Why trams  plus local feeder buses work as the backbone of a city’s transport system but buses alone don’t.

          Lines A an B above are likely to be economic – results of assessment further down page

  • Bath like Bristol, (or most British cities) suffers from pollution and congestion, and struggles commercially from lack of footfall caused by the difficulty and cost for persons accessing Bath who, as evidence shows, won’t use buses but will instead go elsewhere or shop online. Staff struggle in on wage-sapping expensive and slow transport. Trams integrated with buses can help solve all these issues in a way that busses alone cannot for reasons explained below.
  • Trams’ heavier engineering, with no need to cater for bumps in the road or steering, gives a roomier, smoother and more reliable vehicle with desirable style & prestige; multiple larger doors give rapid boarding and consequently short stop times, all very attractive to car drivers who research shows will accept trams but won’t switch to buses. Buses’ intrinsic different engineering and therefore economics means passengers are forced to be crammed close together in bench seats, and suffer long waits between unreliable services out of peak hours. The reasons for these intrinsic differences are explained below.
  • A tram inflexibility is a proven asset, not a disadvantage as services cannot be subject to constant change and withdrawal, unlike buses. A tram line give businesses confidence to build along the line. Businesses provenly become more profitable as a result.
  • Typically a 450 passenger tram which arrives at a stop, can de-board and board and be off in 20 secs. This would need to be replaced by 5 – 7 buses, but these cannot all arrive simultaneously and a double-decker can take 2.5 minutes to board and de-board, and so have to be spread out, inevitably limiting a lines capacity and frustrating those at a bus stop who have to wait for “there’s another one close behind”.
  • Tram lines have 4 – 5 times the capacity of a bus line and generally for economic reasons operate at 6 minute intervals starting earlier and running later than buses due to different intrinsic economics again making them attractive to drivers. For the same economoic reasons buses cannot offer this frequency.
    Relative line capacities


          Numerous large doors mean a tram can de-board and de-board in around 20 secs and be on the move – a single double decker can take                2.5 minutes

  • Full explanation last point below)  – running cost, initial capital costs, ongoing maintenance, long-term replacement sinking fund which can be financed over 40 years at low interest rates. This means they can operate frequently even during low traffic hours, something buses cannot afford to do and so have much longer service intervals, discouraging car drivers. Buses only last a few years and have to be financed at much higher rates and have higher operating and maintenance costs per passenger.
  • Trams can use  Green Wave traffic light pre-emption making them faster through traffic without requiring special tram lanes and sharing the same road space as in this tram line in Brussels. It is generally not possible to apply Green Wave to buses, because four or five times as many bus movements would cause too many traffic light interruptions creating chaos
  • The school run causes 30% of peak hour traffic; but the trams’ 6 minute interval, reliability, roominess and non-bench seating ( children can move around and avoid proximity to strangers) mean parents trust their children to trams even on two-tram cross town school trips to arrive safely and on time.
  • Buses are ideal as city tram feeders for rural areas and low demand city areas. Trams in Bath and Bristol will assist longer distance commuters from outside the cities because they can transfer to a fast tram rather than ride on a bus stuck in traffic
  • Buses and cars, including electric, make considerable pollution from exhaust emissions, tyre and road dust. Electric cars and buses save on the exhaust emissions but produce even more tyre and road dust because of their greater weight.  Trams produce neither exhaust emissions nor tyre and road dust in the street and have much lower energy consumption and carbon emissions.
  • Modern tracks are likely to be able to span cellars and be installed one single track at a time overnight without closing roads off and in any case normal tracks have much much lower bearing pressure than buses.
  • A tram’s inflexibility is an advantage. Once built, tramlines unlike bus routes cannot suddenly close, meaning businesses can have confidence and cluster alongside causing regeneration and enabling traders to thrive and create jobs tram systems have been installed in 28 French cities, many showing this effect. This effect also noted for Nottingham.
  • There are at least 33 small towns with the same sort of population or much less than Bath which have tramways – Valenciennes 57,000, Adinkerke 10,060, Nieuport 11,062, Ostende 70,994, Blankenberge 19,897, Knokke 34,063 to mention only a few. According to BBC Coast, the 42 miles Belgian coastal tramway was built and then the towns grew up along it.

Belgian coastal tram. The longest tram in the work, 42 miles, serving many low population trams

         Above – 42 Belgian Coast tram serving small villages


  • Trams are particularly accessible for people with disabilities due to their low floor and level boarding. A tram can always arrive precisely close to the platform every time, and this is impossible for a bus.This also makes them easier for people who may not be disabled but generally find it difficult to move about, and people with pushchairs, luggage etc, and also easier for everyone making boarding and alighting quicker.
  • It is worth noting that no bus-only solution, busway, Metrobus or otherwise has ever worked in UK have ever created a significant modal shift, whereas trams have at least a 25% modal shift and have provenly reduced congestion in all cities they have been installed in.
  •  Trams in dense city locations are much cheaper than buses.
  • The most important thing is to understand whole-life costing. A tramway needs to be assessed over 40 to 50 years ( and has access to low interest loans over that period) and in that time frame the biggest single expense will be staff costs, hence the need to achieve high ratios of passengers to drivers.  Up to 300 people on a tram with a driver is better than 90 on a bus.  Next highest cost will be vehicles and their maintenance.  A tram will cost between £1M and £2.5M (over the 20- to 44-metre range of lengths in most manufacturers’ catalogues) but will last 35-40 years.  A bus will cost £0.5M but last only 12-15 years.  Maintaining buses is around twice as expensive as for trams, even allowing for OHLE costs.  Take carrying capacity into account and anyone can do the maths.  Crudely, a line requiring 10 x 30-metre trams at £1.5M a pop would need 30 buses replaced twice over the whole-life costing period.  That’s why there are so many tram systems in Europe.