Solving Bath’s Traffic Problems

A modern tram system combined with local and rural feeder buses, and adequate provision for cycling makes a transport system that works.

The worldwide experience is that  car drivers in cities will not switch to buses ( ie rubber tyred vehicles) of whatever type (click here for a survey covering the negative attitudes of car drivers to buses), but will switch to faster more frequent trams (click here for a reference) creating free road space for rural and local feeder buses, bicycles and essential car drivers such as doctors and tradesmen and those who must drive in from out of town.The 54 cars journeys (which in Bath might be in one long stream along the London Road, not 4 lanes as below) could in theory be accommodated in the bus.  But car drivers tend not to use buses in cities because buses are delayed by the cars, are infrequent, often cramped and unreliable and seen as of low status.

Trams get get through traffic much faster than cars or buses, even without segregated lanes

This surprising fact comes about from the way traffic lights can be controlled for trams in a way that they cannot be for buses, meaning even in the long queues on eg London Road and Wellsway, the tram would travel in, effectively as if there were no traffic.  This paradoxical fact is explained by clicking here.

Or you can watch a video by clicking here: (note the cars are always behind the tram) – screen grab above

Trams are not the same as Buses – but they are complimentary

It’s not at first obvious why but using a tram is a completely different experience to using a bus. ( Click here to see recent letter from a Bathonian who spent time in Basel a Swiss city with trams) And here is a video click here to see how traffic free and cycling friendly Basel is a a result of the trams.

City trams – perhaps surprisingly, make rural bus services to Bath cheaper and more efficient and attractive

This is not obvious why – for an explanation click here.

Baths old tram network, and one proposed new network

Bath’s old tram network, which actually ran out to the Globe Pub

One proposed new tram network

The above routes as proposed on the right have been investigated by engineers and are practical and implementable.  A full feasibility study would determine which  routes are economic. Such feasibility study would be all encompassing looking at all aspects of Baths transport – buses, trams, bikes, rail, parking, walking, rural buses, links to Bristol etc.

Trams don’t need special segregated lanes

They use the same road exactly as cars – this car in Lisbon, below left, is reversing up. Below right the Croydon tram uses the same road as other traffic.


Above left – 70 year old Lisbon trams, above right modern Croydon trams

Video showing trams sharing road space with cars in Brussels

Trams are cheaper than buses overall

Somewhat surprisingly, due to being able to make more journeys per day, move  more passengers per day, very low running costs, more passengers per driver, typically the overall cost of a tram passenger km is about 1/2 that of a bus.  In Vienna,  the cost is 1 Euro per day for unlimited travel.

Tram services are economic (with the right technology and routes)

Trams have high capital costs but due to their long life times and the fact they are effectively a monopoly (like railways and water) they can borrow money at very low rates, and have  very low running costs.  This means they actually make a profit. Since typically 25% of the people in tram cities use them, compared to only 5% of people in Bath using the buses, this means the profit is substantially higher than the present bus companies make and this larger subsidy  can be used to subsidise both rural bus services and local feeder buses to a far greater extent than now.

We have had transport consultants make initial assessments of likely installation costs, passenger numbers and returns and for two sample routes the numbers look like this:

These rates of return are good enough for long term investors e.g.pension funds.

Car Drivers like Trams 

Because a tram service attracts many previous car journeys this  frees road space permitting local and out of town buses to enter Bath rapidly, enabling these buses  to attract other car drivers which again means less cars on the roads.

Thus for those drivers who still choose to drive in, the roads will be much clearer, because most of the other drivers will choose a 6 minute frequency tram with 10-20 sec boarding times.   Also taxis, bikes and tradesmen’s vehicles have a much freer traffic experience.

The school run

Because trams are cheap, reliable and frequent, parents trust them to take their children to school even if several changes have to be made. Trams cannot simply be cancelled like a bus.

Trams do not get stuck in traffic whereas buses do, even when sharing the same roads

It’s possible to apply traffic management techniques to trams which cannot be applied to buses ( why this is so is not obvious – its explained in here and in our full report) which ensure the tram has an unimpeded run into the city even while sharing the same road space as the cars.

Overhead wires

12 European Heritage cities have overhead wires and no one complains about them, and neither did the previous Bathonians complain about their wires – they loved their tram system.  It seems a small price to pay to go back to Bath’s actual heritage transport system complete with overhead wires to avoid the much worse and distinctly un-heritage traffic snarl ups of today. People who have travelled in continental trammed cities report they create a pleasant and attractive feel, in an of themselves.

And in fact overheard wires are not needed in city centres due to modern batteries or other means as in Tours above. On the left the tram is fed without wires, and on the right it switches to wires.

 Why Bath needs a tram system

“Improving the Quality Of Life in Bath with Trams and Buses a Traffic Easing, Cost-Effective and Low-Pollution Combination  “ sets out our current thinking in detail on why trams are the solution and how their reintroduction could be achieved – we welcome feedback. To receive a copy of the detailed report   please contact

A condensed version as a Power Point can be downloaded from this link: Bath Trams Presentation

What has caused Bath’s traffic problems?

This is not commonly realised but most european cities expanded during the industrialisation period because of trams – there was no other means of cheap and rapid mass transport – first horse drawn in the 1840s then electric from the 1880s onwards.  This generally set a fixed network of narrow streets which cannot be expanded due to the proximity of buildings. Trams were abandoned in the 1940s in UK as it was thought they were obsolete and cars were the way forward. But cars are a very inefficient means of moving people en masse and quickly.

meetingBath’s traffic problem is essentially the result of trying to force as many cars, buses and lorries into Bath as is possible. Since Bath has finite space this results in congestion, difficulties in parking and very high levels of pollution* (nationally air pollution contributes to 40,000 early deaths a year** – about 60 per year in Bath)

Trams are proposed as a means to bring users in from the suburbs, outlying areas of the city and the park & rides, in conjunction with feeder buses to bring people to the tram lines.

The freed up city road space means rural buses are cheaper to operate to bring people in from outside the city.

Trams are a great solution, in conjunction with feeder buses:

  • International experience shows that people will readily transfer from cars to trams, because trams are seen as high status; smooth, comfortable and reliable, whereas buses ( any rubber tyred vehicle )are not seen as attractive
  • Whilst trams have high capital costs they have much lower running costs than buses; because of this they are seen as a very good long-term solution in many cities, particularly other World Heritage Cities.
  • Trams have a higher carrying capacity than buses, and they use road space around 30 times more efficiently than cars.

Trams in the city:

  • Trams are electric and leave no pollution in the city, whereas diesel buses are one of the main contributors to poor air quality.
  • In the city centre trams can run on batteries mitigating the need for overheads cables.
  • Trams can negotiate the hills in Bath, as well as the narrow streets and  the bends on the proposed routes – just like in Lisbon.

Trams are the long-term proven solution:

  • Electric trams are a proven solution that has been shown to have many benefits in over 60 European cities, some of which are smaller in size than Bath.
  • Because tram operators can borrow money at extremely low long terms rates private funding would provide a superior tram service at less cost than buses, and zero cost to council.

The Tram network would connect all sides of the city and pick up passengers from out of town buses:

mapThe proposed routes are similar to the original routes in Bath and now include a loop around the city centre.

  • Bathford via Batheaston
  • Bath University
  • Combe Down via Wellsway
  • Southdown via Oldfield Park
  • Twerton
  • Bath Spa University via Newbridge and the
  • Weston Village
  • Lansdown

Air quality information



Trams work well in pedestrian areas – Kassel – notice how the people freely wander and walk near the tram tracks because they are quieter and they always take the same track.