ACTION FOR PUBLIC TRANSPORT (NSW) INC.
Light Rail or Bus Planning for Sydney
Points to Consider
ADVANTAGES of light rail
Compared to buses:
- More comfortable ride
- Possibly higher passenger capacity per lane per hour in the right conditions (but with more standing)
- Lower operating costs per passenger
- Lower noise, both inside and out
- Benefit to other road users where surfaces are rebuilt - i.e. fewer jolts for the buses
- Pollution is remote from the vehicle
- Can draw on whatever source of electricity is used
- Aesthetic - very well-designed trams are seen as adding visual appeal to the urban landscape
- Seen as a positive benefit to areas - part of urban renewal schemes, affecting property values
- Legibility - people including infrequent public transport users can see where it goes and feel confident a LR vehicle will come soon
- Integrates well into a pedestrian mall - eg. Bourke St (Melbourne) or Hay St - unless pedestrian densities are so high and/or trams are so frequent that unacceptable conflicts result
- Potential for dual-current vehicles as used in Karlsruhe or Saarbrücken - can run on LRT and heavy rail routes
- If overhead wiring is considered unacceptable, LR vehicles may be able to run on batteries/supercapacitors or take power from a third rail
- May suit areas where level of demand is less than would warrant heavy rail
- Symbolic value: owing to the cost and effort required, can be seen as proof that a government is truly committed to public transport
- It is politically easier to remove cars from CBD streets if buses are also removed.
DISADVANTAGES of light rail
Compared to buses:
- Higher capital costs
- Generally lower proportion of seats to standees
- Inflexibility of route e.g. in case of breakdown or a temporary street closure due to a special event or parade
- Inflexibility - one tram cannot overtake another
- Disruption to traffic and local businesses during construction
- Permanent inconvenience to motorists where lanes are lost or the motorists are required to wait behind a tram while its passengers are getting on and off.
- Cost of construction means that interchange with buses will be necessary on some routes or outer ends of routes
- Greater capacity of vehicles may mean reduced frequency compared to buses
- If coal-fired electricity is used, greenhouse emissions per passenger-km may be higher than buses
- May lead to neglect of bus routes in areas away from LRT
- Aesthetic - overhead wires are disliked by many people
- Very long tramsets (over 60 metres in some cases) are awkward to accommodate in cities with short blocks. A second tramset cannot begin to enter a short block until it is certain that the tramset in front will move. Entering, crossing then clearing an intersection can require more than 15 seconds and with frequent services can amount to an unacceptable obstruction to cross traffic. The time taken will be longer if the intersection is large, if the LRV is crossing after stopping at traffic signals, or if the LRV has to stop immediately after crossing.
- The smooth ride in LR vehicles, especially if separated from other road traffic, can attract so many passengers that the spare capacity is exhausted.
Principles for light rail planning for Sydney:
- We're building a city, not a transport system. Land-use and transport must be planned together.
- LRT should always be planned as part of an integrated public transport system, not as a separate money-making venture. In particular, the integrated system should be planned properly with minimal regard to political pressures. There are many examples in Sydney and elsewhere of a transport project with little merit being built ahead of pressing needs. Perhaps the clearest example is the Tibby Cotter bridge - devoid of all merit but costing $38 million plus land. Another example is Westconnex, which was approved by both Federal and NSW governments before its route was fixed. Unfortunately, every driver reckons he's a transport expert and firmly believes that urban roads should be amplified to solve traffic congestion. Politicians are well aware of this belief and act accordingly. And conscientious traffic consultants who understand that building more roads invariably attracts more traffic are effectively muzzled; they won't get more work unless they ignore generated traffic in their calculations.
- LRT has a quite different job from heavy rail and different skills are required in planning LRT.
- LRT lines should go where the demand is (present or planned), not just somewhere there is a disused railway line or other surplus land.
- In large cities such as Sydney, it is absolutely essential to have sufficient capacity for peak hour with scope for expansion where demand is expected to grow over time.
- Some bus service into the city should be maintained. If a bus/LR interchange is necessary it should be at-grade (i.e. no steps or escalators) and involve as short a walk as possible.
Frequencies of all services should be good enough that exact timekeeping and connections are not necessary.
- Where a bus journey into the city is replaced by a feeder bus with LR interchange, the total journey time should not be increased.
- The cost structure and ticketing should be totally integrated with the rest of the public transport system. There should be no surcharge or flagfall on change of mode e.g. tram to bus.
- There are many possible improvements to existing bus services, e.g. dedicated lanes, traffic light priority and elimination of ticket sales by the drivers.
These should be pursued as widely as possible. The healthier bus patronage is on any route, the more potential for conversion to LR.
- All improvements to bus facilities should be designed with potential LRT conversion in mind.
- New release areas at the edge of Sydney may be suitable for LRT because it can be planned for from the beginning. This would be dependent on the population density being high enough to support a line, and that LR would take people to at least a major centre or station (e.g. Penrith or Liverpool) without having to change.
- In planning a LRT service, just as in planning any railway, everything must be thought of. To take just a few:
- How the resultant system will cope with peak-hour loadings, both ways.
- Construction disruption
- Preserving access for pedestrians and freight
- Modern easy-access and safety requirements which may place tight constraints on station locations and design.
- Arranging the light rail stops so that they can be used by buses for lightly-used late-night services or in the event of trackwork. This probably means that light rail platforms have to be on either side of the tracks, not in the middle. Also, buses shouldn't have to back out of terminus platforms!
- Converting bus services to LRT requires very careful justification and planning. Everything that could result must be considered and allowed for.
- Converting heavy rail services to LRT also requires very careful justification and planning.
- Light rail performs best when completely separated from other road traffic, including cross traffic. Separation costs money.
- In large and growing cities such as Sydney, it eventually becomes impossible to find suitable surface corridors for effective transit systems. Tunnels must then be used, and they are expensive.
- When building LR lines in different parts of the city that might later be connected into a network, compatible technical standards should be used. This need not preclude modernisation.
Comment on this item
Action for Public Transport home page