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

Memorandum submitted by the Institution of Highways & Transportation (RT 18)



  1.1  The Institution of Highways & Transportation is a professional body with over 10,000 members whose vision is to represent professional excellence in the promotion, planning, design, implementation and maintenance of sustainable transport systems and infrastructure. It is part of the Institution's mission to promote political, professional and public debate and understanding of sustainable transport issues, to influence policy, promote investment and encourage public support.

  1.2  Membership of the Institution includes transportation planners, traffic engineers, highway engineers and other transport professionals employed by local authorities and central government as well as those working in the private sector and academia. Their decisions play a large part in determining the impact that transportation infrastructure and operations have on the quality of life, business and leisure activities as well as safety and environment.

  1.3  The Institution welcomes the opportunity to submit evidence to the House of Commons Select Committee for the Environment, Transport and the Regions for its inquiry into light rapid transit (LRT) systems. Many IHT members work in local authorities preparing and implementing Local Transport Plans (LTPs) in which public transport, possibility including LRT, is expected to play an ever increasing role in resolving the problems of congestion and pollution.

  1.4  Much of the Institution's work is involved with the production of technical guidelines. These guidelines and manuals are essential for highway engineers, transport planners, traffic engineers, town planners and other transport professionals and represent nationally agreed standards in many technical fields. These technical guidelines include: "Traffic Impact Assessment" (1994); "Cycle-Friendly Infrastructure" (1996); "Developing Urban Transport Strategies" (1996); "Road Safety Audit" (1996); and "Cycle Audit and Cycle Review" (1998). In addition, in June 1997 the Institution published the technical manual "Transport in the Urban Environment" and has recently issued guidelines on "Planning for Public Transport in Developments". The Institution currently has projects to produce technical guidelines on: "Providing for Journeys on Foot", "Green Transport Plans", "The Environmental Management of Highways", "Pedestrianised Streets", and "Rural Safety Management".

  1.5  The IHT has made several recent submissions to Government and other bodies on issues relating to public transport, including:

    —  24 Hour Bus Stop Clearways (July 1999);

    —  From Workhorse to Thoroughbred (June 1999);

    —  All Aboard—Local Transport & Travel (January 1999);

    —  Integrated Transport White Paper (September 1998); and

    —  Developing an Integrated Transport Policy (November 1997).


  2.1  The Institution endorses the Government's goals of creating an integrated transport policy. The Institution sees an integrated transport policy as one in which the various strands of transport policy pull together with one another and with other related policies, notably fiscal policies and those for regional development, land-use, education and health care. The successful integration of transport policies will depend upon action undertaken at regional and local level. This in turn will depend upon the level of resources available to local authorities, including that made available for both capital expenditure and revenue support for LRT systems. Local authorities should be encouraged to develop their LTPs as the facilitator for integrated transport at the local level with LRT having a central role where this is appropriate.

  2.2  To promote greater public transport use, including LRT, it is necessary to secure the "3 C's and the 3 R's":

Cost (affordable for the user) Regularity (of service)
Convenience (for the user) Reliability (of service)
Comfort (eg LRT)Return (to the operator)
LRT systems can satisfy these six criteria.  

  2.3  In December 1990 the then Public Transport Minister, Roger Freeman, announced to the House of Commons Select Committee on Transport, that up to 10 LRT lines could be in place in the UK by the end of the decade (ie. by 2000). However, financial constraints and policy changes have prevented rapid development of LRT within the UK. Local authorities now appear to be interested in guided busways as an alternative to LRT. Meanwhile, overseas LRT systems are being built and enhanced.

  2.4  The IHT was disappointed with the comment in the 1998 White Paper, "A New Deal for Transport", that "Light rail and similar rapid transit systems, can have a role to play in delivering integrated transport in urban areas—particularly if planned as part of an overall strategy. The capital costs of light rail systems are, however, high—particularly in comparison to bus priority measures and more modest guided bus schemes which may offer a more cost-effective alternative" (paragraph 3.37). This does not give encouragement to local authorities to plan and develop LRT systems even where they are likely to be the most effective measure for curbing car-use.

  2.5  It must be recognised, however, that LRT systems will only be appropriate in urban areas with a population over 400,000 (possibly less in some areas). Buses, including guided busways, will continue to form the backbone of the public transport system in most urban areas. Guided busways may be applicable in towns with a population over 250,000 or along certain corridors. LRT in smaller towns and cities will require operating subsidies to offer an attractive service for customers. Even in the larger urban area where LRT can be viable only a limited area can be served and buses will continue to retain a vital importance in public transport provision. Effective bus services must be fully integrated with LRT systems. However since the deregulation of the bus industry this has proved difficult, for example in Tyne and Wear.

  2.6  It must be recognised that there are difficulties imposing LRT on the existing urban form. While on the Continent dual-carriageway roads into the suburbs were provided for possible LRT extensions, this has not happened in the UK. Re-allocation of road-space will therefore be necessary to provide for LRT. It must be recognised that the introduction of LRT creates opportunities for development.

  2.7  Many authorities, recognising the costs of LRT developments, have turned their attention to guided busways (O-bahn in Germany). A guided bus can run both on ordinary roads and on exclusive track at speeds up to 100km/hr (62mph). Articulated vehicles are provided with three pairs of solid rubber-tyred guide rollers on each side which act as buffers against high-sided kerbs. Movements of up to 10,000 passengers/hr can be achieved. Capital costs may be up to 30 per cent lower than light rail and only 10 per cent more than the cost of the conventional bus for the guidance mechanism. At road intersections guided bus operation must be under driver control but this is not necessary along route lengths where kerbs are sited. The use of dedicated track excludes other users unlike the on-street running of LRT. Guided busways are inappropriate for town centres where other forms of bus priority must be provided. Nevertheless only two guided busway systems are currently in operation in the UK: Leeds and Ipswich. Experiments in Birmingham, Stockton-on-Tees, Runcorn and Rotherham were abandoned. Overseas they are also relatively rare, but systems are operating in: Essen, Mannheim, and Adelaide. Guided busway schemes have been considered in, inter alia, Northampton, Edinburgh (City of Edinburgh Rapid Transit), Oxford (Guided Transit Expressway), Guildford, Luton, Bristol (Avon Gorge Expressway), Chatham and Dartford. Because of their perceived lower cost, such schemes may proceed more quickly than LRT. Furthermore, guided busways may be a useful tool to generate modal shift which may, in due course, justify the provision of LRT. In Ottawa busses have achieved patronage levels of over 100,000 per hour—indeed 88 per cent of commuters travel to work by bus there.

  2.8  There are conflicting views about the comparative costs of guided busways compared to LRT. In some cases guided busways need a higher specification if they are not to fail structurally (due to the dynamic loads imposed on the trackway) so that the physical infrastructure may cost more than light rail. There are also difficult problems of comparing like with like—LRT systems have to include the cost of the vehicles whereas in guided bus systems that is funded by the operators. If vehicles are included one has to adjust for the fact that Light Rail Vehicles (LRVs) can carry three to four more passengers and last, typically, twice as long as buses. Guided busways very rarely indeed are built for whole routes and whilst costs may therefore be lower, so too are benefits. Furthermore the perception of potential passengers who currently use cars, to date, has not been as positive to guided buses as to LRT.


(a)  Examples of rapid transit systems recently constructed both in this country and worldwide

  3.1  The Manchester Metrolink opened in January 1992 replacing two exisitng grant-supported conventional rail lines linking Bury and Altrincham to Manchester and provides a cross-city, partly street-running, link between the two lines. Construction of the South Yorkshire Supertram began in September 1991 and it commenced operation in 1994. The Supertram was intended to bring major decongestion benefits, as well as aiding urban regeneration. Both the Manchester and Sheffield systems were expected to cover their operating costs. Furthermore an extension of the Tyne and Wear Metro (not striclty a LRT system) to Newcastle airport opened in November 1991 while in London the Docklands Light Railway has been extended. More recently the West Midland Metro, running between Birmingham and Wolverhampton, has now opened.

  3.2  The new, mainly privately-funded, Croydon Tramlink is to be opened shortly. However, Croydon Tramlink, although attracting the highest private sector contribution so far, is still mainly publicly financed. A new LRT system is planned for Nottingham—Nottingham Express Transit (NET) for operation in about four years' time funded under the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) which appears to be proving difficult. Meanwhile extensions are being planned to the Manchester Metro. Studies for LRT have been undertaken in several locations including Cardiff, the Isle of Wight and Watford/St. Albans (replaced by a proposal for a wire-guided Guided Light Transit system). A new Fastlink LRT for the Gatwick area has also been proposed.

  3.3  But in other areas progress has been slow with LRT proposals sometimes being replaced by guided busways. For example, a Parliamentary Bill for Rapid Transit for Avon was withdrawn and the sponsoring company wound up some time ago although another proposal has since been made for Bristol. An inability to raise funding sent the company into liquidation. Meanwhile in Cambridge the City Council declared opposition to a proposed LRT scheme, recommending bus-based park and ride solutions instead. However, as many as four consortia are interested in constructing and operating the system the South Hampshire LRT. In Edinburgh, the CERT (City of Edinburgh Rapid Transit) guided bus system is under review because of a proposed re-alignment to a proposed route while there is a study of tramway currently being carried out. In Chester the County Council has considered a guided bus alternative to LRT and will shortly be making an application under the 1992 Transport and Works Act. Proposals for a guided trolley-bus in Merseyside have been refused powers recently by the DETR. Other proposals for LRT or related guided transport developments have been suggested but not progressed, for example in: Barking, Harringay, and Kingston. An LRT proposal for Leeds has all the necessary powers and is ready to proceed but cannot get Government financial support.

  3.4  Meanwhile overseas LRT schemes are still being developed. For example, since 1985 five new LRT systems have been constructed in France and nine in the USA compared to three in Britain. Germany is one of the most significant countries in terms of its tramways and light rail: 56 cities possess systems. In Sydney a new extension to the LRT system has been approved and two in Montreal. In 2000 a new extension will open in Gent while a new line will open in Amsterdam in 2001. Dublin will have a new LRT line by 2003. Barcelona has a 10-year transport investment programme including LRT while Bilbao is constructing a new tramway. Airtram is being developed in New York to Link to Kennedy Airport.

  3.5  But in other cities progress has been delayed. For example, in Los Angeles funding difficulties have delayed a planned extension while in Vitoria, Spain, a LRT project has been shelved. In Portland a new extension has been rejected.

(b)  The problems they have faced, both at the time of their construction and afterwards

  3.6  A major deterrent to the adoption of LRT systems may have been the cumbersome legislative procedures required. Until the passing of the Transport and Works Act (July 1991) Private Bills were necessary to secure the authority to construct and operate tramways. Private Bills either had been preceded by the grant of a provisional order under the 1870 Tramways Act or promoters had sponsored independent Private Bills which drew on its provisions. Works proposals took at least two sessions (or two years) to complete their Parliamentary Stages and more controversial schemes three or more years. Although designed for the age of the horse, the Tramways Act remained largely unchanged, and even recent light rail legislation—for Greater Manchester, South Yorkshire and the West Midlands—incorporated many of its provisions. Although the 1896 Light Railways Act dispensed with the need for Parliamentary approval, the authority for construction being conferred by a light railway order issued by the Secretary of State, promoters still favoured the use of Private Bills.

  3.7  The Transport and Works Act, transferred the decision on whether to proceed from Parliament as a whole to the Secretary of State for Transport. The legislation replaced the Private Bill procedure with a Ministerial order-making power, and an order, when issued, has the same effect as an Act of Parliament. The Act applies to railways, tramways and trolleybus systems. There is also power to apply it to other guided transport systems.

  3.8  The Transport and Works Act procedures entail promoters lodging an application with the DETR, together with a draft of the order required. Notices of the proposals have to be given and, in the event of objections, these may be dealt with by written representations, hearings or a public inquiry. The DETR may make the order in the form applied for, or with modifications, or may reject the application. Planning permission has also to be obtained for the development involved, and this can be granted with the order. As most planning developments, including roads, are authorised by Ministers following local public inquiries, the Government decided that there was no compelling argument why LRT schemes should be handled differently.

  3.9  The Transport and Works Bill was the first legislation to be addressed towards developing other forms of guided transport. It was intended that by easing the legislative hurdles it would facilitate and enhance the promotion of LRT. However this has not occurred. The system for getting powers, in practice, is now no quicker and very probably more expensive than previously—it used to be estimated that it cost £1 million to promote a LRT Private Bill. In fact it was probably more like £2 million and is now very probably more than that under the Transport & Works Act requirements. These time, complexity and cost burdens are ones which bus operators don't face, nor do the requirements of the Health & Safety Executive (Railway Inspectorate) who, quite rightly, impose a safety regime of an entirely different order to that which is imposed on any form of road transport—private or public.

  3.10  Another difficulty may have been the incremental nature of LRT developments. Whereas Sheffield Supertram was planned and constructed as a complete entity, Manchester Metro has been developed incrementally, line by line. This approach may not have been the most efficient or cost-effective.

  3.11  Sheffield Supertram suffered initially from low levels of patronage, partly because the expected land-use developments failed to materialise. This caused serious financial difficulties and highlighted the need for continued revenue funding for some years whole patronage grows. A cumbersome fare collection system and a failure to provide priority for trams at light-controlled intersections did not assist patronage levels.

(c)  What successes they have had, particularly in terms of removing traffic from roads and thus reducing congestion or restraining its growth

  3.12  Overseas LRT systems have had significant success in generating custom. In Los Angeles where the Blue Line was opened in 1989, patronage has grown from 19,000 a day to 43,000 a day in 1996. Furthermore a survey of passengers found that one in four were motorists and over half (55 per cent) of weekday riders used the LRT for journey to work. Growth in ridership on San Diego's LRT increased from 14,000 a day in 1981 to 53,000 in 1996 and has led to an increase in the number of trams from 14 to 123. In Grenoble transit use rose by 50 per cent between 1987 and 1994.

  3.13  Even in the UK the existing LRT systems have made a significant contribution to the local public transport network where they exist. On the Manchester Metrolink levels of patronage along the corridor have been impressive—14 million a year—including a significant transfer from car-use. Since Stagecoach took over the Sheffield Supertram ridership has grown to exceed 10 million passengers a year and the operating deficit has been halved. It is now expected to break even in two years. Patronage has grown by 15 per cent in a year since the service was revamped in 1998.

  3.14  Other benefits must also be recognised. On-street LRT can use existing road-space efficiently since space can often be shared with other road-users. Furthermore, LRT (like other high-quality public transport) can discourage car-ownership. Limited urban road space has led to problems of double parking: in Sheffield for example, the average width of terraced housing is less than the length of two cars but little off-street parking is available. Sheffield Supertram may help discourage households from owning two cars. Furthermore the visual impact of parked road vehicles is often considered environmentally damaging.

(d)  Whether it is appropriate, and if so what help can be given, to assist the growth of rapid transit schemes in the United Kingdom

  3.15  Car users will not get out of cars unless and until there is a reasonably acceptable alternative—but until they do the expenditure on providing the extent and quality of public transport required cannot be afforded. Only in London (despite all its shortcomings) is there really a choice, although there are beginning to be some others—parts of Manchester, Newcastle/Tyneside, Sheffield. Unfortunately the Government seems to want to introduce the sticks before or concurrently with improvements—the theory being that if drivers are forced onto public transport the return to the private sector will rise and justify new developments. This doesn's allow for the extent to which motorists have a propensity to remain car-users, even if costs increase steadily (no-one would have a car at all on a purely financial justification yet in reality people spend as much or more on their cars as on food).

  3.16  Lack of finance has been the major impediment to the adoption of LRT schemes. By comparison with most countries on the Continent, capital investment in transport, particularly LRT systems, has always been low. LRT proposals especially are heavily dependent upon public expenditure. The impact of funding difficulties is evident. For example, financial pressures contributed to the winding-up of Rapid Transit for Avon, the private sector company formed in 1986 to promote a light-rail system for the County. Even Local Transport Plans, which have the potential for enabling the development of LRT, only cover five years; LRT needs longer periods for development.

  3.17  At the launch of the Nottingham Express Transit (NET) the then Minister for Transport, Dr John Reid, stated that "NET will take up a large part of my Department's allocation of resources for local authority PFI projects over the next few years. We will not be in a position to support similar schemes for the foreseeable future". Thus it is intended that funding for LRT is generated from congestion charging and workplace parking charges, should these be adopted. Given the likely reluctance of local authorities to introduce congestion charging and workplace parking charges, should these be adopted. Given the likely reluctance of local authorities to introduce congestion charging and workplace parking charges the prospect for further LRT developments is bleak.

  3.18  LRT should be the core of larger cities' public transport provision fully integrated with a good network of modern bus routes, providing as near seamless interchange as is possible. This is vital if the overall attractiveness of public transport is to have any chance of attracting car users out of their vehicles. The question of seamless interchange is a key one—in cities like Hanover LRVs arrive at suburban interchange stations and passengers cross a platform straight on to buses which taken them on the last part of their journey. Buses do not drive out of the interchange as the LRV comes in, nor do the passengers have to wait 10 minutes for the bus to depart. Waiting times involved in local public transport are as big a deterrent to car-users as any other single factor—why stand around a cold, wet, drafty, unpleasant, insecure bus-stop or bus-station when you could be sat in a warm, secure car—even if stationary?

  3.19  All the proposed LRT systems in Britain have two factors in common: limited funding and the need to focus investment on a relatively small initial system. As a result, most new networks require only limited supplies of infrastructure, equipment and rolling stock during their early years. If each system demands a unique specification, economies of scale in production fail to materialise. A double penalty could be incurred: systems able to attract funding would be limited intheir extent while the higher cost of euqipment would prevent other projects from being developed. Indeed all four UK systems have been of a bespoke design built on different engineering principles by different contractors.

  3.20  In order to minimise such problems some time ago the Railway Industry Association (RIA) developed a template to establish key parameters within which local aspirations could be met, such as acceleration/braking range, while ensuring economies of scale from long production runs for equipment and components. Such a template could be valuable in cutting costs. It is noticeable that French LRT vehicles are 10-15 per cent more expensive than their German equivalents, the latter having a template agreed between the municipal authorities and the supply industry. Standardisation of systems based on the RIA proposals would help generate economies of scale and should be encouraged.

  3.21  Electric traction is largely pollution-free at the point of use. It is significant that the modern LRT revival has perhaps gone furthest in California, where, in places, atmospheric conditions produced persistent urban pollution at least as damaging as that which was thought in the 1930s to justify tramway operation in Great Britain. In mid-December 1991 freak weather conditions in London caused weather forecasters to refer to "inversion conditions causing record nitrogen dioxide concentrations in London since measurements began 15 years ago", and suggested that motorists should consider leaving their cars at home: probably the first time that this kind of public advice had been given in the UK. However no UK city was involved in the European car-free cities day in September 1999. For car-users to be encouraged to leave their cars at home high-quality public transport services must already be available combined with appropriate car-restraint.

  3.22  More rigorous aciton to deter car-use is being undertaken in some other European nations: cars have been banned at certain times from the centres of Athens and Munich, for example. In Amsterdam, a referendum (albeit only 27 per cent of the electorate responded) showed that 53 per cent favoured an outright ban on cars in many central areas, other than those of exisitng residents. Such cities view LRT systems as integral elements of an integrated transport policy.


  4.1  Development of LRT systems in the UK has been hampered by: a lack of political commitment at both national and local level; cumbersome planning procedures; a lack of funding; and a lack of public recognition of the potential role that they can play in an fully integrated public transport policy which may include elements of car-restraint.

  4.2  No doubt the lack of a holistic view of the interaciton between transport and land-use has not helped LRT development. LRT should be viewed as one integral part of mass transit that can assist urban redevelopment and promote local economies. Sadly much debate has concentrated on whether buses (kerb-guided or otherwise) or LRT is best. Both are valuable parts of the public transport network with their role to play depending upon the local circumstances.

  4.3  Overseas experience shows the potential benefits of investment in LRT systems. The UK has a long way to go to catch up.

October 1999

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