Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Eighth Report


Transport Sub-committee's visit to Singapore, Sydney and Adelaide:
2 to 11 February 2000

1. The Transport Sub-committee departed London on 1 February 2000, and returned on 12 February. The following members of the Sub-committee participated in the visit: Mrs Gwyneth Dunwoody, MP (Chairman), Mr Andrew Bennett, MP, Mr Brian Donohoe, MP, Mr Clifford Forsythe, MP, Mr James Gray, MP, Dr Stephen Ladyman, MP, Mr Bill O'Brien, MP, Mr Bill Olner, MP, and Mr George Stevenson, MP. We were accompanied by Mr Gavin Devine, the Sub-committee's Clerk, and by Mr Kevin Lee, our Committee Specialist.

2. Although the primary purpose of our visit to Singapore, Sydney and Adelaide was to examine the systems of light rapid transit (LRT) in each city, our discussions inevitably strayed onto other topics. In particular, in Singapore we heard a good deal about the Mass Rapid Transit system (MRT), as well as the measures used by the Government to manage road traffic and congestion, including the Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) scheme; in Sydney we talked about transport, tourism and other business matters generally, and particularly the State Government's ten-year plan for public transport; and in Adelaide we discussed the provision of bus services in some detail, and also the Southern Expressway project. Such matters were extremely interesting, and they put our inquiries about LRT in their proper context, but are not related in detail here. In this concise report unless it is essential to include information about other matters to make sense of the situation in each place, we concentrate exclusively on what we learnt about LRT systems.


3. During its visit to Singapore, the Sub-committee met Dr John Chen, Minister of State for Communications and Information Technology, and officials of the Land Transport Authority. We visited the Land Transport Authority's offices, as well as the control centre of the Bukit Panjang LRT System, and met senior officials from Singapore LRT Pte Ltd. We also benefited greatly from the opportunity to discuss matters with Government Ministers and senior officials informally at a dinner hosted by the British High Commissioner. We are most grateful to all those who assisted us in Singapore, and particularly to the staff of the High Commission, who organised our visit.

Bukit Panjang LRT

4. The decision to build Singapore's first LRT system in Bukit Panjang, to link the new town with the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system at Choa Chu Kang station, was announced in February 1996. The budget for the project was set at S$285 million (£108 million). Work, which was contracted to ABB Daimler Benz Transport Systems (now Adtranz), Keppel Integrated Engineering of Singapore and Gammon of Hong Kong, had begun by the end of 1996. The system was completed within budget, and on time, although the original opening date in July 1999 was postponed due to the additional construction work which resulted from integrating two floors of commercial development at the system's depot. The 8kilometres route, along which lie thirteen stations, was eventually opened on 6 November 1999.

5. LRT services run from Choa Chu Kang station to Bukit Panjang station, and then in a loop either clockwise or anti-clockwise around the development.[170] A round trip lasts about 30 minutes. At the time of our visit, there was a three minute interval between services during peak periods, falling to six minutes at off-peak times: headways have the potential to be reduced to 90 seconds. A service also operates between Bukit Panjang station and a station at Ten Mile Junction, which is adjacent to the depot and control centre of the system. The project has been designed so that most of the stations are less than 400 metres from the housing developments that they serve. Where the line passes close to residential developments, special 'misting windows', using liquid crystal films, have been installed in the vehicles to protect the privacy of residents. The system feeds from, and into, bus routes, and a 'linkway' at Choa Chu Kang station provides an easy interchange with the existing MRT network. Ticketing for the LRT is integrated with other modes of public transport.

6. The LRT vehicles run on rubber-tyred wheels along an elevated concrete twin-track segregated guideway, with guide wheels fixed to a steel guide beam. As a consequence of this form of operation, the vehicles are quieter than trains, which normally have steel wheels running on steel rails. The system's average speed is approximately 25 kilometres per hour. Each of the 19 vehicles currently in service is air conditioned and can carry 22 seated and 83 standing passengers. Services can be operated with one- or two-car trains according to demand.

7. The trains are fully automated, although regular inspections are made by roving members of staff. At the time of our visit, there were six 'rovers' per shift, covering two stations each, who were responsible for assisting passengers and for attending to mechanical failures. The stations were also monitored by the operations control centre using closed circuit television (CCTV), and it was also possible to contact the control centre using a communications system on the trains and at the stations. About 100 staff were employed to operate the network.

8. Unlike other LRT projects planned for elsewhere in Singapore, which would be constructed in advance of related housing and commercial developments, the Bukit Panjang system serves an existing, although expanding, township. Officials told us that high density developments were needed to provide a sufficient number of passengers to justify investment in such a system. In Bukit Panjang, 200,000 people live within 400 metres of their nearest station. Moreover, it is intended that sites along the 'loop' section of the route, which had originally been left undeveloped, might be allocated for non-residential land uses, and existing developments close to the system are also to be expanded. The site of the LRT depot at Ten Mile Junction, for example, was originally dedicated only to the needs of the LRT system: now two floors of commercial development have been added, and there is further provision for a 14-floor residential building to be constructed above the depot. Despite the on-going investment in housing and commercial properties around the LRT, the project does not attract betterment payments from developers, since most investment in Singapore, both in the LRT, and in commercial and housing developments, is directly funded by the Government.

9. Although the LRT was originally expected to carry up to 72,000 passengers per day, at the time of our visit it was carrying only 40,000. This was because not all of the flats within its catchment area were occupied: as the population grew patronage was expected to rise, reaching 54,000 by the end of 2000. As a consequence of lower than anticipated usage, the LRT was making a small loss, but its existence generates additional traffic for the MRT, which has experienced increased revenues: the number of passengers changing onto the MRT at Choa Chu Kang had risen by four per cent since the opening of the LRT, compared to a two per cent increase in passengers over the whole MRT network during the same period.

10. The level of fares on the LRT is set to reflect the fact that passengers using the system would previously have travelled by bus. Bus services in the Bukit Panjang area were restructured after the LRT opened to avoid any duplication of services. As a result, some concern had been generated because of the withdrawal of well-established bus routes. Nevertheless, the LRT had been successful in attracting customers from buses: officials thought that the vast majority of passengers were likely to have travelled by bus in the past. The system had also attracted about ten per cent of its customers from cars. In the view of LRT officials, the system had proved attractive to passengers from different socio-economic groups.

11. The particular form of LRT system chosen to serve Bukit Panjang was selected because of constraints on the amount of land available. Insufficient land was available in the township to accommodate a guided bus system or a conventional light railway. The benefit of the LRT's elevated trackway was that it took up very little land at street level: its supports had very small 'footprints'. The only other alternative, putting the system underground, would have trebled the cost of the project.

12. Construction of two further LRT systems to serve the new towns of Sengkang and Punggol is already underway. The two systems will have a combined length of 23 kilometres, serving 33 stations. In each case the new LRT system will feed the MRT, as occurs in Bukit Panjang. The S$656 million contract for constructing the new systems has already been awarded, in July 1998, to a consortium of Singapore Technologies Industrial Corp and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.


13. The Sub-committee held a wide range of meetings during its visit to Sydney. From the State Government of New South Wales we met the Minister for Transport and Minister of Roads, the Hon. Carl Scully MP, as well as Mr Jock Murray, Director General, Mr Ian Robertson, Deputy Director General, and other officials of the New South Wales Department of Transport. We also met Councillor Frank Sartor, Lord Mayor of Sydney, Ms Katie Lahey, Chief Executive Officer of the New South Wales State Chamber of Commerce, Mr Christopher Brown, Chief Executive of the Tourism Task Force, and Mr Kevin Warrell, General Manager, and other officials of Metro Light Rail and Metro Monorail, who organised visits to the Metro Light Rail and Metro Monorail projects. In addition, we benefited from more informal discussions at a lunch hosted by the Deputy Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales, and at a reception hosted by the British Consul-General. We are most grateful to all whom we met, and particularly to the staff of the British Consul-General in Sydney for organising such an interesting and challenging programme.


14. Responsibility for transport in Australia lies mainly with state governments: in New South Wales, the State Government owns and manages the State Transit Authority, which provides local railway services, known as CityRail, bus and ferry services. The Federal Government is mainly involved in the aviation and maritime sectors: for example, it is responsible for all airports in Australia,[171] directly operating the largest, Kingsford Smith Airport, Sydney. It also operates rural passenger and freight rail services.

15. New South Wales has the largest population and most substantial economy of all the states of Australia. Its capital, Sydney, is the country's most populous city, and the number of inhabitants of Greater Sydney is expected to reach 4.3 million between 2011 and 2016. While Sydney's population grew by 20 per cent between 1981 and 1997, car ownership and car use increased even further, by 48 per cent and 58 per cent respectively. The proportion of journeys to work made by car also rose, so that now only 20 per cent of such journeys are made by public transport in Greater Sydney, although 73 per cent of journeys to the central business district are made by such means.

16. The growth in the use of private cars has resulted in congestion, poorer air quality and social exclusion. To tackle such problems, the New South Wales Government has announced a 25-year air quality management plan, Action for Air, which aims to reduce the growth in vehicle kilometres travelled between 1991 and 2021. In addition a 10-year plan, Action for Transport 2010, which was adopted by the state government in late 1998,[172] has set out fully-funded proposals to address network expansion, service improvement and the management of travel demand. Current and future public transport projects in Greater Sydney include the Airport Rail Link (due for completion in May 2000), the Parramatta-Chatswood rail link (planned for opening in 2006), the extension of the Metro Light Rail service to Lilyfield by 2001, and the construction of 90 kilometres of bus-only transitways, connecting four regional centres in western Sydney, by 2010. These projects have generally received widespread support, although many people have asked why the transitway project will not be based on light rail.

Light rail

17. The Sydney Light Rail System, now known as Metro Light Rail, opened in 1997. Its double track runs for just over 3.5 kilometres through Ultimo-Pyrmont, an area of new development to the west of the city centre, from Central Station, which is on the southern periphery of the central business district, to Wentworth Park. Its objective was to improve public transport links in the Ultimo-Pyrmont area, which had previously been poor, and to stimulate redevelopment in the area, following the pattern of the London Docklands. For just under one kilometre of Metro Light Rail's route it runs on-street, and the remaining three kilometres run on segregated track along a former freight railway alignment.

18. The system was designed, constructed and commissioned by the private sector, which will be responsible for operations until 2028, when ownership will pass to the public sector. Of the project's total cost of A$87.5 million, A$66 million, or three-quarters, was raised by the private sector, with the remainder granted from the Federal Government's Better Cities Programme. Land was provided by the State Government at no cost to the promoter. The process to gain powers to build the line was extremely complex, and, as a result, legal fees eventually were only slightly less than the project's capital cost. Metro Light Rail is currently operated by CGEA Transport Management Sydney, a subsidiary of the French-owned Vivendi group, which has accepted all risks associated with the patronage of the system.

19. Metro Light Rail operates fully-accessible low-floor trams, each capable of carrying up to 200 passengers. Seven trams provide a 24-hour service, operating at 7-15 minute intervals during the day and every 30 minutes at night. The system has the capacity to carry 5,600 passengers per hour, and it was originally forecast that it would carry 8 million passengers each year. Initial patronage, however, had been very low, although the involvement of CGEA Transport Management had improved the situation to some extent: the company had improved reliability and replaced the automatic ticketing system with on-board staff. As a result, during 1999 approximately 2.5 million trips were made on the system, revenue had risen by 20 per cent following the reintroduction of staff, and the system was now profitable before financing charges. The operator told us that currently around one quarter of the line's users are commuters, 40 per cent are leisure travellers and 35 per cent are employees of the Casino development which is directly served by the route.

20. The State Department of Transport told us that it did not believe that many of the passengers on the Metro Light Rail had previously made their journey by car, although the potential for modal shift would increase as the service penetrated further into the suburbs. Some of the existing users were thought to have transferred from bus services, while others in the past may have walked. Many of the journeys taken on the system were not, and had not been undertaken before, reflecting the fact that the line serves a developing area: for example, those journeys undertaken by employees of the Casino development had not previously been needed.

21. The fact that the system is currently under-performing compared to its capacity has been attributed to several factors. For example, there have been delays in the construction of further residential and commercial developments in the area served in Ultimo-Pyrmont, although further development was going on at the time of our visit. There are particular operational difficulties, especially relating to the ticketing system, which is not integrated with those of Sydney's bus and rail networks because of technical difficulties and resolved arguments over revenue-sharing. Travel on Metro light Rail is relatively expensive, since although bus and rail fares are heavily subsidised by the State Government, the same subsidy is not offered to light rail in spite of the operator's requests, and in spite of the fact that the State Government has contributed to the project. Moreover, Metro Light Rail has not been given priority by the State Government along the on-street section, which has undermined journey times. There is also a perception that the Light Rail system is not very well integrated with other modes of transport: certainly we observed that the system was not well sign-posted at Central Station. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, as several of those we met pointed out, the system is very short, and serves a limited area.

22. To address this last concern a westward extension of the line to Lilyfield, following the route of a former freight line, is already under construction. The State Government has contributed A$15 million of the total cost of A$20 million. Further extensions to the west, to Leichhardt and Ashfield, have been studied, and await a decision by the operator and the State Government with respect to funding. An assessment of the potential for a light rail line in the eastern suburbs, however, has found the proposals to be unviable at present.

23. Most important is the planned extension of the system through the centre of Sydney to Circular Quay. This formed part of the original proposal to construct a light rail system, but was deferred following objections from retailers about disruption to their activities as a result both of the construction and the operation of the Light Rail system. It had been decided that some respite for the city centre was required after the construction work associated with the cross-city road tunnel and the Olympic Games, and so the project had been delayed. Moreover, concerns remained about the use of already limited road space by the light railway. The Lord Mayor of Sydney pointed out that Sydney's original tram system had been dismantled in 1961 mainly because of the delays it caused to other traffic.

24. Nevertheless, support for the extension to Circular Quay remained strong: both the Lord Mayor and the Chief Executive Officer of the State Chamber of Commerce, as well as the Tourism Task Force, believed that it should be constructed, although some doubt was expressed about the currently-planned route. In fact, it seems likely that the route through the city might be revised to skirt the edge of the central business district rather than running directly through it. Nevertheless, Metro Light Rail's operator believed that the extension to Circular Quay would be completed by 2005.

25. As we have said, the operator of Metro Light Rail pointed out that the State Government's attitude towards light rail appeared ambivalent, on the one hand contributing land to the original route, and capital to its extension, but on the other refusing to subsidise tickets, and not encouraging integration between light rail and other public transport modes. The Tourism Task Force speculated that the Government's views were tempered by the fact that light rail was in competition in places with State-run buses and heavy rail. For his part, the Minister told us that he was not convinced of the merit of light rail. He agreed that Metro Light Rail enjoyed some advantages over the bus, and was generally regarded favourably by the public, but pointed out that it was expensive: one kilometre of on-street double track had been A$18 million (at 1998 prices). For that reason further light rail development in New South Wales could not be assured of state support, and is likely to require private sector finance, although some public funding might be available.

26. The Department of Transport told us that it did not think that there was any fixed formula for deciding what density of development was necessary to justify the construction of a light rail scheme as opposed to relying on buses, or perhaps constructing a heavy railway. The decision on what would be the most appropriate mode of transport for a corridor would depend on individual circumstances, and should particularly take account of current use of existing forms of transport.

Metro Monorail

27. The Metro Monorail system was built in 1988, at a cost of around A$70 million. Its route consists of a 3.6 kilometre circuit of elevated track, along which lie seven stations linking Darling Harbour, Chinatown and the centre of the city. Six trains run around the circle in an anti-clockwise direction at three minute headways. The system, which is unsubsidised and profitable, can theoretically carry up to 5,000 passengers per hour, although it currently has an average peak loading of 1,500 passengers per hour. Approximately 3.5 million passengers are carried annually. The operator of the system told us that twenty per cent of passengers are commuters, 40 per cent local leisure users, and the remainder tourists.

28. Amongst those we met, it seemed that the very existence of the monorail is a source of controversy. Several of those we met said that it was despised by Sydneysiders, and a number thought that it should be torn down. Even Metro Monorail admitted that it is not liked by everyone in Sydney. At the time of its construction there were strenuous objections, principally from those who felt that it intruded on the more attractive and historic parts of the city. Such feelings have apparently not been ameliorated by the Monorail's operation during the past decade, and other concerns, such as the system's limited route, and its small capacity, have also been expressed. Nevertheless, the operator of the Monorail, in correspondence after our visit, pointed to independent market research across the Sydney area which showed that only 33 per cent of people partly or strongly agreed that "the monorail is an eyesore": he concluded that "clearly 67 per cent did not".

29. Aside from its alleged lack of aesthetic appeal, the Monorail's main weakness is its limited route. It was originally intended that the system should extend through the centre of the city to Circular Quay, but such plans were rejected in the wake of opposition from bus and taxi interests. Despite the continuing strong economic case for the extension, and the current operator's agreement to meet its cost, it is accepted that it is unlikely to receive planning approval. According to the operator, there is no political support for the extension, and, in its view, the State Department of Transport is more sympathetic to more conventional forms of public transport. However, we observed that there was one very attractive feature of the monorail, which is that it has a very small 'footprint' at ground level.

Bus transitways

30. Bus transitways are a relatively simple technology, consisting of narrow tarmacked roadways, quite separate from other roads, on which normal buses operate. The State Department of Transport, and particularly the Minister, believes that such transitways are attractive for a number of reasons. For example, a transitway system can reach areas not served by the regional rail network, and where passenger numbers are insufficient to support heavy rail: the concept is particularly suited to low-density suburban areas. Each transitway will be purpose-built, and, by giving buses travelling on them the exclusive right of way, will provide high quality, reliable and rapid travel between centres. The intervals between 'stations' on the transitways will be such that average speeds on the network will be increased. Frequency of service would be ensured by average headways of approximately 5 to 10 minutes on the transitway. Significantly, the transitway offers many of the benefits of light rail, but is cheap to construct, and can become operational very quickly.[173] It is intended that the first transitway, linking Liverpool and Parramatta, will be operational in 2003. It will be 30 kilometres long, have thirty-four stations, and will cost A$200 million, or less than A$7 million per kilometre.

31. In any case, the Minister did not believe that there was an alternative to the introduction of a bus-based transitway system in the western suburbs of Sydney, since passenger numbers are too low to justify the use of rail-based modes. Hence the transitway project is the only sensible way of providing north-south links in the area, and will meet travel needs which are not served by existing rail services, focussed on radial routes into the centre of the city. Thus, while the transitway schemes are currently experimental, the Minister told us that he felt that they have considerable potential to stimulate the use of public transport, and he was confident that existing journeys made by car would in future be made by bus.

Limiting car use

32. Although the State Government has made clear its intention to address concerns about congestion and poor air quality through the expansion of public transport, some measures to limit car use have also been considered. Already in place is an annual charge of A$400, levied on all non-residential car parking spaces in the city centre: this measure raised A$17m for public transport improvements in 1999. Consideration is being given to extending car-parking charges to the other main business districts in the city.

33. Charging for road use has also been introduced. For example, there is a toll for crossing the Sydney Harbour Bridge to enter the city centre, and tolls have been introduced on two other roads into the city. More widespread charging has for a long time been the subject of debate in New South Wales: there was some support for charges for travelling on inter-state highways and thereby recovering the costs imposed by the use of heavy lorries. The Lord Mayor of Sydney supported the concept of 'dynamic tolling' for motorists coming into Sydney, by which the level of charges would reflect the time of day the journey was being made, and thus the availability of alternative forms of transport. He believed that between A$300 million and A$500 million might be raised each year in this way, and if hypothecation of the revenue for investment in transport was put in place, he believed that it would prove politically acceptable.


34. In Adelaide, we again met a wide range of people engaged in delivering public transport to the city. Those that we met included the Hon Diana Laidlaw, MLC, Minister for Transport and Urban Planning in the Government of South Australia, the Chairman and officials of the Passenger Transport Board, which organises the system of public transport in Adelaide, officials from TransAdelaide, the company owned by the State Government which delivers rail and bus services in the city, and Ms Sue Dunn, President of People for Public Transport. We visited both the 'O-Bahn' guided bus system, and the Glenelg tramway. We also had the opportunity to meet officials and others at a reception hosted by the British Consul-General. We are most grateful to all those who took the time to meet us, and to escort us on our visits, and particularly to the staff of the British Consulate in Adelaide for organising such an enjoyable visit for us.


35. Adelaide is bounded on its western side by the Gulf of St Vincent, and on its east by the Mount Lofty Ranges. There is no geographical restraint to the north and south and, as a result, the city has sprawled in those directions as it has grown. The metropolitan area measures 80 kilometres from north to south, and only 20 kilometres from east to west. Population density is low, since the city's total population is only 1.1 million people.[174] Car ownership is growing at one or two per cent each year: there is now one car to every two people. Nevertheless, the city's low population density means that traffic congestion is not a significant problem, and the average speed, even on the busiest roads, is 30 kilometres per hour.

36. Under these circumstances, it is perhaps not surprising that during the 1980s and early 1990s the number of passengers carried by public transport fell, at times by up to 9.5 per cent per annum, a decline that was only interrupted when students were granted free travel. Operating subsidies rose from A$55.4 million in 1981-82 to A$136.1 million ten years later, and although some action was then taken to reduce subsidy levels, public transport in the city remains heavily subsidised: each rail trip is subsidised to the tune of A$8, and each bus trip by A$2.50, reflecting the relatively long distances travelled and the low population density in the city. The average fare paid by passengers is between A$1.10 and A$1.20.

37. Despite the high cost of subsidising the public transport system, the State Government remains committed to maintaining and expanding it. Although congestion is not a general problem, in certain places it does reach levels such that segregated public transport becomes an attractive alternative to the car. Moreover, the threat posed to revenue, and thus funding, of the public transport system by declining patronage of the system, raises concerns about social exclusion amongst those unable to afford a car, especially the elderly. The Government also wants to address future difficulties before they arise rather than react to existing problems. Therefore, although the triggers to improving the public transport system that exist in places like Sydney, or London, such as congestion and poor air quality, are not significant issues in Adelaide, the State Government remains determined to continue to invest in the public transport system.

38. Adelaide therefore has an extensive, and diverse, system of public transport. Its network includes approximately 1,150 kilometres of bus routes, 120 kilometres of railway line, 11 kilometres of tram track (running from the city centre to the coastal town of Glenelg), and 12 kilometres of guided busway track (the 'O-Bahn'). Despite the decline in patronage of the system during recent years, around 44 million journeys were made in the city by public transport in 1997-98, the vast majority of them—65 per cent—by bus, 18 per cent by train and 13 per cent using the O-Bahn system.

Competitive Tendering for Bus Services

39. In an effort to reverse the decline in patronage, and the corresponding rise in subsidies, management of public transport was handed over in 1994 to the Passenger Transport Board. The Board's response to the problem was to seek to introduce competitive tendering for bus services on the basis of contracts to operate in specific areas and along designated routes (rather than adopting a policy of deregulation). The first and second rounds of tenders were awarded in 1995-96, and left the State-owned bus company, TransAdelaide, in charge of 75 per cent of services.

40. The results of the third, and more significant, tendering round were announced in January 2000. The new tenders were for five-year contracts, each with an option to extend them for another five years. Private sector companies have now taken over responsibility for six of the seven area contracts: Serco now operates approximately 50 per cent of bus services in the city. The seventh contract has been awarded to a public-private sector joint venture. The state-owned operator, TransAdelaide, has failed to retain any contracts, and although it will continue to operate the Glenelg tram and local train services, it will cease to be an operator of buses from the start of the new contracts later in the year.

41. The latest round of the competitive tendering process is expected to reduce the total amount paid in subsidies by at least A$7 million per year,[175] taken as an average over the lifetime of the new ten-year contracts. That money will be re-invested in other transport projects. However, the Minister for Transport and the Passenger Transport Board were at pains to point out that tenders had been judged on criteria other than their cost-effectiveness: a company's operating history, and their commitment to introducing a range of measures to improve service quality were also very important.

42. The State Government has taken a number of decisions to make the competitive tendering process as politically acceptable as possible. For example, the vehicles and infrastructure will be leased to the operators by the state government, which also retains fare revenue. The Minister explained that the retention of these assets by state made competitive tendering more acceptable to the public. Contracts had not been awarded on the basis of price alone, with consideration also being given to the quality of service. There had been much interest in the competition with 87 bids being submitted from 16 companies and consortia.

The O-Bahn Guided Busway

43. The Adelaide O-Bahn is based on a system used in Essen, Germany. It is a segregated concrete track which runs between the city centre and suburbs to the north east. Buses using the O-Bahn are fitted with small, horizontal, guide wheels linked to their front axles, which, when the vehicle leaves the road to enter the track, engage with the sides of the track and direct the bus. As a result, and because the track is segregated from other traffic, buses are able to travel at up to 100 kilometres an hour, and are not threatened by congestion. Whilst on the O-Bahn buses stop at stations which are between 3 and 6 kilometres apart, and at which the buses can pull into bays so that they do not block the track. Buses may also leave the track part-way along its route.

44. Stage 1 of the guideway between the city and Paradise interchange (6 kilometres in length) was opened in 1986, with the second stage (also 6 kilometres) to an interchange in Modbury Centre, adjacent to a major shopping centre at Tea Tree Plaza, completed in 1989. Substantial facilities for park-and-ride are provided at these stations, together with a smaller facility at the third station, Klemzig. Altogether these sites provide parking for about 1,000 cars. The cost of building the O-Bahn was A$103.5m including vehicles, but excluding the cost of acquiring land.[176] It was estimated that alternative (non-guided) busway or light rail systems would have cost A$90.7m and A$157.4m respectively. However, construction of the O-Bahn in Adelaide may have been peculiarly expensive, since ground conditions meant that the guideway had to be supported by concrete piles, and because the topography of the route required large numbers of bridges and other structures as the guideway crosses and re-crosses the Torrens river. Furthermore, the State Government chose to construct a linear park alongside the route as part of the project.

45. The State Government's objective in building the O-Bahn was to improve public transport from the city centre to the rapidly developing north-eastern suburbs, which were not served by a heavy rail route. Originally it had been decided that a light rail line should be constructed, but the State Government decided on a guided busway, for two main reasons. First, it was cheaper, since unlike a railway it does not require a signalling system, expensive rolling stock and substantial stations, and unlike a road its alignment can be very narrow, lowering the cost of infrastructure such as bridges. Second, it is extremely flexible, since unlike a light railway it permits vehicles to leave the guideway to fan out on ordinary roads in the suburbs and in the city centre to serve diverse destinations, which suits better the sprawling nature of Adelaide.

46. Nevertheless, the O-Bahn system offers benefits similar to those of light rail, such as similar speeds and frequencies of service: construction of the O-Bahn has reduced journey times for buses from some suburbs from 40 to 25 minutes, and during peak periods an average headway of less than one minute is maintained with 67 buses per hour being operated. It also provides similar capacity to a light rail system, since each articulated bus can carry 100 passengers, thus allowing the system to transport up to 6,500 people per hour per direction. Engineers estimate that headways might be reduced further, to 20 seconds, permitting the system to carry up to 18,000 people per hour per direction. The O-Bahn also provides a ride quality, and thus a degree of comfort, which is comparable to that given by a light railway.[177]

47. The O-Bahn is regarded by the State Government, and they claim, by passengers, as an enormous success. Certainly it has countered the general decline in patronage of public transport in Adelaide: those routes served by the O-Bahn carried 4.23 million passengers in 1985-86, compared to 7.13 million in 1995-96, a rise which far exceeded the rise in population in the area over the period. On an average weekday approximately 27,000 passengers travel on O-Bahn buses, and 4,500 passengers are delivered to the city centre between 8.00 and 9.00 a.m.

48. The Minister told us that the O-Bahn was well-suited to a city of low population density, such as Adelaide, where investment in new light rail projects, and even maintenance of the existing heavy rail network, was hard to justify in economic terms. Indeed, we heard the suggestion that O-Bahns might take over heavy railway routes in some areas: certainly there was no difficulty with constructing the guideway track on a heavy rail alignment. In any event, the State Government would like to build a new guided busway in the south of the city, running down to Bedford Park, to mirror the service provided to the north-east: the only reason such a system had not been constructed before was the Government's shortage of money: although it is possible that private bus operators might contribute to the cost of the southern O-Bahn, it is likely that the project will require some public funds. However, the pressure group People for Public Transport told us that residents of Adelaide would rather the State Government supported heavy rail and light rail projects than put its faith solely in the O-Bahn.

The Glenelg Tram

49. Although the city once had an extensive tram network, only the Glenelg line remained. This was constructed in 1929, following the alignment of a disused heavy railway, serving the Victoria Square in the city, the suburbs of Wayville, Blackforest and Plympton, and the coastal town of Glenelg. As the remainder of the tram network was removed, the Glenelg service remained, but it had not been recently modernised: as a result the cars lack the features of modern vehicles, such as easy access for passengers with disabilities, and air conditioning.

50. Nevertheless, it was clear that the tram has become something of a local icon. Moreover, it is needed, since it caters for amongst others commuters to the city, and leisure travellers to Glenelg: it had a particular role to play at weekends and during public holidays. As a result, there is little prospect of the tram being removed or replaced. The Minister told us, however, that she did not envisage trams or light railways ever having a wider role in Adelaide.

170   For a map, see Back

171   Although most are now leased to private companies under the Airports Act 1996. Back

172  Action for Transport 2010: an Integrated Transport Plan for New South Wales, Government of New South Wales, 1998. A companion document was also produced for Sydney. Back

173  Liverpool-Parramatta Transitway: overview report, PPK Environment & Infrastructure (1998), pp1-3. Back

174   687.5 people per square kilometre, compared to approximately 2000 per square kilometre in London. Back

175   Meaning that, in total, A$22 million has been saved as a result of the two rounds of competitive tendering. Back

176   Much of which the State Government had already acquired in expectation of building a new freeway over the same route. Back

177  Adelaide's O-Bahn Busway: Guiding Transport into the Future, Passenger Transport Board, Government of South Australia, 1999. 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