Letter to the Editor
The two letters (letters Sept 24th, P Bowden & Mike Fear, p15) criticising the reported BANES plans (Sept 17th) for traffic reduction and promoting cycling make some very valid points. Based on the clear evidence from other UK cities the present plans whilst laudable in themselves and necessary, will not significantly reduce car traffic nor increase cycling unless an acceptable alternative to buses is on offer to motorists without also damaging Bath’s economy.
Simply “improving access to public transport” by which Councillor Wright presumably means better bus services, has been demonstrated time and time again to be unable to attract motorists in sufficient numbers to make any difference. Examples of failure are Runcorn in the 60’s built entirely around buses, the Swansea bendy bus scheme, the Cambridge Busway and many more. (See Bath Trams website) Why does Councillor Wright think Bath would be any different?
It is wishful thinking that everyone can cycle, and wishful thinking that public transport by buses can be enhanced sufficiently to attract motorists and crucially cannot reduce the nightmare for parents of the school run. In cities where trams are re-installed car usage reduces and cycling increases.
Councillor Wright and other Lib Dems have attended a number of Bath Trams conferences where firm evidence has been presented which shows that the only way city car traffic has been reduced and commerce increased, has been to introduce steel wheeled trams, which also encourage cycling by reducing the number of cars and which simultaneously makes it easier for trams. The Croydon tram system like many others in UK has shown a 30% switch from cars to trams and such a switch has never been demonstrated with buses. A bus route’s flexibility is a disadvantage to would be passengers since buses and routes can be withdrawn at will, whereas trams create long term certainty for businesses and commuters alike.
All the UK re-trammed cities (Edinburgh, Birmingham, Croydon, Sheffield, Manchester, Nottingham, Newcastle), have experienced massive switches to trams and re-generation largely due to the reintroduction of steel wheeled trams, and indeed London Docklands had the light rail specifically because Heseltine realised that rail connection was needed to encourage regeneration and make it a commercial success – he knew buses simply wouldn’t do. And as in Edinburgh once one line is introduced there is a clamour for extension.
Countries that had removed their trams after the war like Spain and France have realised their mistake and are busy putting them back due to the benefits they provide which buses alone don’t.
Simply restricting the ability to drive, without providing a proven acceptable alternative such as a tram means Bath’s commercial fortunes will further decline as residents resist coming into town because of the inconvenience and cost; they will either shop elsewhere or buy on line.
These stark differences occur because buses cannot, for fundamental reasons, offer the quality of service of trams which motorists demand – Such as short waiting times of 6 – 10 minutes, good service all day and evening, (Julie and Johnny can come home safely from school even after dark), reliability, roomy so not being crammed in bench seats, cheap, comfort, the ability to cut through traffic with Green Wave, and yes inflexibility meaning the motorist can rely on the tram being there for years ahead and so may even sell his car and businesses and shops will re-locate along the route instead of concentrating in the centre. (Witness the fading shop adverts of past shops primarily located along old tram lines)
For engineering and economic reasons, buses cannot offer these benefits, and yes trams are cheaper per seat mile than a bus (in cities) – you are sharing the cost of the driver, the largest cost over many more passengers. The reliability and frequency means parents will trust their children to even a two tram journey across town (and back from an after school club when it’s dark), something unthinkable with an unreliable bus service – thus cutting the massive school run problem causing a third of peak hour congestion (first brought to prominence by Cllr Wreight). Ditto the majority of car journeys in Bath are cross town, because of the time delay and unreliability of taking a two-bus trip e.g. from say Combe Down to the RUH, but perfectly feasible with a tram system.
Buses are a great system but should be integrated with trams and reserved for low traffic or rural routes and as feeder routes for the central tram lines where they excel. But a tram / light rail is definitely needed to connect Radstock and the Somer Valley to Bath also a link to Bristol.
Trams which now can run without overhead wires tick all the environmental boxes – run directly on renewable electricity, have 1/5 the energy consumption of a bus and no road or tyre dust pollution.
It is a tragedy that rather than allocate the £450k obtained from WECA by Bath Trams’ efforts (and the successful Atkins study we also facilitated which showed at least 4 likely routes) specifically to study the feasibility of reintroducing trams into Bath, is being spent on yet another transport study.
A tram network can be used to ferry in goods from lorries dropping wheeled cargo baskets at out of town stops reducing the ingress of HGVs, and carry cyclists up hills.
Bath Trams is not against buses and pro-trams for any fanatic, nostalgic or romantic reasons, simply the overwhelming evidence shows that trams are not only the cheapest solution (on the correct routes) in the long run, but also the only way to reduce car traffic, boost cycling and walking and to cut carbon and pollution – have a look at the Bath Trams Web site for the evidence. Anything else is wishful thinking and a refusal to face the evidence.
Chair, Bath Trams