Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by Avon Transport 2000 (RT 05)



  The Committee is commended on its approach to consider the effects of LRT systems world wide because of their absence until recently in the UK. This may be because, unusually amongst developed countries, the UK and USA quickly abandoned their on-street tram systems in the 1940s—1960s, presumably because of assumptions that cheap petroleum would result in widespread car ownership and use. (Although this assumption proved to be correct, the unavoidable consequences of congestion and pollution were either not anticipated or ignored.) By contrast, most countries on the European mainland have expanded and enhanced their tram systems, and converted them into light rapid transit systems with on-street running for maximum city centre accessibility and reserved tracks for higher speed suburban operations. Examples are too numerous to mention, but this evolutionary development is very common, even in relatively small urban concentrations.


  Because so few LRT developments have taken place in the UK, it is unreasonable to make any sweeping generalisations on almost any topic connected with LRT; in order to do this, the factors which identify LRT apart from other transport systems must be separated from factors arising from specific location, modes of operation or other issues.

  The LRT system in Sheffield had been held to be unsuccessful; however, the economic activity assumptions on which the system design was based were completely overturned by the collapse of manufacturing (especially steel) in the recessions induced in the 1980s and early 1990s. Performance is such that the operator is now considering an extension to the system. Similarly, the delays and cost over-runs associated with the extension of the Jubilee Underground line are not necessary consequences of building underground railways but probably more to do with poor political and managerial performance.

  By contrast, the Tyne and Wear Metro has operated very successfully for many years and is one of the factors which has improved the perception of the North East as a new business location. The Manchester tram system is also a good example of on-street City Centre running to improve accessibility coupled with high speed suburban running to maximise passenger appeal.

  A study conducted by the University of Salford concluded that only significant measures and levels of investment are likely to lead to modal shift from private car use. This study indicated that the Manchester LRT system had achieved reductions in traffic on parallel roads where traffic on other similar roads not served by the System had increased.

  The West Midlands system has only just started operation, so its impact is difficult to gauge at the moment, and the Croydon Scheme is still under construction.

  The System being promoted by the Councils of South Gloucestershire and Bristol will offer similar benefits to the Manchester Metro; Line 1 of the LRT will offer a high speed link from the North of the urban area to on street operation through the City Centre and principal shopping area, and incidentally enhance the attractiveness of existing suburban rail services by providing better connections for the principal rail station.


  Although UK evidence is limited because of the paucity of systems, the evidence offered by experience in mainland Europe suggests that people will willingly use high quality public transport, and especially LRT, as an alternative to private car use. Even in the USA LRT schemes are being promoted in areas which previously had no fixed track public transport, further confirming belief in the readiness of motorists to shift to LRT for significant parts of their journeys.

  If levels of traffic congestion, vehicle induced pollution and other disbenefits of car use are seen as problems and there is to be a mixture of carrots and sticks to reduce traffic growth, LRT must be a significant carrot. Draconian traffic restrictions are only likely to encourage business to move elsewhere.


  The cost structure of car use and the financial climate set up around the privatisation of the bus and rail industries means that public transport operated primarily to reduce private car use is never likely to offer an accounting profit. If it did so, presumably the market would already have responded. (The ability of bus and rail operators to run profitably in the current operational climate is linked to their natural concentration on those markets where they are monopoly suppliers—either because their customers lack cars or there is little destination parking or extreme congestion). The growth in the rail passenger market may have arisen from the commendable drive by operators to sell marginal off-peak seats at discounts and reduce the amount of down time for rolling stock, but this is far from a situation where operators (and Railtrack) will invest in large amounts of new capacity. LRT does represent significant volumes of new capacity.

  LRT can represent a good return in terms of modal transfer and the overall transport market, but for this to be expressed in money terms its impact on reduced congestion and reduced resource use (and therefore pollution) must be given an appropriate notional value. The existing road network was built on the proceeds of vehicle taxation in order to reduce congestion; it is not unreasonable for the same logic to be applied to other transport investments, like LRT, one of the benefits of which will be to reduce demand on road capacity. If people are expected to look at all transport seamlessly, and use appropriate modes for appropriate trips, then it is not unreasonable to expect society and the Government to do the same.

  If LRT cannot be afforded, how else is the traffic congestion/pollution issue to be addressed? Building roads is no longer acceptable on a crowded island, and existing alternatives to the car seem to have little appeal to attract current car users.

October 1999

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