywhere [I want to go]” in this.

    Even locations with great public transport systems often struggle (compared to private vehicles) if your trip is “sideways” across the network, rather than the radial trips they are usually optimised for. *Especially* if you want to stick to rail. 🙂

    As for your “world where automated eletric vehicles [rendering] most of the problems with cars irrelevant within a generation” – I’d class myself as a technological optimist for the most part, but I really do not see that happening, for all sorts of technical and political reasons.

    For example ?

    Electric cars are a drop-in replacement for probably ca. 90% of use cases today.
    The average age of vehicles in Australia is about ten years (though I expect this will increase a bit over the next decade). I propose that in ~5 years there will be a wide selection of fully electric cars on the market and in ~10 years a comfortable majority of vehicles purchased will be fully electric or, at worst, hybrids. Ten years after that, I contend you will struggle to find a petrol-only vehicle on the road outside of corner cases like enthusiasts (V8 weekenders, off-roaders, etc) and heavy vehicles (intercity freight, tow trucks, garbage trucks, etc).
    I’ll be the first to admit fully autonomous vehicles are not feasible today in the general case, but none of the issues seem insurmountable (as you mention, I expect the biggest problems here to be political).

    Let’s also not forget the other thing that is providing the massive advantages of cars but with far less negative impact – the increasing popularity of motorbikes and scooters.

    As far as the “everyone works in the city” model becoming “more untrue” – that simply doesn’t square with the fact that the world is becoming more urbanised and many cities in Australia and the U.S. in particular are growing much denser cores where more people live and work.

    The world is becoming more urbanised, but that is an average over a huge number of developing economy rural dwellers moving to cities for the economic benefits (ie: China). Their behaviour is not really relevant to developed countries. In Australia, only a relatively small proportion of a capital city’s population (10-15% – even less in smaller cities and towns) works in the CBD and surrounding core, and this percentage is decreasing. Most people work in the suburbs. These are more reasons why new CBD-centric light and heavy rail systems should be questioned. The near certainty of greater acceptance of remote workers in the coming decades mean this trend is likely to continue.

    I’d also argue that the economic disaster on the horizon will likely increase crime disproportionately in higher-density areas, driving people (who have the means) out of them – but that’s (hopefully) a temporary issue rather than a systemic one.

    Other factors are a non-trivial amount of urban densification being driven by deliberate “anti-sprawl” policies working directly against people’s living preferences (and producing massive property bubbles with their consequent economy-wide negative impacts in the process), and a political system that actively concentrates political power (hence economic power, hence people) in capital cities.

    As the “need” to live in the city [for economic benefits] decreases, absent deliberate policy to force people into high-density city living, and hopefully in the face of increasing democracy and decentralisation of political power, you would expect an increase in lower-density living (though, the latter two are massive and barely justifiable assumptions given the power of vested interests).

    As far as conflating trains/trams – OK, if your point is that buses are generally more sensible than trams along roads, then I’d agree.

    Actually my point there was that light and heavy rail cannot be used interchangeably when talking about advantages of different modes of transport.

    But sometimes what’s “sensible” isn’t actually what works the best, for whatever reason – there’s very few people would rather take a bus than a tram, or would rather see a bus route built than a tram line, and the fact is that in Melbourne trams are the least subsidised form of PT, so a lot of work needs to be done on both genuinely improving bus services and then selling them as a modern and desirable form of PT.

    Sure, I’d never argue against the traveller preference for rail. Like I said originally, trams are cool. But the fair comparison is not asking fifty people whether they’d rather take a) a bus, b) a tram or c) a car, it’s asking a thousand people whether they’d rather take a) a bus or b) a car.

    If five out of the first scenario answer (a), seven answer (a) or (b) and the remainder (c), but then fifty out of the second scenario answer (a), which is the bigger win for public transport ?

    As for trams vs buses making roads less safe – surely that’s obvious?? Trams follow a fixed, predictable path, and as a cyclist at least I’ve never once worried about whether a tram driver can see me or where it might be going. Which isn’t to say there are dangers in mixing cyclists with trams, but they would seem much more manageable.

    Fair point about being constrained to rails vs being able to change lanes. But I think you also need to consider the dangers of mixing trams with cars, pedestrians and cyclists as well. Eg: trams in the middle of the road and pedestrians having to cross a lane of traffic when getting on/off (which can happen at stops without any refuge islands and traffic signals), whereas buses can pull over to the side. Swings and roundabouts ?

  13. Dylan Nicholson

    @54:
    I’m not sure it’s possible to come up with absolute metrics for what constitues “world class”, but it’s one of those classic “you know if you see it” things: the sort of public transport system that makes you wish you had the same in your own city; where you can get almost anywhere quickly, easily, comfortably and safely without a car. And yes, they all *use* buses, but in none of them are buses responsible for a notably high percentage of passenger trips.

    As for your “world where automated eletric vehicles [rendering] most of the problems with cars irrelevant within a generation” – I’d class myself as a technological optimist for the most part, but I really do not see that happening, for all sorts of technical and political reasons. As far as the “everyone works in the city” model becoming “more untrue” – that simply doesn’t square with the fact that the world is becoming more urbanised and many cities in Australia and the U.S. in particular are growing much denser cores where more people live and work.
    I’d also say that huge investments in public transport networks would not have looked very smart 40 or 50 years ago when it seemed logical and natural that we would all simply buy cars and use them instead, and yet those cities that ignored this and went ahead anyway are the ones that we rightly envy today, having seen what happens when we assume one single form of transport is sensible for everybody.

    As far as conflating trains/trams – OK, if your point is that buses are generally more sensible than trams along roads, then I’d agree. But sometimes what’s “sensible” isn’t actually what works the best, for whatever reason – there’s very few people would rather take a bus than a tram, or would rather see a bus route built than a tram line, and the fact is that in Melbourne trams are the least subsidised form of PT, so a lot of work needs to be done on both genuinely improving bus services and then selling them as a modern and desirable form of PT.

    As for trams vs buses making roads less safe – surely that’s obvious?? Trams follow a fixed, predictable path, and as a cyclist at least I’ve never once worried about whether a tram driver can see me or where it might be going. Which isn’t to say there are dangers in mixing cyclists with trams, but they would seem much more manageable.

  14. drsmithy

    drsmithy, no, not trolled, but perhaps michael’s position is a little extreme, even if I essentially agree with his main point, which is that nobody has yet to come up with a way of using the obvious advantages of buses as the foundation of a world-class public transport system.

    What constitutes a “world class public transport system” though ? What are the metrics ? The benchmarks ?

    Are there any existing “world class public transport systems” that _don’t_ use buses ?

    In a world where automated electric vehicles will render most of the problems with cars irrelevant within a generation, and the industrial-revolution-era “everyone works in the city” model becoming more and more untrue, are huge investments in public transport networks built around these assumptions smart ?

    I would like to see it tried – if a bus network can be designed such that a) buses move as smoothly and are as spacious and comfortable as trams/trains, b) the routes are clear, direct and provided with dedicated lanes where necessary, c) stop placement is based on a sensible compromise between minimising stopping and starting and maximising effective catchment areas and d) services run frequently and reliably on-time then absolutely, they make a lot more sense than building fixed-rail.

    Please don’t conflate trains and trams into a “fixed-rail” catchall. They are very different. Trams, by and large, have the same characteristics and capabilities as buses (though I will happily agree they are nicer to ride in). Trains do not (eg: they don’t get caught in vehicle traffic and can travel at much higher speeds).

    Electric buses could make “tram-like” internal layouts much easier, without the need for a honkin’ big engine at the back. Computer-controlled autopilots could also facilitate much smoother starts and stops (though I’ve had some pretty rough tram rides in my day).

    The position I have argued is that using buses in lieu of putting in a new light rail system is preferable.

    I will say there’s one reason I wouldn’t personally want to see more buses however, which is that they are large cumbersome vehicles that take up a huge amount of vertical and horizontal space on the roads, making them less safe for vulnerable road users. Of course if those buses really were significantly reducing the number of cars on the same roads it mightn’t be so bad, but it would take some time for that to occur.

    How are trams any different, all else being equal ?

    I’d also suggest there’s fewer opportunities for reducing the pollution (both long and short-term) from buses vs that from trains/trams.

    Now that’s actually a point worth discussing. It’s not hard at all to envisage electric buses with quick-swap battery packs and/or recharging from overhead lines along core arterial routes.

    The fundamental question going unanswered is this: What is the objective ? Extending the reach of public transport to more people, or make existing coverage nicer to use ?

  15. drsmithy

    Whatever. I think anyone reading, say your #46 then my replies, can judge who is answering questions with facts and reasoned argument and who is not.

    I have no doubt they will.

    Perhaps if you can’t take the heat you should stay out of the kitchen.

    Well, let’s give it a third try.

    (BCS squared. This is exactly what AD advocates as serious thinking all the time; but he can never–and never even tries–to answer the same question I posed to you: in that case why do any cities exist with anything other than fleets of buses; or more specifically why are the best cities always built around fixed rail?)

    You are peddling a false dichotomy fallacy and an association fallacy.

    From what I’ve seen thus far, I imagine he’s answered it numerous times, you just dismiss those answers because they conflict with your belief.

    Those 3,000 buses would have caused their own gridlock.

    3000 was, obviously, an exaggeration to demonstrate the vast cost difference involved.

    But let’s flip it around. The Gold Coast light rail is 13km long. 30 buses would give you a one every kilometre over the entire route, a frequency of about 2 minutes, four spares on hand for breakdowns/maintenance and $1,585,000,000 still in the bank to use extending public transport coverage throughout the rest of the region.

    But, hey, I’m sure there’s no way you could use that much money to get more people on public transport than will be new riders on the tram.

    Indeed it is why the Brisbane busway is losing effectiveness and ridership: it creates its own gridlock at several pinchpoints at peak hours.

    How can a bus cause more congestion than a tram ?

    (And it is a curious mix of over-loaded buses and underloaded, indeed sometimes empty, buses.)

    Right. Because you never see really full and nearly empty trams and trains. Just doesn’t happen.

    Even without gridlock 3,000 buses still would not have changed much PT use by the car drivers of the GC. But I’ll wager the tramway will.

    I’d prefer evidence to “wagers”.

    (The only worry I would have is that PT fares are getting seriously expensive in Australia. Following the f-wit British model yet again!)

    Probably because the large number of lower income earners who don’t/can’t use public transport get cranky about subsidising it for their wealthier cousins.

    That is some serious denialism.

    You keep using this word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

    Even AD will tell you of all the data and examples on this phenomenon. Books have been written on it (by economists & planners).

    Should be easy to provide some references then.

    From the developers in London and LA wanting the LU/streetcars to service their potential new suburbs; likewise the NYC subway pushing into cow pastures of Queens and Brooklyn that turned into city.

    The first is a comically transparent vested interest. The latter too long ago to be relevant.

    I can tell you that in the Paris suburbs an RER station will have a significant effect on values (buses are a given, they are everywhere but have zero effect on property values; or the effect of Metro line #4 pushing across the peripherique and transforming the entire fortunes (values) of Montrouge.

    Have you considered that houses not getting more expensive is a _good_ thing ?

    Obviously big dense cities are greener.

    Should be easy to provide some references then.

    You are relying on corner cases like NYC, London and Paris to try and extrapolate a general case. You are also assuming that massively high density living has no negative social impact. It is fallacious reasoning.

    If you have lived in Zurich (and visited those others) then I really don’t understand what you are on about.

    That’s because you seem incapable of considering any other viewpoint except your own.

    My list of (biggish) cities is simply of livable cities that have sophisticated PT systems not relying solely on buses.

    This is a straw man fallacy.

    (The original question to you was to name one that does. I think you might concede there aren’t any.)

    This is a loaded question fallacy.

    I will use Zurich as an example of a city with a good bus network that fills that gaps between the light- and heavy-rail systems, particular in the outer suburbs where the trams do not reach.

    However, you still haven’t defined any metrics for “good” public transport.

    Are you saying you didn’t make use of the Metros or lightrail in those cities? ..or what are you saying?

    I’m saying that, despite your insulting and baseless assumption to the contrary, that I am quite experienced with a variety of public transport systems.

    With your comments about tax-payers, and PT that “benefit a tiny percentage of already well-off citizens ” and PPPs it appears that you have some other kind of (political) objection, rather than a functional/urban-planning one.

    WTF ? How is sacrificing vastly great coverage and accessibility for for most, in place of marginally greater comfort for a few, *not* a “functional/urban planning” issue ?

    That this comfort benefit falls almost entirely on the upper end of the demographic, and the lesser coverage and accessibility on the lower, is an additional negative consequence, not the only one.

    Do you think that the whole series of very expensive road tunnels that have been built in Sydney and Brisbane is a better infrastructure than PT, especially relatively cheap tramways?

    By all means, tell us about how trams would be able to traverse the same routes the road tunnels provide in similar times using “relatively cheap tramways”.

    You can’t seriously believe that, can you?

    Well I know I can cover the Gold Coast light rail route using buses arriving three times more frequently for a cost two orders of magnitude lower, so it’s kind of hard not to “believe” it.

    And again you seem to be totally focussing on cost (and short-term cost at that).

    Yes. Of course. Just cost. I haven’t talked about coverage and accessibility at all. Nor am I going to mention frequency of service right now so you won’t have to ignore that, too.

    Bus efficiency simply doesn’t scale, in fact it is more or less in inverse proportion to size.

    Why would buses be any less scalable or efficient than light rail ? A few buses have basically the same physical footprint and carrying capacity as a tram and would use the same roads (or dedicated routes, which would be cheaper to build for buses due to lower weights). It’s also much easier and quicker to put extra buses on (or remove them) when demand changes

    Please elaborate on the parameters by which buses are less scalable and efficient than trams.

    If your statement was true then why does that endless list of world cities bother with anything but buses?

    Existing investment ? Inertia ? History ? Culture ? Geography ? Scale ?

    But also just to be clear. I am not advocating a trams-only PT system (ie. along with buses) for our big cities.

    Right. So your insistence on the alternative being a bus-only system is just another false dichotomy fallacy.

    I notice from your other post you are conflating and swapping heavy rail and light rail at will. This is phenomenally disingenuous. The argument of using buses in place of heavy rail arterials has not been put forth, merely the argument of using buses in place of *new* light rail systems.

    Also, your claim that a Paris or NYC metro ticket “gives you freedom of their entire networks without time limits” is patently false. It’s been quite some time since I was in NY and can’t remember the details, but unless things have changed in the last 12 months a Paris metro ticket is only valid for 90 minutes, and has restrictions on transfer types (for example, you can’t transfer from a train to a bus, or between two trains if you have to exit the station).

    The surreal part of this is I’ve had numerous arguments with people advocating an equally extreme opposing position – no managed public transport at all, just locals driving minibuses (like you find in, say, Vanuatu) and Uber-like private hire cars. They’re always complaining about authoritarian urban planners wanting to dictate where people live, work and socialise and how they get around those places. Now I know what they’re talking about.

  16. michael r james

    #51 drsmithy5 at 5:13 pm

    Whatever. I think anyone reading, say your #46 then my replies, can judge who is answering questions with facts and reasoned argument and who is not.
    Perhaps if you can’t take the heat you should stay out of the kitchen.

    But it does explain why building sensible, or really any, infrastructure in this country is so difficult. Especially if it has a bit of vision which of course will always cost more than buying a few buses.

  17. drsmithy

    I’m not trolling you, I’m challenging you.

    No, you’re not. You’re engaging in unsupported assertions, bad assumptions, belligerent steamrollering and logically fallacious arguments.

    “Challenge” suggests some interest in engaging in debate. It is quite clear you have no such interest, since you just keep repeating the same things over and over, either not reading, or not comprehending, anything that disagrees with them.

  18. michael r james

    #48 Dylan Nicholson at 9:23 am

    Naturally most “extremist” will deny the term applies to them, and that is true here. What I am advocating is pretty much exactly what all the best examples of large successful cities (see my list) have: a mixed system that has fixed-rail (Metro, RER, suburban rail) to do the heavy lifting (in the words of the famous BR ad: “let the train take the strain”). The more mixed the better so each different mode fills its optimal niche. And (here’s the extremism) if there is one thing that is 100% certifiably true, it is that buses have severe limitation as scale increases and density along routes increases etc. IMO buses are best on relatively short feeder routes to interchange nodes for rail, and they should be kept out of the centre of cities and towns. (see my comment on Oxford or Brighton in upcoming post).

    [nobody has yet to come up with a way of using the obvious advantages of buses as the foundation of a world-class public transport system]

    Over the long term (medium term really) that is true and I contend it is an immutable law of transport/urban systems. Can’t be done and any attempt is bound to fail. For a while (<20y) Curitiba was the poster child for such a system but the past decade has seen it starting to fail, with ridership falling and road congestion increasing. They are converting some of the heaviest used radial lines into full Metro (fixed rail). When the city was developing and most people were happy for any kind of reliable functioning transport (not common in Brazil) it worked very well but as people became more prosperous and as the population grew, demand overwhelmed the system simultaneously as the more prosperous chose to use their new cars, while the increased business economy put more commercial vehicles on the same roads etc etc.

    Brisbane is another case in point. Any treatise on modern bus systems and particularly BRTs will have a chapter on Brisbane. Again, it was a big improvement on what came before. But the last few years has seen a similar phenomenon, if different causes, to Curitiba. Declining usage, partly by bus congestion and partly by exploding fares (at peak hours the minimum fare is now about twice the cost of a Paris or NYC Metro ticket that gives you freedom of their entire networks without time limits!) There is also the phenomenon in peak hours of buses sailing past stops without stopping because they are already fully-loaded; nothing more infuriates pax.
    The only sensible solution is, like Curitiba, to begin its conversion to a light-rail system (it will actually more resemble a Metro system) and relegate the huge fleet of buses to a feeder network.
    The politician's solution is to propose faintly absurd and hugely expensive tunnels which, wait for the absurdity, will carry both train and buses on separate levels! Their apparent sticking point is that they cannot conceive of a network where the traveller–especially those further from the centre–must change modes at interchanges (in other words exactly what happens in every large city on my list). Instead in Brisbane we have often empty buses (outside narrow peak hours) running hugely long routes from outer suburbs all the way into the centre, and then often far out the other side.
    ……………………..
    #47 John Hulskamp at 11:48 pm
    [I recently visited Canberra, where there talk of a light rail from Civic to Gungahlin (only). It is pity that Canberra missed to boat as far as trams are concerned. Now it is only a political sop to the Greens? Shame!]

    Complete and utter crap. Ask drsmithy whether Zurich (very similar size to Canberra or future Canberra) has a good PT system, and whether it is worthwhile. Now is not a bad time to build their lightrail (better would have been to build it when Canberra began serious development post-war). As I have written on this blog, Canberra is perfectly suited to lightrail because it is essentially a linear city (actually Y shaped) so one line can serve almost all destinations, and it has the roads with spare space (even without intruding into those massive median strips).

    The only extremists here are the twits and political partisans who call the Greens the extremists.

  19. michael r james

    #46 drsmithy at 11:23 pm

    I’m not trolling you, I’m challenging you. Though your last post is just plain confusing (to me). It’s too late now so I’ll respond tomorrow afternoon.

    [so the 1.6 billion spent the light rail could have bought three thousand buses.]

    That is quite funny. (BCS squared. This is exactly what AD advocates as serious thinking all the time; but he can never–and never even tries–to answer the same question I posed to you: in that case why do any cities exist with anything other than fleets of buses; or more specifically why are the best cities always built around fixed rail?) Those 3,000 buses would have caused their own gridlock. Indeed it is why the Brisbane busway is losing effectiveness and ridership: it creates its own gridlock at several pinchpoints at peak hours. (And it is a curious mix of over-loaded buses and underloaded, indeed sometimes empty, buses.) There is a limit to what buses can do w.r.t. mass transit. Even without gridlock 3,000 buses still would not have changed much PT use by the car drivers of the GC. But I’ll wager the tramway will. (The only worry I would have is that PT fares are getting seriously expensive in Australia. Following the f-wit British model yet again!)

    [eg. the fixed nature of rail is its advantage.
    Eg: this is just a handwaved assertion with neither proof nor even some of of vaguely formed reasoning behind it.]

    That is some serious denialism. Even AD will tell you of all the data and examples on this phenomenon. Books have been written on it (by economists & planners). From the developers in London and LA wanting the LU/streetcars to service their potential new suburbs; likewise the NYC subway pushing into cow pastures of Queens and Brooklyn that turned into city. I can tell you that in the Paris suburbs an RER station will have a significant effect on values (buses are a given, they are everywhere but have zero effect on property values; or the effect of Metro line #4 pushing across the peripherique and transforming the entire fortunes (values) of Montrouge. In London a special tax is being levied on businesses that will benefit from London CrossRail–indeed it will raise $4bn towards the cost of the mega-project. I am sure it will eventually have the same effect on the GC though it may take a bit longer in that bogan culture.

    Obviously big dense cities are greener. That article is talking about something else claiming the discrepancy is due to the overestimation of MSA areas.In fact it is a peculiar thing they appear to be arguing as no one has claimed size per se leads to efficiency. Their data is dominated by those American “sprawl bomb” cities in the sunbelt which are indeed less efficient or green than the multitude of smaller American cities–well, less efficient than almost anything in previous human history, because everyone in them is driving and huge distances (and mostly living in poorly designed modern & overly-large tract houses.) That is clearly not what I said.

    But there is no doubt that residents in NYC use less energy in just about everything they do. In their transport: only 54% of NYC households own cars; 55% of all journeys in NYC are by PT; 82% use PT, walking & cycling). By contrast Atlanta (considered the most sprawled city in the US) 94% of commuters use their car. New Yorkers use less energy in their domestic heating and cooling. NY state (the 4th largest state) used less oil than anyother state! NYC residents, with an average of 4.7 MWh per household per year already consume less electricity than the residents of any other part of the country. The average Dallas household, by contrast, uses 16 MWh, more than three times as much.

    Even though NYC is the only real example of a European city pretty much over its entire span (other old cities like Boston, Philadelphia etc only retain a relatively small core of their euro-style origins) there are some other shocking comparisons. eg. a typical apartment in San Francisco uses 80% less heating fuel than a new tract house in Davis (east of SF). In big dense cities, delivery of services, collection of waste, just about everything is more efficient. So on, so forth.
    ………………..
    If you have lived in Zurich (and visited those others) then I really don’t understand what you are on about. You apparently liked living in Zurich (and I can understand, though it is not a very big city which is simply to say it doesn’t compare with most on my list). My list of (biggish) cities is simply of livable cities that have sophisticated PT systems not relying solely on buses. (The original question to you was to name one that does. I think you might concede there aren’t any.) Are you saying you didn’t make use of the Metros or lightrail in those cities? ..or what are you saying?

    With your comments about tax-payers, and PT that “benefit a tiny percentage of already well-off citizens ” and PPPs it appears that you have some other kind of (political) objection, rather than a functional/urban-planning one. Do you think that the whole series of very expensive road tunnels that have been built in Sydney and Brisbane is a better infrastructure than PT, especially relatively cheap tramways? Surely not. And, worse, independent of cost, they didn’t and couldn’t solve the problem. If you are arguing about funding methods and the absurd cost of building stuff in Australia, you won’t get any argument from me. But to return to your earlier post (#43, my emphasis):

    [Do you seriously believe, in opposition to every example city you could think of, this growth is going to be adequately catered for by … buses!
    .
    At a given cost ? How could it not ? You would probably have at least an order of magnitude greater carrying capacity and coverage area with buses compared to light rail for any given amount of money.]

    You can’t seriously believe that, can you? And again you seem to be totally focussing on cost (and short-term cost at that). Which is still not true once a city exceeds certain size limits. (And apparently not true for smallish cities like Zurich; the French have decided it isn’t for any with pop >250k.) Bus efficiency simply doesn’t scale, in fact it is more or less in inverse proportion to size. If your statement was true then why does that endless list of world cities bother with anything but buses? Honestly I think you have rowed over a waterfall here. (Unless I am completely missing something.)

    But also just to be clear. I am not advocating a trams-only PT system (ie. along with buses) for our big cities. That too will not scale as our cities expand endlessly (though arguably it did service the greater LA area but I suspect in an era when time was less precious–in any case those streetcars were running serious distances!). Obviously serious Metro (ie. 100% grade separation from roads) is needed for fast and efficient movement of large numbers over large-ish distances. It’s the network of these different modes that is important. Buses cannot do the heavy lifting and are best as feeders into the other modes (including trams & Metro).

  20. Dylan Nicholson

    drsmithy, no, not trolled, but perhaps michael’s position is a little extreme, even if I essentially agree with his main point, which is that nobody has yet to come up with a way of using the obvious advantages of buses as the foundation of a world-class public transport system. I would like to see it tried – if a bus network can be designed such that a) buses move as smoothly and are as spacious and comfortable as trams/trains, b) the routes are clear, direct and provided with dedicated lanes where necessary, c) stop placement is based on a sensible compromise between minimising stopping and starting and maximising effective catchment areas and d) services run frequently and reliably on-time then absolutely, they make a lot more sense than building fixed-rail.
    Unfortunately politically it’s a hard-sell: building a rail-line (and stations etc.) does demonstrate a genuine irreversible commitment towards providing transport alternatives, and comes with a concrete sense of achievement: ‘this is what we built’.
    If one party is promising that, and the best you can do is say “better buses would be cheaper”, you’re not likely to get taken too seriously.

    I will say there’s one reason I wouldn’t personally want to see more buses however, which is that they are large cumbersome vehicles that take up a huge amount of vertical and horizontal space on the roads, making them less safe for vulnerable road users. Of course if those buses really were significantly reducing the number of cars on the same roads it mightn’t be so bad, but it would take some time for that to occur. I’d also suggest there’s fewer opportunities for reducing the pollution (both long and short-term) from buses vs that from trains/trams.

  21. John Hulskamp

    I recently visited Canberra, where there talk of a light rail from Civic to Gungahlin (only). It is pity that Canberra missed to boat as far as trams are concerned. Now it is only a political sop to the Greens? Shame!

  22. drsmithy

    I believe I have already adequately rebutted all of your contorted replies so there is little more to say.

    Well, no, actually you haven’t even _addressed_ most of my points, let alone come within a bull’s roar of “rebutting” them.

    eg. the fixed nature of rail is its advantage.

    Eg: this is just a handwaved assertion with neither proof nor even some of of vaguely formed reasoning behind it.

    I suspect you have been afflicted by BCS (bean counters syndrome, OMIM/McKusick #114480) which AD spreads on his blog.

    No, I’m afflicted by “let’s not build a massive boondoggle with public funds that will primarily and disproportionately benefit a tiny percentage of already well-off citizens when those funds could instead be used to benefit a far larger and needier audience” syndrome.

    I mean, seriously: How many buses could the cost of the Gold Coast light rail have bought ? That is priceless.*

    Since you’ve clearly got little interest in actual data I spend five minutes on Google. A typical bus costs about half a million, so the 1.6 billion spent the light rail could have bought three thousand buses.

    How much more of the Gold Coast than the 13km strip the light rail services (and I’m sure was already reasonably well serviced) do you think would have been opened up to public transport with 3,000 more buses ? How many cars would they have taken off the road ? How many cars will the light rail take off the road ?

    You haven’t answered the most basic of questions, of why the GC (of all bogan shitholed in Oz!) and all those cities around the world, are they building lightrail?

    Yes, I did. You’ve only got to see the words “Public-Private-Partnership” to know the taxpayer is getting taken for a ride to line some old boy’s pockets, and will inevitably end up on the hook when it falls in a financial heap. This is Australia, a world-leader in rent-seeking.

    You, on the other hand, are justifying it with a fallacious appeal to authority. Or are you going to try and convince me the Liberals had the best interests of refugees in mind with their policies because if they didn’t they wouldn’t have implemented them ?

    I note that you have trouble defining “good” and refuse to nominate such a city.

    No, I have trouble reading your mind to know what you define as “good”, thus cannot nominate any city that meet these unknown criteria. Since you still haven’t provided an answer, I’m assuming you can’t actually define it outside of some subjective circular logic, most likely involving the mandatory presence of a light rail system.

    The big cities are far greener (re ecologically & energy & resources) and more efficient than small ones (or at least they should be), […]

    Really ?

    http://www.nature.com/srep/2014/140228/srep04235/full/srep04235.html

    But wait doc, I’ve just realised why you are so misguided and so cranky about Australian cities: you’ve never lived in one on my list have you?

    I have lived in Zurich, and you’d struggle to find a better public transport system anywhere in the world than Switzerland. We made extensive use of our GA travelcards.

    From your list, I have visited and made extensive use of public transport systems in NYC, Tokyo, Barcelona, Lyon, Munich, San Francisco, Singapore, Toulouse, Bordeaux and Montreal.

    Alan, I must admit I don’t follow your blog closely and don’t know the regulars. Am I being trolled here ?

  23. michael r james

    * In my #44 post I forgot to add my note to the asterisks. (Same point for both.)
    It is that beyond some threshold (population, sprawl footprint, made worse ie. lower threshold, by increasing prosperity–more cars more mobility) reliance upon ever more buses (because no one ever planned for anything else; ie. they never planned at all) a town or city turns into a hellhole. For both drivers and non-drivers. At one end of the scale are LA and those US sunbelt cities (and places like Sao Paolo, Mexico city, Rome whose miserable Metro is so rudimentary it gets unbearable most of the time).

    But it happens to even quite small places. Take Oxford where I lived for 6 years. Thatcher had privatized and deregulated buses so the smallish town (pop ≈120k but greater catchment ≈300k) was absolutely infested with buses–about four separate commercial companies with all sorts of buses. The centre of the ancient town was an appalling disgrace, even though it was nominally a pedestrian zone, the Haymarket was a bus zone. The pollution monitor in this zone was regularly in the red zone (though they actually switched it off as it approached it because then the street was technically supposed to close; I suppose that is some kind of powerful denial! Abbott would have been proud of Oxford city council!) Air pollution combined with noise pollution and physical pollution (in a pedestrian zone! there were regular near-death pedestrian accidents, at Carfax especially).
    I don’t know how it didn’t impact on Oxford’s UNESCO status (though Haymarket was a typically ugly UK high street with fast food joints etc). The thing is that Oxford would be well served by lightrail–because it is essentially laid in a Y so just two lines (or one line with a branch at one end) would serve the entire town (and beyond, though of course you would never get the likes of those who live in the cutesy villages around Oxford to not drive in; like Jeremy Clarkson or Rowan Atkinson who used to drive his Mclaren F1 into Broad street and park it illegally in the pedestrian area all the time). This came to represent a lot of what I hated about the UK. Their inability to plan anything and the idiot belief that either the free-market would solve it (hah!) and/or the lowest cost was the only option.
    Incidentally I had a bicycle in Oxford but hardly used it. Because Oxford is so geographically compromised (few access roads) that it was dangerous on the relatively narrow roads congested with poorly disciplined cranky British drivers (imagine a nation of Jeremy Clarksons) and of course all those buses. Its only saving grace was a lot of it was walkable (though Oxford also had the notoriety of high street crime and low personal safety, especially certain nights).

  24. michael r james

    #43 drsmithy at 7:13 pm

    You’ve seriously missed the point, on all points. Quite a feat!
    I believe I have already adequately rebutted all of your contorted replies so there is little more to say. eg. the fixed nature of rail is its advantage. You’re just in denial. (I understand.)
    I suspect you have been afflicted by BCS (bean counters syndrome, OMIM/McKusick #114480) which AD spreads on his blog. The concept that the cheapest is always the best. I mean, seriously: How many buses could the cost of the Gold Coast light rail have bought ? That is priceless.* You haven’t answered the most basic of questions, of why the GC (of all bogan shitholed in Oz!) and all those cities around the world, are they building lightrail?

    I note that you have trouble defining “good” and refuse to nominate such a city. I don’t have any such problem as it’s very easy. Paris (always top of the list, easiest big city to live without a car), NYC, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Barcelona, Madrid, Berlin, Amsterdam, Lyon, Lisbon, Munich, Moscow, San Francisco, Boston, Singapore, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Bilbao, Seville, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Vancouver, Montreal … (Oh, and Bordeaux, Seville & Copenhagen show how modern lightrail can co-exist right in the middle of UNESCO-listed heritage areas, whereas buses are completely incompatible*.)

    It’s equally easy to name the bad: every big Australian city, LA, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Phoenix. Buses will get you anywhere in LA but it will take an age (and in some cases be a bit risky), partly due to size and partly due to it being the worst city in the US for road congestion (which of course the buses get caught up in). This is why LA is trying very hard to transform itself (and guess what, nothing to do with more buses!) The only way to live in LA and keep your sanity is to live close to where you work. The other sunbelt cities are simply awful whether in a car or a bus. But even there, several of these (Dallas, Atlanta) are also trying to build some PT that works (of course they have always had your non-solution of buses and even more buses).

    I seriously wonder about your perspective. If you want to live in a country town then no problem. But if you want all the things that a big city offers then you need to face reality. Australia needs to face reality and start building serious PT (some of which was designed by Bradfield almost 80 years ago but people like you and AD said it was too expensive and we could do it so much cheaper with … buses).
    ………………….
    I am a big supporter of encouraging more cities in Australia. Nevertheless again you have it completely inverted when you say the madness of cramming even more people into existing, already overstretched capital cities. The big cities are far greener (re ecologically & energy & resources) and more efficient than small ones (or at least they should be), not to mention more interesting. No accident that big cities are what drive progress and human culture.
    But two things re new towns & cities: The first thing would be to design any such town (future city) as a TOD and that would be fixed-rail (you don’t have to plan buses which is their disadvantage because people like you think that is an advantage instead of the huge liability it actually is). Second, I’d link everything together with (hold your breath but don’t faint from shock) HSR.
    ………………
    But wait doc, I’ve just realised why you are so misguided and so cranky about Australian cities: you’ve never lived in one on my list have you? Or perhaps it is part of your denialism, the Abbott-like claim that we Australians don’t do things that way, or some such nonsense? If you lived in one of these big cities that offer so much but which also give you amazing freedom of the city via their civilized (rail-based) PT systems, you would have a more mature view.

  25. drsmithy

    I initially took this to be sarcastic but reading your #31, apparently you believe it!

    Tram routes are essentially fixed. They cannot be easily changed due to shifts of population or commercial activity. They are VASTLY more expensive and disruptive to establish. They (typically) do nothing to extend the coverage or accessibility of public transport as they are built in existing high-density population areas. They make changes of transport mode a necessity for anyone who doesn’t live along their narrow corridors of influence (and you’d struggle to find anything that dampens enthusiasm for public transport more than having to make a mid-trip change). They primarily benefit the middle- and upper-income earners who can afford to live in their catchment areas.

    Yes, they’re nicer to ride in than a bus. Yes, they’ve got more street cred than a bus. But that’s about it.

    how many real estate ads boast about being on a bus route?

    Er, are you serious ? Pretty much any that are ?

    do you want a bus route down your residential street?

    Compared to having a tram down it ? Hell, yes. Especially the part where my street spends a year being torn up and rebuilt to get the tramlines in.

    You seem convinced on your “simple” maths but you make the simplistic error of only including direct costs and excluding all the very real but indirect benefits (none of which are created by buses, often the contrary).

    Quantify them. Show me your maths.

    As for making bus lanes, that is truly bonkers. It costs almost as much as building lightrail but excludes private vehicles and hence generates fury amongst car drivers.

    Making a bus lane can be as simple as painting an existing road and throwing up a few signs. Even if you’re putting in a new, or expanding an existing, road, it’s a struggle to believe that can cost “almost as much” as an otherwise identical section of road, but with tram tracks and engineering for the much higher weight of trams (especially given the absurd cost of that sort of infrastructure work in Australia).

    Excludes private cars ? How can a bus lane be any more (or less) exclusionary than a tramline ?

    For this reason Brisbane’s busway system has been increasingly built just like a Metro system (ie. almost totally independent of the road system).

    With the enormous advantage that the buses can drive off those busway arterials and into the suburbs, thus not requiring everyone who wants to use public transport not be crammed up next to them, nor costing more billions and taking years to reach a new suburb that happens to boom.

    In car-based societies like the US and Australia, rail is the only thing that will ever get habitual car drivers out of their cars, which explains the proliferation of new lightrail schemes in the US.

    Where is the evidence to support this proposition that light rail will “get habitual car drivers out of their cars” ?

    Even in the bogan paradise, car-owning, free-parking capital of Straya, the Gold Coast, they have opted for light rail–at massive expense–why do you think that is so?

    Most likely a massive boondoggle for the mates of whoever was in Government at the time that a) own the companies building and maintaing it and b) own substantial amounts of real estate along its route. That’s how pretty much every infrastructure project gets the green light in the rent-seeker’s paradise of Australia.

    How many buses could the cost of the Gold Coast light rail have bought ? How many more people not living on the strip might be able to catch a bus instead of driving ?

    Please (anyone) identify a major city comparable to Melbourne or Sydney (or even Brisbane) that has a good transport system–especially, by definition, good PT–that achieves it with buses?

    Define “good”. Percentage of population with access to public transport ? Percentage of people who use public transport ? Land area covered by public transport ? Average trip times ? Average number of changes ? What is “good” ?

    Keep in mind that we are talking about planning for the future of our major cities which are predicted to grow to 5-7m within a few decades.

    Well, the madness of cramming even more people into existing, already overstretched capital cities rather than encouraging them to live elsewhere is another discussion altogether.

    Do you seriously believe, in opposition to every example city you could think of, this growth is going to be adequately catered for by … buses!

    At a given cost ? How could it not ? You would probably have at least an order of magnitude greater carrying capacity and coverage area with buses compared to light rail for any given amount of money.

    The false choice being presented here is between identical levels of coverage and accessibility using bus vs rail, when the real and honest comparison is the vastly greater levels of coverage and accessibility that can be achieved with buses vs light rail at the same cost.

    But perhaps you and a lot of Australians believe painting white lines on roads constitutes serious urban planning policy?

    Hah. As opposed to those who thing “serious urban planning” means forcing people into tiny dogbox apartments clustered around rail lines ?

  26. michael r james

    #40 drsmithy at 1:54 pm (and others saying the same thing):

    [..you’d be bonkers to be laying down new light rail routes along with all the costs and ongoing inflexibility that offers, when you could just buy some more buses, paint a few roads to make buslanes and maybe add extra lanes in highly congested areas.]

    I initially took this to be sarcastic but reading your #31, apparently you believe it! Every single point in that statement is bonkers. The inflexibility of (light) rail is actually one of its biggest advantages (how many real estate ads boast about being on a bus route? do you want a bus route down your residential street?) and do you think small businesses prefer buses or fixed rail? And thus the real-world increase in property values (and value of businesses) is enough to counter the “cost” of building the rail. Of course the benefit does not go (directly) to whoever built the lightrail though as we have argued somewhere much earlier in this blog (and many times previously) it is a strong case for governments levying a transport surcharge on local rates (or having a land tax whose rates reflect this real value). You seem convinced on your “simple” maths but you make the simplistic error of only including direct costs and excluding all the very real but indirect benefits (none of which are created by buses, often the contrary).

    As for making bus lanes, that is truly bonkers. It costs almost as much as building lightrail but excludes private vehicles and hence generates fury amongst car drivers. Politicians like Tony Abbott and Campbell Newman have zero compunction about instantly reassigning buslanes back to private cars on a whim. Newman abolished most buslanes on major Brisbane arteries the day after he was elected mayor in the mid-2000s. For this reason Brisbane’s busway system has been increasingly built just like a Metro system (ie. almost totally independent of the road system). (Brisbane’s busway system was entirely built by state labor governments.)

    Finally, the b.s. about no difference between buses and fixed-rail. Of course fixed-rail will instantly attract any bus-riders if the routes overlap but this proves nothing (if not the point that everyone prefers rail). In car-based societies like the US and Australia, rail is the only thing that will ever get habitual car drivers out of their cars, which explains the proliferation of new lightrail schemes in the US. I am not a car owner but I would rather walk (3 km at least) than use a bus. Even in the bogan paradise, car-owning, free-parking capital of Straya, the Gold Coast, they have opted for light rail–at massive expense–why do you think that is so?

    Please (anyone) identify a major city comparable to Melbourne or Sydney (or even Brisbane) that has a good transport system–especially, by definition, good PT–that achieves it with buses? Keep in mind that we are talking about planning for the future of our major cities which are predicted to grow to 5-7m within a few decades. Do you seriously believe, in opposition to every example city you could think of, this growth is going to be adequately catered for by … buses!

    But perhaps you and a lot of Australians believe painting white lines on roads constitutes serious urban planning policy?
    …………………
    AD, you can ignore it for all you like but Paris has 105 km of lightrail and it is all dual track and looks set to exceed Melbourne soon. Despite having one of the world’s biggest Metros (actually the world’s biggest when you include the RER) and a massive bus network, why do you suppose they are building such a big lightrail network? And have a plan for lightrail for every French city of >250k people. Perhaps it is just those wastrel socialists?

  27. Alan Davies

    Xoanon #37:

    Trams therefore have a greater ability to win people away from private car use.

    Trams are more appealing than buses but new light rail systems tend to attract travellers from other forms of public transport rather than from cars i.e. they replace buses. Most of the economic benefits from Sydney’s $2.2 Billion CBD and South East Light Rail will accrue to existing and future bus users. Only 17% of patronage will come from cars and 76% from existing public transport users.

    Jill Baird #39:

    The St Petersberg system is reputedly the second largest in the world. It has 220 km of single track whereas Melbourne had 249 km of dual track. Problem with comparisons with Euro networks is finding someone who’s made the effort to map them at the same scale.

  28. drsmithy

    When saying that buses could do as well as trams, there’s a suggestion that the two modes are equivalent in comfort and appeal.

    And, vice versa, when saying that trams could do as well as buses, there’s a suggestion that the two modes are equivalent in efficiency, flexibility and cost.

    Trams therefore have a greater ability to win people away from private car use.

    Public transport “comfort and appeal” will not “win people away from private car use”. People are either driving already because they value the advantages it confers or driving because public transport is not a viable option for them.

    Nobody – in the statistically significant sense, not the absolute sense – is going to stop driving and start taking the tram, when they could already be taking the bus.

    I lived in Zurich and have spent plenty of time in European cities with trams. They’re great, and I agree completely that they’re nicer to ride than buses. But from a practical perspective, you’d be bonkers to be laying down new light rail routes along with all the costs and ongoing inflexibility that offers, when you could just buy some more buses, paint a few roads to make buslanes and maybe add extra lanes in highly congested areas.

    Every time someone talks about new light rail systems, I am reminded of the Very Fast Train episode of Utopia: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3jl9hTIkXXc&feature=youtu.be&list=UUSS7tKTxrtZp35DaoCIe0rQ

  29. Jill Baird

    The comparative maps of Melbourne’s and US tram routes is fascinating, but wouldn’t a better comparison be with the many European cities that still have biggish tram networks?

  30. Reechard

    Why could we not have hybrid buses, that can recharge off the central Tram power grid?
    Do we really need these lumbering great traffic obstacles, these “super long trams design for Europe’, ‘super blocking stops’.. Of course, all are designed to frustrate the car driver even as they “tame” the traffic (dumb phrase) but hybrid buses would not need such monstrosities (pulling into the side and easing traffic flow) and would also be much much more versatile, being able to go “off grid” for periods, to service wider sideroutes.
    Towing Bike Carriers, they would add considerable flexibility.
    Another example of blinkered thinking that has wasted huge amounts of money and missed great opportunities.?

    On another issue
    How about giving trams much louder horns? The stupid little ‘dinger’ is all but useless, when a person with plugged ears strolled across the tracks. They need a skin shredding klaxon..

  31. Xoanon

    When saying that buses could do as well as trams, there’s a suggestion that the two modes are equivalent in comfort and appeal.

    But they’re not.

    In Melbourne at least, buses seem distinctly small, cramped and uncomfortable compared with the relatively more open interior space and steady pace of trams.

    Both buses and trams can get crowded, but it’s a hell of a lot easier to travel standing on a tram than on a swaying, bouncing bus.

    Trams therefore have a greater ability to win people away from private car use. Having recently experienced Sydney’s horrible buses, with their tiny seats and worse-than-budget-airline leg room, I imagine its new light rail will be a huge success once built.

  32. Alan Davies

    John Cooper #34:

    Paul Mees argued in his second book Transport for Suburbia that the narrative of the US car industry conspiring to do away with streetcars is largely a myth.

  33. Dylan Nicholson

    @32 – except a lot of it isn’t empty at all, it supports various ecosystems that would be unlikely to survive well with cities built on top of them. The parts that are essentially empty are that way due to a lack of water, and the difficulties of trying to both build a functional and aesthetically attractive city in deserts are second only to the difficulties of trying to attract people to actually want to live and work in them.
    OTOH Australia’s existing cities are a long way from being “old” or “overcrowded” by any meaningful international comparison.

  34. John Cooper

    Did the petrol companies or the motor companies encourage governments to give up electric trams in Australia? USA cities are reputed to have been influenced by cars and petrol versus electricity – just when the electric car was beginning to look like a goer in 1910??

  35. Russell

    Despite the increasing number of negative stories (in Fairfax, News and ABC) about the impact, cost and inconveniences of Sydney’s new light rail, it is still popular with pundits and politicians alike. The latter trot out their “support” without thinking too much, mostly because they (incorrectly) figure it must be “cheap.” That’s because it uses existing right-of-ways (public roads) – with no expensive tunneling and very little land acquisition. Their enthusiasm is increased when they realize that the routes (on previously public space) can be handed over to private operators, replacing the existing publically operated buses.

    Treasury like too it too because the routes can be linked it to developer-driven “Urban Activation Precincts.” In Sydney the inevitable resident opposition to those 15-20 story high rises is well underway though, and that UAP terminology (though not the concept) has been abandoned.

    But with all those imperatives in play, expect to hear lots more enthusiasm for light rail in Sydney, and I hope you (AD) cast your eye northward occasionally and give us your thoughts. Whether any new light rail projects are actually completed, even the South Eastern suburbs one, is quite another question.

    For a model of how this may play out (and I’m very sorry to think this), look to the dismal experience of Edinburgh.

  36. drsmithy

    Rather than try to decongest the old, overcrowded cities, let’s build new ones from scratch, perhaps along existing rail lines.

    Yes, this is the real problem.

    We live in a vast, empty country. It is absurd to try and squeeze nearly everyone into a handful of huge cities (though it does wonders for those who were lucky enough to get into property early on).

  37. drsmithy

    Trams are cool and all, but it’s a struggle to see how they could stack up on a cost-effectiveness and efficiency basis against buses – especially electric buses – and buslanes.

    And I say that as someone who loathes catching a bus.

  38. Roger Clifton

    Rather than try to decongest the old, overcrowded cities, let’s build new ones from scratch, perhaps along existing rail lines.

  39. Dylan Nicholson

    Gobillino, a) I’m not even sure it requires all that much active invention except to ensure that zoning laws are permissive enough to allow multi-storey apartment & office buildings, new commercial/retail development etc. and b) I would think the area already provides far more employment than Mernda ever could and c) I’d argue suggesting Mernda is cheaper is taking a very a narrow and short term view of ‘cost’.
    And the areas already served by mass transit are already activity centres (though in some cases there’s definitely scope for higher population densities etc.).

  40. michael r james

    #14 Alan Davies at 8:44 am

    No, that is not providing the sort of information one needs, either for the existing lines that service the areas not in the inner region, or what sort of mode-share would occur if one built a bunch of new lines (in the outer regions). Of course I know this is not easy but it’s the kind of thing needed to get some idea of effectiveness of such investment; in other words what you are always aiming for.
    It’s a serious question and I am quite unclear about it. Clearly there are too many imponderables to arrive at any quantitative conclusion with any confidence. (but that is where you too often put me in ire of your over-confidence in numbers on the page). This is where I believe one has to turn to real examples in the real world.
    In this case I wouldn’t necessarily turn to Paris–though we can certainly learn a lot of things from it and its urban explosion happened on similar historical timescale as our cities (mostly post-war, during which period Paris proper actually lost population) just larger–partly because its PT is just such a different quantum. And growing, as in the tramways I described, but also the vast expansion of the RER system (to specifically serve those outer suburbs) and the completely new Metro called “Grand Paris Express” (ie. not just extension of existing) that is also specifically for the suburbs (in particular see the planned outer-ring line #15, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Paris_Express#mediaviewer/File:Grand_paris_express.svg) which will be of the order of 100-120 km.
    Perhaps NYC serves as a “better” model (and its outer boroughs are probably better served with PT than Paris’s). The mode share of the Subway for all five boroughs is 55% (much higher in Manhattan) and is possibly about as high as one could aim for.
    Of course NYC is much denser than any Australian city, ie. including the outer boroughs, but then densification of our cities is called for in any future planning.
    So then the question becomes: what kind of PT system, say trams in the case of Melbourne (some of which might be circumferential feeding into its Metro) to achieve something similar to NYC? Remembering that NYC’s subway was built to shape the city–something I and others here always point out but which you seem so resistant to (eg. #22: in the case of Doncaster, Manningham Council forecasts population growth of less than 1% p.a. Doh, that would change if there was a good fixed rail link.) This is an absolutely key bit of planning because Melbourne seems set to approach NYC’s size (8-9m) and so has huge scope for such shaping. ie. planning PT today can have a very big role in determining the kind of future that Melbourne creates for itself. Which is why defeat of the EWL is important–it could well be a turning point.

    While you pose a reasonable question (if we spent the same amount of money today what would we build) you don’t even begin to answer it. But, like I said in #12, this article is better than the usual econo-rationalist nitpicking on individual projects. You can take that half-compliment as your Xmas present 🙂

  41. john doe

    @Gobillino – The suburbs of Sydneys North-West are the similar in terms of urban density and population to the ones along the proposed Doncaster railway alignment.

    Lets use the analogy of Wellington in New Zealand, a city with only 200,000 people. It has 5 train lines and 49 train stations. If this is considered I believe middle suburban Melbourne has the urban density to support a railway line.

  42. Gobillino

    You can’t, but as AD points out, population projections for Manningham anticipate very low growth. If the only way to make rail viable is for active intervention to encourage much higher density, the question has to be asked – why encourage further growth here only to improve the business case for a very expensive new piece of infrastructure, when that population can be accommodated in areas where the opportunity exists to leverage off existing infrastructure. You’d be talking about a greater population density in that corridor than any other in Melbourne to justify that level of tunneling, and those suburbs you’ve mentioned are amongst the lowest density in melbourne. If those suburbs can turn into Blacktowns, Parramattas, Burwoods, Rouse Hills, maybe there’s a case, but at the moment even Doncaster Hill isn’t anywhere near the density of any of those!

  43. john doe

    @Gobillino – You cannot stop where development occurs if people want to live in Doncaster. But the government can provide modern reliable transport. Manningham is one of the only areas in Melbourne not serviced by a rail-line. A rail-line similar to the NWRL underground line in Sydney could be used to service Doncaster. With tunnels continuing to Doncaster East, Donvale, Park Orchards and Warrandyte.

  44. Gobillino

    But what makes Doncaster Hill a better location for this form of development, rather than the many opportunities to accommodate this form of development in locations already serviced by mass transit (Heidelberg, Greens borough, Camberwell, Box Hill, Ringwood). It strikes me that many people seem to argue that we should step up density in Manningham to justify rail. Why? Because it looks like a gap on on a map of Melbourne’s rail network. When Doncaster is iniftely more expensive to service by rail than Mernda, and has very little employment except for a big shopping centre, these arguments always strike me as odd.

  45. Dylan Nicholson

    As I wrote elsewhere, if there was a serious effort to turn Doncaster Hill into a major “activity centre”, that would absorb growth that might otherwise go to fringe suburbs such as Mernda, then yes, I think a railway line there would absolutely be good value. Current residents may not not be receptive to higher density, but I can see the generational make-up of that area changing quite quickly in the next couple of decades (apparently only 35% of the population is over 50, but I have to say it struck me as quite a bit higher when I was living around there).

  46. Alan Davies

    Dylan Nicholson #21:

    Alright Dylan, because it’s Christmas, I’d be prepared to compromise on “stupid” rather than “silly”. 🙂

    But seriously, I don’t think you can argue that there’s any realistic prospect that Doncaster rail will somehow inevitably become “good value for money” in the near or even medium term.

    There’re good reasons to think an airport rail line will be needed in the future because of the forecasts of high growth in air travel, but in the case of Doncaster, Manningham Council forecasts population growth of less than 1% p.a. This is not a region where residents are especially receptive to high rates of medium density housing development.

    And what might change to make the East West Link anything other than stupid in the near to medium future? The numbers I’m seeing suggest the rate of increase in vehicle kilometres in Melbourne is dropping pretty quickly; that’s not necessarily a knock-out blow for a highly specific project like this, but it hardly provides grounds for optimism.

  47. Dylan Nicholson

    “silly projects like the East West Link motorway, Doncaster rail, Rowville rail”

    I don’t see how ‘silly’ is a useful adjective for any of these projects. They would all add valuable infrastructure and help move people more efficiently than they can now – but at this point don’t, on paper at least, appear to be particularly good value for money.
    “Silly” I’d reserve for the Avalon rail-line, that obviously wasn’t going to do much to help anyone, despite being probably relatively inexpensive to build.

  48. Alan Davies

    IkaInk #17:

    Ah, another no-win game! If only I could mention every issue that everyone thinks I ought to have mentioned! Fact is, the way trams shaped land use is interesting and important in a general sense (or especially in another article with a different purpose) but not so pertinent to this particular discussion that it needed to be mentioned in 900 words.

    Like you and Tom (#5), I also expect that trams do better at non-work trips than trains (but not as well as cars) but so what? Are you disputing that work trips make up a disproportionately large share of total trips by tram? Are you disputing the mode share figures I cited? What’s your point?

    My purpose in writing the article isn’t to cite every advantage of trams or every disadvantage. As I pointed out above (#14), the issue here isn’t a matter of being pro-tram or anti-tram; it’s what contribution trams can make, given the costs and benefits as well as alternative infrastructure choices, for all existing and future travellers in the metropolitan area.

    Your question about whether or not a contemporary tram system would be different from the existing one is a good one. Yes, obvious errors like duplicating rail services would be avoided, but would much else be different? Seems to me Sydney has pretty well followed the standard radial model with its initial Lilydale/Dulwich Hill to Central light rail line and the proposed CBD and South Eastern Light Rail project. The big difference – so far – is light rail over streetcar; but there can’t be that much low hanging fruit like Anzac Pde left.

  49. Gobillino

    #18 – “What gets called “heavy rail” in Oz and the UK is called commuter rail, regional rail, or suburban rail North America.”

    Perhaps true of network design, and, to a degree form/infrastructure. But rarely true of service span and frequency (take a look at the service pattern of Go Transit in Toronto – one of Nth America’s lauded PT cities. It pales in comparison to anything offered by ‘commuter rail’ in any of Australia’s big cities)

  50. Ji Re

    A few points 1) Much of the cost in a project like the GLink and similar projects in the US is in digging up the streets to move (read:replace) utilities before the tracks go in. Restoring old tram lines in Brisbane, for instance, wouldn’t incur most of those costs because the utilities wouldn’t be under the old track beds in the first place.

    2) There are significant differences in Australian and North American transit parlance. In North America the trams in Melbourne would, depending on the city, be called a streetcar or trolley. While the GLink at Gold Coast uses modern streetcar (tram) rolling stock the line itself is built to light rail standards (similar to the Glenelg Tram in Adelaide) and would be regarded as such in North America even though most systems there use heavier, faster cars in multi-car consists that can and do run metro-style service in some portions (San Francisco, Calgary, Pittsburgh, etc). A lot of North American light rail also has street-running segments. Heavy rail is also known as metro or subway and runs almost exclusively on a 3rd rail, with high level platforms, and full grade separation. What gets called “heavy rail” in Oz and the UK is called commuter rail, regional rail, or suburban rail North America.

    3) Coming from a city with most forms of transit (Philadelphia) and moving to another one (San Francisco) and having lived in Brisbane and Melbourne I see the value in having multiple, semi-redundant modes that serve different trip types. Trams are great for trips up to 10km from the city centre. After that the trips get arduous. Metro or light rail is valuable for trips up to 20km. Regional rail is good for up to 100km. Anyone who has been to Sydney sees what happens when short, medium, and long distance trips are all vying for the same trains.

  51. IkaInk

    @Mat Garner – I’ve been led to believe that Melbourne’s tram network does better than most of the PT network in terms of cost recovery. The SmartBuses do better again though, showing that when buses are planned quite well they are excellent value.


    I think it is slightly weird that you would write an article about Melbourne’s tram network, discuss the mode-share, etc then not even mention that part of the explanation for the current mode-share is how much the tram network itself has shaped the urban form. It is no coincidence that Melbourne retains both many vibrant heritage high streets and a tram network when many cities the world over lost both as the “auto-city & shopping centre” model took over. This is also reflected in Tom’s (#5) point that despite Alan’s blanket assumptions, Melbourne’s trams do considerably well for purposes other than work trips.

    One other point that would be worth considering if hypothetically Melbourne’s tram network didn’t exist and we were considering building something of its size is would it be nearly the same form? I’d argue it would make very little sense to build it the same again. The existing network reflects that when the system was built trams and trains competed against each other, this is why so many tram lines virtually parallel the train network all across the city. A highly inefficient method of planning if the aim is to reduce automobile dependency, but as said above it has also shaped the city considerably. Now if only someone would get serious about better integration between the two rail networks!

  52. Alan Davies

    Dylan Nicholson #15:

    I’m saying that just building infrastructure – which is the way the political discussion largely proceeds – won’t be enough to address expected population growth and increases in density, effectively. Need to be thinking more proactively about other options e.g. congestion pricing; feeder bus services to the rail network; impediments to land supply. Will still need some big infrastructure (see last para of article) but have to be much more strategic about it than silly projects like the East West Link motorway, Doncaster rail, Rowville rail.

  53. Dylan Nicholson

    “It’s difficult to see how “just build more infrastructure” is a viable strategy for coping with projected population growth in major metropolitan areas”

    I don’t think anybody’s proposing “just” build more infrastructure. But even getting better use out of existing infrastructure means building something, whether it’s more bike lanes, road widening, better signalling, better bus/tram stops, better broadband networks etc. etc.

    I’m not sure what you’re thinking of as alternative options – doing more to encourage businesses/schools/etc to adopt more flexible hours? Doing more to attract people away from major cities? Or at least, doing more to build up alternative hubs to the CBD?
    At the end of the day though if Melbourne is to grow to a city of 7-8 million people within the next few decades there’s no avoiding the fact that it doesn’t have the infrastructure to cope with it yet.

  54. Alan Davies

    michael r james #12:

    What you need to calculate is what percentage of all motorised pax trips within the catchment zone of the tram network is captured by it.

    That’s indeed relevant, which is why after citing the 4% metropolitan wide mode share figure for trams I also went on to say “up to 25%-30% of commuters living in inner suburbs like Brunswick, Northcote, Albert Park and Kew travel to work by tram”. I also supported it with a link to this article and map showing that of course trams do well for the journey to work within their catchment.

    The issue here isn’t, as you seem to instinctively frame it, a matter of being pro-tram or anti-tram; it’s what contribution trams can make, given the cost and benefits and alternative infrastructure choices, for all 100% of travellers in a metropolitan area, existing and future.

  55. Matthew Geier

    The Belgian NMVB wasn’t a single urban network, it was more like the US ‘Interurban’ lines. Belgium is such small country that the urban systems of their major cities joined up into one large near country wide network of narrow gauge railways.

    I’m not sure you can count the NMVB in the ‘city tramway size’ stakes, as it wasn’t one cities network.

  56. michael r james

    Now AD, I tried really hard to like this article. Seriously. But alas, you manage to impose on the basic facts a set of extrapolations and assumptions that are just plain wrong, or misguided to say the least.
    I’ve dealt with the cost issue in earlier posts. But my main problem is this:
    [Melbourne’s trams carry around 4% of all motorised passenger trips per day in the metropolitan area.]

    No doubt you will argue with an accountant’s zeal but it makes no sense to cite that figure and then make arguments as to its efficiency or whatever (improvements in PT for dollars spent, etc). The network has barely been improved for decades eve as Melbourne has grown several fold. What you need to calculate is what percentage of all motorised pax trips within the catchment zone of the tram network is captured by it. This may not be so simple to calculate or extract but surely you have to agree it is the only thing that makes sense. (What point is achieved by including in your calculations the several million of Melbourne’s population who live in new suburbs that are nowhere near a tramway.) From such a figure you could then calculate the theoretical ROI of building tramways to such places.
    Not that I think one really needs such calculations as it actually is a no-brainer for Melbourne to considerably expand both it Metro (train) and tram/lightrail networks, including, as Paris is now doing, circumferential interconnecting lines not just radial ones.

    Clearly the Greens “plan” to extend a whole bunch of tramlines is designed to considerably boost the reach & catchment of the existing network at minimum cost. And as AD put it, to “focus on how to extract much more value from the legacy infrastructure they’ve fortuitously inherited.”. The calculation I suggest above is the one that needs to be done, not, for example, a facile nonsense of saying that total carriage of Melbourne’s PT rises “only by 0.x%” or whatever:

    [is extraordinarily expensive to retrofit into established areas relative to the impact it has on car use and traffic congestion. It’s difficult to see how “just build more infrastructure” is a viable strategy for coping with projected population growth in major metropolitan areas.]

    This is a slightly surreal statement. So not building more infrastructure is somehow more “viable”? You think, despite your own calculations of the cost of rebuilding the network at today’s prices, that it is going to get cheaper if we delay another few decades?
    Let’s say Melbourne has to build tramways equivalent to the existing (ie. doubling its size) and it is done over the next decade: using the higher figure (of $30bn) that would represent 0.2% of Australia’s GDP; or a bit under 1% of Victoria’s NP. It’s kind of silly to say we cannot afford it. Australian spend $80bn p.a. on cars and their associated costs. In a single year (admittedly when oil was at its peak) we spent $26bn on importing oil. One thing is for sure, we cannot not afford to do it if we want livable cities.

    (Incidentally almost all of Paris’ Metro network was build in a single decade construction orgy. According to Mark Ovenden construction in earnest began in 1898 and by 1910 the 6 line network was essentially visible as we know it today. Paris-urbane was a bit smaller than Melbourne today. So far their Metro has served the city for a century and looks like going on for another few.)

  57. michael r james

    Incidentally if you want to discuss building major tramways in the modern world then look to Paris. Most visitors will be surprised because the 8 lines are not in the centre. In fact only line T3 is in Paris proper–though it is several quasi-independent lines that will eventually circumnavigate Paris (≈45km) being built on the Boulevards des Maréchaux (a series of wide boulevardes named for Napoleon’s First Empire marshals) which is built inside of the old city walls (the Peripherique freeway is built on top, ie. at elevation; the Maréchaux are part of standard Paris streets, indeed usually the last street in Paris before you cross into the banlieus).

    The system is 105 km so far, with 186 stations. All built since 1992 but gathering pace with T3b and T5 thru T8 opened since 2012, which at 50.2 km means almost half the total in the last few years. The reason for this expansion is twofold (at least): 1. it is not practical to extend the Metro (though that is happening where it can cope, eg. Line 4 extended into Montrouge in 2012); 2. it is a lot cheaper than building Metro.

    France has a stated plan to install tram/lightrail into every town of greater than 250k population. (Which I would like to bring to the attention of those sceptics re Canberra’s lightrail project. For once an Australian city might be getting the PT project it needs in a timely fashion instead of decades late. Yeah, we’ll see.)

    We can also get an idea of costs from this French building program. I’ve only looked at the section within Paris (T3a opened in 2006; T3b opened in 2012; T3b extension underway). Just the T3 tramway (≈22km) has ridership of ≈30m per year. Logically it might be more expensive to build than in the banlieu but maybe not (especially as the Bvds des Maréchaux are consistently wide like Melbourne streets with tramways on them.) An interesting note is that they devised a method to construct thru the major intersections (there are mega ones at each of the “portes”) at night to avoid any traffic disruption during the day.
    Here are the published costs of these projects completed recently or underway:

    T3b: 14.3 km at cost of €651·9m: [≈€45.6m per km] this does not include €149m for urban enhancements, and €77m (funded by RATP) for the 25 additional Citadis 402 low-floor trams.
    4·7 km extension of T3b from Porte de la Chapelle to Porte d’Asnières at provisional cost of €205m [≈€43.6m per km]

    So the average cost is a fairly consistent ≈€45m per km; ie. A$67.7m per km. This would value the Melbourne tram network at almost $17bn. One could quibble about the extra costs (it is true that the opportunity is usually taken to implement a lot of local improvements that don’t come cheap) but let’s not. Alan says this is “astronomically expensive” but I’m not so sure about that. After all this is an entire comprehensive (biggest in the world) transport network and probably relatively modest beans if you priced all the city’s transport infrastructure on the same basis. Example: a single road tunnel in Melbourne and in Sydney are each costing (as both AD and I have shown in todays dollars) more than half that total tram network cost! Looks positively cheap, wouldn’t any reasonable person say?

    And I am sure most readers would agree that if tramways were built–or at least planned for–as a city expands then the costs would be several factors cheaper than any of these costs or extrapolations. The Gold Coast tramway is a perfect example of how costs simply explode without any rational long-term planing. By refusing to fund PT, Tony Abbott is simply creating a vastly more costly effort done later.

    (More points to follow.)

  58. hk

    Tramway network evaluation by a Monash student in early 1990s showed that St Petersburg had the longest tramway network. What the network length is in 2014 could not be readily found.

  59. michael r james

    Now you’re just making stuff up:
    [2. One of the key reasons for the general escalation in infrastructure costs over time, especially in Anglophone countries, is the higher expectations of users and the public.]

    If anything I would say the opposite. Whenever any of we Parisians (current or former) ride the NYC system we are a little amazed that these brash New Yorkers tolerate it. Of course it does the job but still … (and no, I’m not talking about it in the 70s!).

  60. michael r james

    #1 & #2

    Andrew beat me to it. I lived/worked there briefly in the 90s and was mystified by that “map” by Matt Johnston. And though there are underground segments the surface is by far the largest part. (The underground part right in the centre is an example of enlightened future planning as there was provision made for the trams on top of the BART system/Market Street Subway; the most recent addition was the Third Street tramway in 2007). I have my old Muni maps but Wikipedia to the rescue:

    [The Muni Metro system consists of 115.1 km of standard gauge track, seven light rail lines (six regular lines and one peak-hour line), three tunnels, nine subway stations, twenty-four surface stations, and eighty-seven surface stops.]

    It is the biggest tram/lightrail system in the USA and has annual ridership of 51m. (Of course puny by comparison to serious Metro cities including NYC where their ridership is measured in the billions but remember that SF city is actually quite small, both geographically and population at under 1m, about 800k IIRC). For this reason the tram network services most of the city.
    Also worth mentioning is that I don’t believe the cable cars are included in these calculations. Further it is one of the few cities anywhere that has retained its electric trolley buses. In fact it might make SF one of the few cities to have every mode of PT, from Metro (BART), tram/lightrail, cable-cars, trolley-buses, and ferries. (I don’t think it has a funicular or a aerial tram.)
    This is one American city where you don’t need to own a car (especially as it is very bike friendly–despite the hills–partly from sentiment but helped by the benign weather year-round.) Also one of the best walking cities in the USA (much more manageable scale than NYC).

  61. john doe

    Dallas Area Rapid Transit is 137 km in length. It was constructed between 1996 and the present day. This system may be a better comparison. Also Lon Angeles is 113.1 km which was constructed since 1990.

  62. Mat Garner

    It would be interesting, however, to see how much extra Melbourne spends in operating expenditure on the most marginal of its lines that should never have been retained, than the buses that could well and truly do the job (whilst maintaining service frequency).

    It would also be interesting to see how much extra Melbourne spends per passenger km because of those infrastructure/operational constraints you point out. Sydney may be spending a bomb on it’s light rail network, but with a fleet that will have double the capacity of the largest vehicles on Melbourne’s network, and I’d assume far higher average speeds because of the lack of mixed traffic operations, they will get much better bang for their buck on op ex than we do in Melbourne.

  63. Tom the first and best

    Trams are actually well placed to do well for non-work trips in inner-Melbourne. They run through lots of shopping strips, tend to have high frequency compared to trains and especially buses (who they also have better hours than) they disproportionately serve the densest areas (including the areas with low car ownership) and they have a better presence than buses (because of the rails). I think you will find that trams have some of the best off-peak and non-work patronage of Melbourne`s PT system.

  64. Marcus W

    A subject worth further analysis would be to investigate how improved service frequencies combined with tram priority works would affect patronage on the tram network.

    Given Melbourne already has the tracks in place as well as a fleet of trams sized for peak hour service, it would be interesting to see how we can ‘sweat the assets’ and get the most benefit out of them.

  65. MikeofPerth

    Alan I think the cost and also the complexity would vary depending on whether a city has an existing urban rail (especially electrified) system or not. For example Perth and Brisbane, in which there has been discussion and planning in recent years of reintroducing light rail/trams it would not be as big a hurdle compared to many large American cities that get by with rudimentary bus networks (e.g. Indianapolis, Phoenix prior to its new light rail line).

    This is because in those Australian cities there would already be a level of skills, experience and knowledge in fields such as engineering, service planning, operations etc within the state public transport authorities that would be transferable to allow them to more easily build, operate, maintain and upgrade a light rail network.

    That’s just my guesstimating anyway.

  66. Alan Davies

    Andrew #1:

    Fair point; IIRC Muni is underground in the CBD but then runs on surface streets. BTW I didn’t make the map; Rob Amos added the Melbourne network but I don’t know who did the original LHS panel. There’s also this version with Toronto up against the US streetcar systems. Update: the source of the LHS panel is Matt Johnson. He explains why he didn’t include Muni.

  67. Andrew

    Generally agreed, Alan. But you are treating San Francisco harshly by showing only its F-line. The Muni Metro system, with each line being a streetcar/tram & light-rail hybrid, is about as extensive as Philadelphia’s:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Muni_Metro.png

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