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

Memorandum submitted by the South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (RT 22)



  1.  South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Authority (SYPTA) and South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (SYPTE) welcomes the Transport Sub-committee seeking evidence on Light Rapid Transit Systems. SYPTA is responsible for policies that identify the travel needs of the people of South Yorkshire and meets them by promoting the availability of the best possible public transport within the financial resources available. SYPTE implements those policies; this includes promoting new public transport systems such as light rail.

  2.  The South Yorkshire Supertram system in Sheffield is an example of a recently constructed light rail system in the United Kingdom. This evidence gives some background to the system and the experience during and after its construction.


  3.  The Supertram is a 29km light rail system operating in Sheffield, South Yorkshire on three main corridors radiating from the city centre providing quality fully accessible public transport. At the time of construction it represented the largest public transport infrastructure project outside London and it was completed to time and budget costing £240 million.

  4.  South Yorkshire did not have a history of intensely used suburban railways and unlike the Manchester Metrolink had to establish a market from a zero base. This it has been very successful in doing and it is forecast to carry some 11million passengers in the current year. This patronage has been secured at a time when the South Yorkshire and Sheffield economy has not exhibited the growth seen in other cities. Despite extensive consultation and public meetings it was inevitable that with a scheme of such size, principally constructed in highway rather than former railway alignment that there was some disruption (described in more detail in the evidence).

  5.  However, since opening the system progressively in the period March 1994 to October 1995 patronage has continued to grow. The operation has been transferred successfully to the private sector and requires no public subsidy. Nearly one quarter of the passengers are former car users transferring to Supertram. Land use changes along the Supertram routes are demonstrating the regeneration benefits of light rail.

  6.  Supertram has demonstrated that light rail is good for modal shift, the environment and regeneration all high priorities on the Government's agenda. Light rail development should therefore be encouraged. The private sector will require some public funding towards the capital cost of such schemes and the integration of feeder services and ticketing will improve their viability and growth prospects.


  7.  Supertram is a modern urban light rail system operating in Sheffield, South Yorkshire. In total the system has 29 route kilometres based on three lines radiating from the city centre. A total of 25 trams are used to operate the system. Level access is provided enabling easy use for wheelchair users and mothers with young children. The trams also have no emissions and air quality is improved. Compared to other UK systems it has a high proportion of street running and shares 50 per cent of its alignment on the highway with other road users. This is because historically Sheffield did not have a well developed suburban rail system so there were only limited options available to use existing or former rail alignments. The Supertram system first came into operation in March 1994 and phases were progressively opened up to October 1995. Details of the project background (Appendix 1) and map of the system are appended to this evidence.

  8.  Powers to build the Supertram system were sought in November 1985 and the construction commenced in August 1991. The funding of the project was on the basis of a design and build contract. The operations and maintenance were separated to a wholly owned subsidiary of SYPTE with a view to privatising the operations later once a trading record had been established. This funding method was different to Manchester which was on a design, build, operate and maintain basis as one contract.

  9.  The approved Supertram project was for a total of £240.6 million (outturn). The project was completed to time and budget.

Question 2—"the problems they have faced, both at the time of their construction and afterwards"

  10.  When Supertram was planned public consultation took place on a wide scale with many public meetings, media coverage, newsletters and briefings to elected members and those frontagers most directly affected during the construction. With such a large project it was inevitable that there would be some disruption during construction. (Appendix 2 sets out the detail). In summary these were:

    (a)  land use changes leading to lower density residential developments on parts of the route;

    (b)  a negative local media due to the construction disruption;

    (c)  the poor financial performance after completion due to patronage shortfalls against the original forecasts;

    (d)  the operating environment initially with poor traffic priorities leading to longer than forecast journey times and poor punctuality;

    (e)  during construction disruption on the street sections which is the bulk of the Sheffield system;

    (f)  resolving the financial and funding problems and the privatisation of the operation; and

    (g)  the low level of economic activity along the route particularly in the city centre.

Question 3—"what successes they have had, particularly in terms of removing traffic from roads and thus reducing congestion or restraining its growth"


    Unlike the Manchester Metrolink, Supertram has had to establish a market from a zero base. In the year 1998-99 10.3 million passengers were carried on the system a 13 per cent increase on 1997-98. Current patronage is running at 10 per cent above the same period last year and therefore the system should carry in excess of 11 million passenger journeys in 1999-2000. Service quality and reliability is high with 23 trams and occasionally 24 out of the fleet of 25 utilised. Stagecoach operate the trams having a 27 year concession from SYPTE. (They were the successful bidder in the privatisation process and commenced operating the concession in December 1997).

  12.  The future is likely to yield further patronage increases for the following reasons:

    (a)  Development tends to be cyclical but there are now signs that land use development along the Supertram route is accelerating. (For example, a new entertainment complex developed by Virgin adjacent to the tram has improved off peak patronage with the planning gain of a new stop and park and ride facilities. In September 1999 a new site for Sheffield College opened adjacent to the Mossway tramstop, and Dixons have recently announced a development bringing 1,300 jobs to a site adjacent to the tram system. Other sites along the Supertram route are actively marketed through the Sheffield City Council development office);

    (b)  The South Yorkshire area is a Centre of Excellence for integrated transport and seeks to take a number of measures in advance of any new transport legislation through quality partnerships and integration;

    (c)  Attitudes towards the tram are more positive and Stagecoach in conjunction with the SYPTE and SCC wish to explore the possibility of a small extension: (this would improve access to Sheffield University and the Hallamshire hospital both of which are major employers);

    (d)  Trams are acceptable in the city centre pedestrian areas because of their accessibility, low emissions and noise;

    (e)  Local Transport Plans also open up the possibility of better integration and measures to encourage public transport use including the tram.

  13.  Reference has already been made to passenger growth. However for light rail to be judged as successful it needs to demonstrate that it can cause modal shift. In the case of Supertram the most recent survey data (September 1999) shows that some 22 per cent of users previously used a car. Based on the patronage forecast for 1999-2000 of 11 million passenger journeys Supertram has captured over 2 million journeys previously made by car. This equates to the equivalent of some 2,500 cars daily not being used principally for trips into Central Sheffield.This success has in part been due to provision of Park and Ride sites on the light rail route.

Q4.  "Whether it is appropriate, and if so what help can be given, to assist the growth of rapid transit schemes in the United Kingdom"

  14.  The previous paragraph gives evidence that the Supertram system has been successful in attracting car users. The shortfall in patronage forecast in the original application to the DoT is explained in Appendix 4. The modal shift from car to light rail has exceeded the original forecast.

  15.  Light rail is a public transport mode that is successful in transferring car users out of cars. In the case of UK examples, including Sheffield, the light rail networks are not comprehensive or extensive enough to have a major impact on modal shift when compared to some cities in mainland Europe although very effective along the corridors where light rail has been installed. Also UK systems outside London operate in a deregulated bus environment and are not as well integrated as mainland Europe in terms of bus services feeding the light rail lines or integrated ticketing.

  16.  Light rail are efficient movers of large volumes of people and where large public and private investment has been made in a system it is appropriate to maximise the use made of the investment. Light rail besides being good for modal shift is also good for the environment, regeneration and provides the quality of service that is car competitive. It is appropriate for the committee to make recommendations to assist the growth of light rail.

  17.  The help that can be given to assist the growth of schemes and build on this demonstrable success is as follows:

    (a)  funding—all schemes are likely to require an element of public funding in addition to those provided by the private sector. The timescale to fund schemes is an issue and adds to the development time. To accelerate the development of schemes (which also generate employment during construction) and encourage the private sector it is suggested that a mechanism to provide earlier certainty of funding is required.

    (b)  Quality partnerships and quality contracts—enforceable quality partnerships will not address integration of bus and tram. It is suggested that authorities need to have powers to enter into quality contracts where there is a light rail scheme enabling full integration of bus feeder services and integrated ticketing where voluntary partnerships do not provide the level of integration sought by the users/potential users of the public transport system.

    (c)  Use of heavy rail lines—although not applicable in the initial Sheffield system it is clear from experience elsewhere in the UK that conversion of existing heavy rail lines to light rail or shared running can result in lower capital costs, a fully segregated right of way, increased patronage and modal shift compared to the existing heavy rail service. The role of the SRA in light rail development needs further clarification than that shown in the Railways Bill. For example to ensure that the SRA and authorities have sufficient powers to ensure that Railtrack do not frustrate potential growth.

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