Does the Belfast Glider Bus Work As An Alternative to a Steel Wheeled Tram ?- Experts Respond

Subject: Re: Dear experts is this true regarding the success of the Belfast glider?

Dear Dave,

Just to expand a bit on my remarks about Glider:

You have commented many times that “car drivers will not use buses.” As a generalisation that is fine, but it’s not as clear cut as that. If car drivers are presented with a good quality bus service, like Bus Rapid Transit or, to use the up-to-date term, BHNS (bus a haut niveau de service), a small number will use it but not to the extent that they will use a tram. Trams typically attract 20, 25, even 30 per cent of their passengers from cars; a high quality bus service like the Leigh guided busway might manage 5 per cent or so. That’s why I am sceptical about the Glider claim that it carries 2 million passengers a year and takes 1.67 million car journeys off the roads.

A BRT service has to appear as providing a different kind of service. It’s not just a matter of having a few bus lanes here and there; BRT needs a package of measures that show the passenger that it is different improved service. The sort of attributes that BRT should have include dedicated lanes, fast frequent services, a simple well-defined route structure, simple, easy-to-use fares, dedicated high quality vehicles in a distinctive livery, clearly identified stops, and so on. It doesn’t necessarily have to have all of these, but it must have a good proportion or it will not appear to the public as something essentially different. Tram people will recognise that with a tramway all these things come as part of the package, but for a bus service they must be worked on. It is all too easy to make a few economies here and there (“do we really need a dedicated fleet of vehicles?”) and end up with something that is not distinctive and not much more than a higher frequency bus service.

On the question of clearly identified bus stops, my wife and I visited Bristol a little while ago and thought we would try out the Metrobus service. We spent some time walking around the city centre from one bus stop to another, but never discovered where the Metrobus went from, so for this out-of-towner it failed at the first hurdle as a better type of service.

The trouble is that planners think a BRT service provides a tram on the cheap – 80 per cent of the benefits for 20 per cent of the cost. It doesn’t. A good quality BRT service probably costs half as much as a tramway and provides half the benefits. To be fair, in many cities that is all that is needed – not everywhere has the concentrated passenger flows that make a tramway viable. But we should not make the mistake of thinking buses and trams are alternatives – they occupy different parts of the transport spectrum, and each has its benefits and drawbacks that make one or the other more suitable in a given location.

So Glider might be the right solution for Belfast, but Bristol probably needs more.

David Walmsley


David ( Walmsley),

I agree with everything you say – I would just add that in all cases I am aware of the ongoing infrastructure maintenance cost of dedicated BRT routes (especially for kerb-guided buses) will exceed that of a tramway over a 30- to 50-year life.  This clearly applies to “rubber-tyred trams” too (eg: Caen, Clermont-Ferrand, Nancy, Padova, Venezia).


Andrew Braddock

On Wednesday, March 10, 2021 at 2:03:24 PM UTC Mike Ballinger wrote:

Yes David A,

I seem to remember Leeds opening a guided bus section about 30 years ago and making claims about increases in traffic. Once challenged they admitted that they had not taken a count in the first place and estimated it after the opening!

And they wonder why Leeds never got a transit system.


From: experts… <experts…@googlegroups.comOn Behalf Of walmsleydtransport
Sent: 10 March 2021 13:48
To: UK Light Rail Experts <experts…>
Subject: Re: Dear experts is this true regarding the success of the Belfast glider?

I haven’t seen Glider in action, but it sounds like quite a good BRT service with high frequency and dedicated lanes.

“They” are claiming 2m extra passengers, or an increase of 30% in the corridor, and 1.67m fewer car journeys.,more%20than%20100%20Glider%20halts.

I don’t know where the figures come from; to get accurate figures would need a proper passenger survey and I’ll bet they haven’t done one. I would guess that Glider is successful in attracting passengers, but that many would be attracted from other ordinary bus services. The 1.67m fewer car journeys seems a bit high to me (as well as suspiciously precise).

I would also point out that Belfast is a fair bit smaller than Bristol, so what might be good for Belfast might not be adequate for Bristol. The correct way to assess it is to follow the Route Map: estimate the number of passengers and other transport objectives, then (and only then) decide what mode is appropriate.

David Walmsley


Statement to Bristol  Growth & Regeneration Commission

TfGB is concerned regarding the Strategic Transport Plans report that the Belfast Glider bendibus appears to be being recommended as the future ‘rapid/mass transit’ system for Bristol.

There has been no public consultation of alternative options. TfGB’s view is that Bristol should be pushing for the integration of WECA’s MetroWest rail plans, with trams on non-rail corridors – as is being developed in comparable cities like Birmingham, Nottingham, Sheffield and Cardiff. In particular we should be bidding for government funding for a pilot tram line crossing the city, inclusive of a city centre circuit. If Bristol lowers its expectations to a bendibus we will never get access to the level of government funding of comparable cities.

A public consultation exercise is required.

TfGB’s initial rail & tram Rapid Transit Plan is published on our website (under ‘campaigns/Bristol transport plan’), from which the attached map is taken.  We are undertaking further detailed work with UKTram on possible pilot lines, to be published in due course.

Gavin Smith

Transport for Greater Bristol

2 Seddon Rd, BS2 9YA.


Subject: Re: Dear experts is this true regarding the success of the Belfast glider?
Excellent piece thank you David W.

My understanding is that nowadays traffic projection or passenger numbers for different modes Ie types of bus or tram can be reasonably accurately predicted with modern software and a proper survey and a knowledge of the the various demand centres.
Therefore Bristol and or Bath should be able to  analyse different transport modes to see which is the most likely to be reasonably economic and to remove the most car traffic.
Is this a reasonable perception?
If it is we can’t just have the council officers as they appear to have done in this case picking what they think will work without backing it up with any proper analysis.
Many thanks

walmsleydtransport walmsleydtransport

I agree with Lewis Lesley, that every town is different and needs a proper analysis to see if trams can be economic, and I agree with David H that trams have a number of attributes that make them attractive. I was just considering trams and Glider buses as a means of transport in terms of how many passengers they can carry. My conclusion on Glider is that a 10-minute service with 100-seat vehicles can carry up to 600 per hour, and that level of patronage would not justify a tram, so maybe a BRT service like Glider is a good option.

My other point is that what works in Belfast does not necessarily imply what would or would not work in Bristol. My feeling, without detailed analysis, is that Bristol is one of the largest second-tier (non-metropolitan) cities and is one of the best candidates for a tram system.
David W

Yes and No.

Every urban area has its own quirks. Traffic prediction and modal split Software will certainly provide a good approximate answer but nothing beats field work in the town concerned.
An example of this was when I prepared the Business Case for a railway station to serve Newton Aycliffe,  my projected passenger numbers were gratifyingly close to the actual traffic. The actual revenue was much higher than forecast because I had modelled people travelling to Darlington, the nearest large town. In practice they went to Bishop Auckland, further away but with a better market. Had I known this little social nuance, my CBA % would have been higher.

‘David Holt’ via UK Light Rail Experts expertsfortrams

David Walmsley says it all really in his paragraph about trying to find the Bristol Metrobus.  The same would apply in the centre of Manchester, where the Leigh guided buses are just ordinary random-seeming buses, with as little “presence” as any other buses, and as difficult to relate to in terms of their relevance to one’s travel needs – whereas shiny tram rails and wires are a permanent advert for solid public transport.   Without that essential infrastructure, a tram would be just a bus, in the same way that all proprietary “scamtrams” – GLT, Cambridge “Metro”, and their ilk – will never be anything like as effective as proper trams because they lack the attractive infrastructure.  That’s where the tram’s secret truly lies, not in a lot of muddled or dodgy statistics arguing ad infinitum one way or another.  And when I went on the Leigh guided busway, by far the smoothest part of the ride was along the tram tracks past Manchester Town Hall.  There’s significance in that.  And before anyone dismisses all this as “tram obsession” or “tram focused”, it’s just fundamental truth.  And I do realise that trams need to be part of a fully integrated public transport system such as can be enjoyed in Switzerland and the Netherlands, where buses, trams, metros and trains are all blended together into one system with public service and common sense at the forefront.
David Holt

Clive Hinchcliffe

Fri, 12 Mar, 11:09

to expertsfortrams

Dear All

Why do I keep hearing that this and that service dose not require trams.

Why do people still work on demand lead transport solutions?  Maybe because they are still stuck in the past and only looking at costs and profits.

If we are going to save ourselves and our planet from the effects of man-made climate change we need an approach not based on cost vis profits/income.

We need leaders who will take an out of the box approach and evaluate all aspects of everything we do in relation to the combined impacts.

A 100 passenger tram will over time provide more benefits then a 100 passenger electric BRT service on a like for like bases.

But on the other hand I fully agree that it all needs to be part of a fully integrated mobility service and not just in towns and cities.

Best wishes


CJH Multisourcing SNC


Mobile: +32 498 540 337

Phone: 32 81 35 01 84

Skype: cjh.multisourcing


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