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

Annex 2


  A2.1  During construction public consultation took place on a widespread scale through public meetings, press briefings and direct contact with frontagers affected. However, because a substantial part of the system was built in the existing highway it was inevitable that there was disruption. This disruption took a number of forms:

    (a)  To frontagers—This affected access to both business and residential premises who claimed problems of noise and dirt, loss of business. Some claims of this nature have continued post completion of the system. Some of the disruption was quite prolonged because of the necessity to divert utilities services before the track slab for the tramway was constructed. Tramways built on former rail alignment have not had problems to the same extent, which was the South Yorkshire experience on the Meadowhall section which uses some former rail alignment;

    (b)  To road users—This affected all highway users as it lead to a considerable number of diversions sometimes onto roads less suitable for heavy peak hour traffic and this lead to congestion, extended journey times for car and bus users, and difficulties for pedestrians crossing the road where it was a construction site.

  A.2.2  During this period the local media particularly the press ran a very negative campaign.

  A2.3  After construction the problems were as follows:

    (i)  Patronage shortfalls. Although a technical success, one year after full operation of the system it was clear that passenger levels on the system were well below the original forecasts. It was expected that patronage would build up to in excess of 20 million passengers journeys per annum within three years of the full system being opened at the time of the DoT approval. In the event after the first full year of operation patronage was some 6 million passenger journeys and it was clear that 20 million passengers were unlikely to be attained. The consequence of this low patronage was poor financial performance with Supertram operating at a loss;

    (ii)  Operating environment. Supertram has to operate in an environment where buses are deregulated. From the outset the bus operators competed with the tram both in terms of fares and frequency. An example of this is in the Hillsborough to City centre corridor where there are some 38 buses per hour directly competing with the 12 trams per hour leading to over-capacity. It was in this corridor that the first low floor buses were also introduced to Sheffield despite the trams being fully accessible. In addition the tram initially did not have traffic signal priority or traffic management measures to encourage car users to use parallel routes to the tram. Thus journey times were extended and the punctuality was poor. Eventually in the case of Hillsborough measures were taken to rectify these early shortcomings such that it was possible to "save" one tram and improve frequencies and punctuality.

    (iii)  External factors. Patronage has also been affected by land use changes along the route and changes to the local economy. Examples of land use changes are where high density residential apartments in council ownership have been demolished and then replaced by lower density development such as the Kelvin Park flats or the current regeneration of the Norfolk Park area. Sheffield City centre has lost jobs to out of town developments as employment has become more dispersed.

    (iv)  There have also been some problems for other road users particularly car, with initially a higher rate of "loss of control" incidents in wet conditions than would be expected on similar roads without tram tracks. Following extensive investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and research by Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) remedial action was taken to replace the elastomer surrounding the tracks with a material with higher friction characteristics and road markings to encourage car drivers to position vehicles so that the wheels do not run along the tracks. This action has resulted in a significant reduction in such incidents.

  A2.4  All the above factors gave rise to a re-appraisal of the original forecasts by the transport consultants MVA as clearly this was affecting the original funding arrangements between SYPTE and the Government. The re-appraisal sought to explain the reasons for the shortfall and produced some revised forecasts of 9 million-12 million passengers as the potential annual patronage dependent on a number of measures being taken.


  A2.5  Based on the original forecasts the concept was that the proceeds from privatisation of the operating concession would fund some one third of the capital costs. However with the system producing an operating loss due to the lower than forecast patronage it was clear that the concept would not be fulfilled. To resolve the ongoing debt problem the DETR agreed to convert the original trading credit approvals into non-trading approvals with final confirmation in August 1998.

  A2.6  During 1996-97 privatisation of the operating concession was pursued with the issue of a full prospectus inviting expressions of interest. After a second round of bids preferred bidder status was given to Stagecoach and the operating concession was transferred to them in December 1997 when Stagecoach entered into a service level agreement with SYPTE.

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