Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Eighth Report


Problems with the implementation and operation of LRT schemes


27. Funding for LRT schemes usually comes from three main sources: Government grant, private sector investment and fares.[80] Although dependence on public sector funding has decreased as the private sector has taken an increasingly important role, even schemes that were expected to generate significant operating surpluses, such as Croydon Tramlink, have proved unable to cover their full costs, and Government grant has been required to bridge the funding gap.[81] According to the Confederation of Passenger Transport, the major factor that militates against light rail schemes is the substantial amount of time and money that has to be devoted to submitting a proposal for funding to Government without any indication of whether the project will eventually proceed.[82] It can take between eight and ten years for a scheme to progress from conception to operation, in which time assessment criteria and funding methods might have changed. In addition, a failure to adopt a common approach to funding and procurement has meant that projects incur additional delays and expenditure.[83] Furthermore, funding can depend on budgetary considerations as well as an individual scheme's merits with the risk that a promoter's efforts might be in vain:[84] private sector investors may be reluctant to commit funds for three years or longer to a project with offers no guarantee of earning a return.[85]

28. The cost of a light rail system that includes on-street running is further increased by the reduction planned in the contribution made by utility companies to the cost of diverting their pipes, cables, and other infrastructure away from the tracks. In the past, utility companies contributed 18 per cent of such costs in recognition of the fact that their equipment was being renewed at the same time. The Government has announced that while this level of contribution will remain for highway projects, it will fall to 7½ per cent for public transport schemes.[86] Some of our witnesses said that the resulting increase in the contribution required of the promoters of LRT projects was unfair.[87] The PTE Group was "very disappointed" by this development because it argued that the utility companies gained "at least" 18 per cent of the cost of diversion in terms of betterment from the renewal of their equipment.[88] The Government said that it had sought to strike a balance between the different interests of the utility companies and public transport promoters. It thought that the overall effect of the changes would be to reduce the contribution made by the utilities typically to one per cent of the total cost of a scheme. To the extent that this would add to the funding gap, the Government was able to consider meeting the additional cost.[89] The Minister told us that he thought "one way or the other the extra costs are not met by the promoters but by other means, including the public purse".[90]

Transport and Works Act

29. Obtaining the powers to construct a new LRT system can represent another formidable obstacle facing a promoter, and one which is closely linked with the need to secure funding. Despite hopes to the contrary, it is not clear that the promotion of most schemes by Orders under the Transport and Works Act 1992 has shortened the process for obtaining powers or reduced the uncertainties associated with it. The Light Rail Transit Association thought that under the Act the costs of obtaining the required powers are almost certainly higher, and the delay and the complexity greater.[91] Based on its experience with the rejection of its application for an Order under the Act to enable it to build the Merseyside Rapid Transit System, Merseytravel set out a series of detailed concerns about the procedures, some of which it felt could have "significant repercussions" for other LRT systems.[92] London Transport agreed that the procedures are costly, that they have increased the risks associated with a project and, as a consequence, are likely to discourage the private sector from participating in a scheme from an early stage. It fully shared the view [93] that it is time to review the Guidance issued relating to the Transport and Works Act.[94] In 1998 the former Chartered Institute of Transport examined the strengths and weaknesses of the Act's procedures, and made a number of proposals for further consideration which might form the basis of such a review.[95]

Co-ordination of transport and land-use planning policies

30. While securing powers and funding were major sources of difficulty encountered by promoters, many other factors can influence the success of a new LRT scheme. Land-use planning policies have an important role to play in creating the type of densely developed corridors which can be most effectively served by LRT. In turn, such systems are essential if policy objectives such as reduced car dependency and an improved quality of urban life are to be achieved.[96] The consequences of not properly co-ordinating transport and land-use planning policies are clearly significant. One of the reasons why the South Yorkshire Supertram failed to achieve the levels of patronage originally expected, for example, was due to land-use changes along the route:[97] demand for Supertram services was reduced because the blocks of flats which previously lay along its route were replaced by lower density developments, and because the city centre had lost employment to out-of-town sites.[98]

31. The PTE Group emphasised the importance of planning a new LRT scheme, which is a major and long-term infrastructure investment, as an integral part of a comprehensive transport and land-use strategy for the area served. At present, this might be difficult to achieve because of the number of organisations involved in planning land-use and transport, each of which has a different objective.[99] The United Kingdom's approach to light rail was felt to be fundamentally different to that adopted elsewhere: in France, we were told that the mode is seen in an much wider context, not simply as a better way to transport people, but as a means of reducing congestion and improving the quality of life through related improvements in the urban landscape.[100] The Institute of Logistics and Transport agreed that there is "much closer cohesion" between land-use and transport planning in many other European countries, and said that although the situation was improving in the United Kingdom as a result of the introduction of local transport plans and regional transport strategies, there were still "very great weaknesses".[101] That view was echoed by the Light Rail Transit Association which feared that the emphasis in local transport plans may remain on short-term and low cost policies.[102]

Traffic restraint

32. An important task for the coordination of transport and other policies is to ensure that LRT services are given priority over other traffic. Similarly, if LRT's potential for achieving modal shift is to be maximised it must be supported by complementary measures designed to discourage car use.[103] The effect of such measures has been described as being decisive in a scheme's success.[104] For example, the initial problems faced by the South Yorkshire Supertram have been ascribed to the fact that it was not given priority at traffic signals, and to the absence of traffic management measures which diverted motorists onto alternative routes. Trams were delayed by other traffic resulting in extended journey times, poor punctuality and a less attractive service for passengers.[105] During our visit to Sydney we were told that the Metro Light Rail suffered from similar problems there.[106]

33. Conversely, LRT can make the introduction of traffic restraint and environmental measures, such as parking restrictions and pedestrianisation, more publicly acceptable by providing an attractive alternative to the car.[107] It has been suggested that the value of investment in public transport is reduced or even wasted if strong complementary measures are not implemented at the same time.[108] As well as assisting modal shift, traffic management measures increase the patronage of an LRT system which, in turn, should increase revenue and make it easier to finance future schemes.[109]

34. One of the main findings of recent research is that the 'decisive influence' on a policy designed to increase public transport use is the political commitment to reduce car use, rather than the specific choice of public transport mode, whether light rail, guided bus or conventional bus priority. Any of those modes can increase public transport patronage if they are used to provide frequent high quality services and, most importantly, if they are supported by "vigorously implemented" complementary measures involving parking charges, pedestrianisation and land-use planning.[110]

Integration with other modes of transport

35. As well as being integrated with land-use planning and traffic management policies, new LRT services must be integrated with other forms of transport. Ensuring that an LRT system forms the core of an integrated transport system is essential if its full benefits are to be enjoyed. The PTE Group thought that this should include the ability to provide feeder bus services, interchanges with heavy rail services, park-and-ride and cycling facilities. Moreover, once investment in a new LRT project has been made, competition between modes should be circumscribed so that the unnecessary duplication of services along the corridor can be avoided. Co-ordination, according to the Institute of Logistics and Transport, is an important factor in the success of fixed track systems in mainland Europe and their relative failure in the United Kingdom. In its opinion, while bus services remain deregulated outside Greater London, "any serious form of integration is impossible".[111]

36. Our witnesses thought that several light rail systems have suffered to some extent because of competition from bus services. Patronage on the South Yorkshire Supertram is thought to have been particularly hard hit by bus operators who chose to compete with the tram both in terms of fares and frequency of service.[112] Conversely, the regulation of buses in Greater London means that Croydon Tramlink will not have to face competition from buses: London Transport instead plans to restructure bus services in order to complement the new system and provide some dedicated feeder routes.[113] Where competition from bus services occurs, however, the implications for passenger and revenue forecasts might encourage a promoter to increase the cost of an LRT project to take account of the perceived increased risk to the success of the scheme.[114]

Disruption during construction

37. It is inevitable that the construction of a major LRT scheme, particularly a light rail project with a high proportion of on-street running, will result in some disruption. Both homes and businesses along the line of the route will be affected as will road users diverted around the works. Despite efforts to minimise the effects of the work and to consult with those who would be affected, the construction of the South Yorkshire Supertram attracted negative reports in the local media.[115] There were particular concerns at the effects the disruption had on existing bus services.[116] The problems caused by construction may tarnish the image of a LRT project and weaken local support. Concern about the effects of the disruption both during and after construction may encourage those who would be affected to resist any proposal for an LRT scheme strongly.[117]

80   See RT 31 (paras 6-13) for details of the cost of recent United Kingdom schemes and how they have been funded. Back

81   RT 27, para 5.5. Back

82   See RT 30A for an account of the appraisal process. Back

83   Over the past 15 years, each light rail project has been developed individually with almost each scheme having different funding arrangements and forms of contract (RT34A, annex 3, para 2.1). Back

84   RT 19. In the course of taking forward proposals for the Leeds Supertram, the relevant authorities and the private sector spent more than £6m in trying to meet the changing criteria and funding frameworks set by the Government (RT 1). Back

85   RT 19. Back

86   See HC Deb, 29 October 1998, col 263wBack

87   RT 19. Back

88   Q 181. This change was expected to add £5million to the cost of the proposed Manchester Metrolink extensions (Q184). Back

89   R T31A. Back

90   Q 387.  Back

91   RT 30. This view was shared by others including Greater Manchester PTA and PTE (RT 36, para 13) and the Institution of Highways and Transportation (RT 18, para 3.9). Satisfaction was also expressed with the workings of the Act. The Docklands Light Railway, for example, thought that it was "a pretty good process" (Q 252). Back

92   See RT 25 paras 1.4 and 7.2 and RT 34A, annex 1. Back

93   As expressed by the PTE Group (Q 153). Back

94   Q 252. Back

95   Promoting New Transport Projects, Chartered Institute of Transport in the UK, 1998. Back

96   RT 17 and see also Better Public Transport for Cities, Chartered Institute of Transport in the UK, 1996. The development of LRT systems in Singapore illustrates the close relationship that can exist between transport and land-use planning polices (see Annex B, para 8). Back

97   It was originally expected that Supertram would be used for more than 20 million passengers within three years of becoming fully operational. Only 6 million passenger journeys were made during the first year, however, and it became apparent that the patronage targets would not be achieved (RT 22, para A2.3). Back

98   RT 22, para A2.3. See also RT 17. Back

99   RT 34, para 5.1. Back

100   RT 32. Back

101   Q 46. Back

102   RT 30. Back

103   The Institute of Logistics and Transport thought that traffic restraint measures, such as road pricing, would have to be implemented alongside public transport improvements if people were to be discouraged from using their cars in large urban areas. Without such improvements, however, motorists would simply use facilities outside town centres, where restraint measures did not apply (Q 3). Back

104  Financial, Operational and Demand Comparison of Light Rail, Guided Bus, Busways and Bus Lanes, executive summary. Back

105   RT 22, para A2.3. Back

106   Annex B, para 21. Back

107   RT 19. Back

108   Financial, Operational and Demand Comparison of Light Rail, Guided Bus, Busways and Bus Lanes, executive summary. The Institute of Logistics and Transport thought that few light rail projects had been implemented as part of a truly co-ordinated strategy which included measures to manage or limit private car use; to integrate public transport services fully; and to integrate transport and land-use policies. It thought that the success of new schemes, particularly in the UK, had been reduced as a consequence of this (RT 17). Back

109   RT 17. The Institute of Logistics and Transport noted that if the Manchester Metrolink had been introduced with a road pricing scheme, 25 per cent more passengers would have been attracted and its subsidy requirement would have been reduced by 16 per cent (Q 21). Back

110   Financial, Operational and Demand Comparison of Light Rail, Guided Bus, Busways and Bus Lanes, executive summary. Back

111   RT 17. Back

112   RT 22, para A2.3. Back

113   Annex A, para 12. The DLR benefited similarly from bus services being regulated. It thought that there would be advantages in franchising bus routes that would act as feeder services to future LRT schemes (Annex A, para 35). Back

114   RT 3, para 3.4. Back

115   RT 22, paras A2.1 and A2.2. Croydon Tramlink was thought to have benefited from the experience of earlier systems with improvements being made in the approach taken to traffic management and the phasing of work during its construction. This is thought to have reduced the number of complaints made (RT 19). Back

116   RT 9, para 8. Back

117   The opposition of retailers along the line of the proposed extension to Sydney's light rail line contributed to the project being delayed and may lead to an alternative route being proposed (see Annex B, para 23). Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2000
Prepared 8 June 2000