Friday, 26 August 2011

Trams Move More People!

In my mind, I tend to associate trams with more foreign climes. It seems entirely natural to ride around City Centres such as Brussels, Amsterdam and Zagreb on a tram, and people accept them as part of the natural landscape.
In England, didn't we do away with most of our trams years ago, only to leave them in the corners of of memories as shimmering black & white cine film footage?
We sometimes forget that, whilst we can't compete with some of our near Euro neighbours for the numbers of tram networks, we do actually have a few of our own - and they're flourishing.
We have the world-famous Blackpool system, with it's fabulous 1930s Balloon cars, the excellent Croydon system, the Docklands Light Railway, Manchester Metrolink, the soon to be extended Midland Metro, the NET in Nottingham (Nottingham Express Transit), Sheffield Supertram (which I "mystery shopped" a few years ago for an awards ceremony - and I found to be excellent) and the quirky but brilliant Tyne & Wear Metro ("quirky" as I find it quite small, being 6' 7" myself!)
Why am I celebrating our tram systems?
The Department for Transport has released some figures announcing that patronage is doing very nicely! Passenger journeys have increased by 5.5% in the last year across the systems.
In 2010/1 there were 196.5m passenger journeys - the highest number to date. Vehicle miles increased by 1.8% to nearly 14m miles.
It seems we English love our trams! And why not? I even still get a tad excited when I'm on my local Midland Metro goes onto the street-running section in Wolverhampton! Quite why, I'm not sure!
We often baulk at the cost of creating new tram systems, and it's true they don't come cheap. But they are a real statement of quality public transport, whichever City in England or across Europe they are in. It's a pity there is such a row in Edinburgh over the saga in building that City's new tram service.
Birmingham's Midland Metro will soon emerge from the corner of Snow Hill where it currently terminates and onto the City streets to link into the "new" New Street rail station. To have it visible to so many is exactly what it needs, even if there are concerns about where all the buses in Corporation Street are going to go. Trams are statements of vibrant Cities and Birmingham needs them. All we need now (as if it sounds that simple!) are more lines. The Midland Metro - over 11 years since it opened, mostly on an old disused rail line - remains a single service. It needs to be part of a network across the wider Centro / West Midlands area. Let's hope Government proposals for a change in the way such large projects can be funded proves to be the tipping point into having more of them.
In the meantime, let's celebrate England's trams moving more people!

1 comment:

  1. Phil you can have 'trams' without rails at around a tenth of the cost - just take a look at the Bus Rapid Transit videos of Bogota and Curitiba (Street Films), where 35,000 -40,000 passengers per hour are shifted as effectively as any metro can. But then again these are not simply buses stuck on a separate busway and still collecting fares on the platform (basically what we've been doing in the UK) these are 25 metre triple section buses carrying over 200 passengers, loading like trams through 4 double doors - sucking in 100 passengers in under a minute and setting off with 30 second headways at peak times, and average speeds 3 times that of typical buses. First dipped a toe in the water with Streetcar and then proceeded to have it operating over a compromised route - using bus stops.

    Look at the Midland Metro boardings on the disused rail section and there are distinct spikes - where the stops are effectively the old stations well located for places people are going to/from, and in some ways the tram should have either done as Metrolink and run as a train on the disused railway or used an old tram route on street. There is a growing need to get more rail capacity between Birmingham and Wolverhampton and that route would be welcomed back as part of the rail network, if the tram was put onto the streets or operated as a tram-train. Perhaps better that the contrived trial being considered in Sheffield this would be a project to fulfill a practical need.

    Of course this may well be an attempt to rub in the fact that Scotland's trams are not exactly doing very well at present ;-P