Solving Bath’s Traffic Problems – why it must be buses and trams, not buses alone

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

Above is double-articulated trolleybus in Zürich and they have been a great success there in the typically Swiss hierarchy of trams for the busiest routes, trolleybuses for the next busiest and diesel buses confined to short “quartierbus” feeding the other two. See car free, and cycle friendly Basel video here:

Summary of why we need buses and trams

Trams have a much lower cost per vehicle movement, having less engine, tyre, fuel etc maintenance and one driver costs, to be shared amongst up to 300 riders in a tram rather than say 70 in a bus. They can make more journeys per day due to shorter boarding times, – 20 secs compared to 1.5 minutes on a bus ( due to large multiple doors and not being a double decker, with the delay the stairs cause);  the ability to use green wave traffic light pre-emption which buses  generally can’t. This all results that trams have much shorter gaps between services – headway- throughout a longer service day than buses, so 6 minutes typically in UK and 2 minutes in Budapest. This means trams are just turn up and go.  Also because they are more popular than buses the trams doesn’t have to wait for a queue to form at the stop to get a decent load of passengers which enhances the tram popularity.

Overall trams have more prestige and can attract a large number of previous car drivers who generally won’t use buses, so these ex-car drivers are no longer impeding traffic which then feeds back to speedier service with lower headway for the tram. A single line main road has a max capacity of about 1000 vehicles per hour, whereas a tram line can have up to 40,000 and this means a huge reduction in road space required. A tram system can last for 40 years meaning (Lisbon is over 100 years, with 75 year old trams in daily use not as a tourist attraction) low cost loans can be negotiated because in effect future unborn users will pay their share, whereas a bus line has to recover its loan in about 5 years meaning much higher repayments and hence higher fares. So the true cost per passenger km for a tram is about half that of a bus.

The inflexibility of a tram line is an advantage, not a disadvantage since it has been proven to attract investment in housing and business due to the certainty for investors that unlike a bus it cannot suddenly be removed.  This means that there is less demand for parking spaces and hence cars being driven if a building is located along a tram line.  It is a fact that land values increase as a result of installing a tram line, which does not occur with buses. Trams typically penetrate safely and comfortably car free zones / pedestrian areas, because they move at a slow speed along fixed routes, and people are happy to walk amongst then as they know they will stick to a track. Trams can safely negotiate narrow bends than bendy buses and narrow streets because they are narrower than a bus and always take a fixed route.

Despite the well known risk to cyclists of tram tracks, cities with well developed tram systems  – Freiberg, Amsterdam, Zurich, have more cyclists than those without because many of the cars are removed.  If properly designed cyclists can readily adapt to trams – see pictures below  END OF SUMMARY

Car drivers tend not to use buses

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 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, due to Green Wave Traffic Light Preemption which cannot be applied to buses generally, meaning even in the long queues on eg London Road and Wellsway, the tram would travel in, effectively as if there were no traffic – watch the video below:

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

Successful cities deal with traffic by having integrated systems of trams, trolley buses, and ordinary buses. Trams are best to deal with central congested areas of cities.

Throughout Europe trolleybus systems are being expanded mainly by using battery trolleybuses often – eg Zurich – but along side an expanded tram system. There are a few instances of trolleybuses being replaced with trams. Trams are nice, so are trolleybuses and buses.
Above is a double-articulated trolleybus in Zürich and they have been a great success there in the typically Swiss hierarchy of trams for the busiest routes, trolleybuses for the next busiest and diesel buses confined to short “quartierbus” feeding the other two.

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. Essentially buses are less frequent, less reliable, more cramped, cannot cut through traffic, noisy, much longer boarding and de-boarding times, not smooth in short less convenient and prestigious.  They are seen as of low prestige.

( 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.

Trams are very complementary to cycling

The Brussels tram video, ( on this website landing page and above) shows about 1 1/2  minutes in cyclists happily riding along. Amsterdam which is covered in trams has numerous cyclists. And here is a video click here to see how traffic free and cycling friendly Basel is a a result of the trams. What happens with trams is that you have less cars, and people quickly learn how to safely cross tram lines with out falling over. Just as they don’t cycle into kerbs they don’t cycle into tram lines.

Cyclist following tram into Nottingham


Another benefit of trams to cyclists, apart from removing many cars, is because they are far roomer they can easily accommodate bikes for hill sections.

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 above

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

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.

Trams are cheaper than buses overall per passenger km.

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 along the correct routes – heavily trafficked and city centres)

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. The long lifetime means that as yet unborn passengers can share the costs, just as they do with things like bridges.  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 – 6 to 2 minutes, throughout much of the day,  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.

Overhead wires – not needed

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.

There are numerous trammed cities of the same, or much smaller size than Bath

Above – One example of small cities with trams – Belgian coastal tram. The longest tram in the work, 42 miles, serving many low population trams

There are a number of cities with trams that are smaller or the same sort of size as Bath: Below are towns on the Belgian coastal tram – Radstock – Bath – Bristol would be in a similar situation. ( Full list here )

Bad Schandau, Germany  – 4,022 population

Trenčianske Teplice, Slovakia – 4,197

Valenciennes – 57,000

Adinkerke  – 10,060

Nieuport –  11,062 – Belgian coastal tram above

Ostende – 70,994 – Belgian coastal tram above

Blankenberge – 19,897 – Belgian coastal tram above

Knokke – 34,063 – Belgian coastal tram above

Developers will build houses and businesses along fixed tram lines, and withe less parking places, but not for bus services

“Think of trams as an urban development project rather than a transport scheme,” says Martin Wedderburn, Transport Planner and Associate for thinktank the Centre for London. “The physical permanence of the rails has a much bigger impact on developers and investors, especially in the UK where bus routes can be changed or withdrawn at such short notice.

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.