The tram vs bus debate

Posted: November 6, 2013 in Transport
Tags: , , , , , ,

When the Southeast light rail line is completed at the end of this decade there will almost certainly be an increase in patronage along the Anzac Parade to CBD corridor. Whoever is transport minister at the time will point out that the number of bus plus tram passengers in the first few months after opening is higher than the number of bus passenger in the equivalent number of months before opening. They will then say that this is due to trams being faster, more reliable, frequent, and having a higher capacity than buses. The newspaper headlines will declare that this correlation has been caused by trams, and the (wo)man on the street will declare his (or her) support for trams as “much better than buses”. Except it’s not quite true.

Patronage will almost certainly be higher, and it will be caused by better speed/reliability/frequency/capacity. But only the last of those 4 (capacity) is an inherent benefit of light rail. Speed is a function of things like stop spacing, on board vs off board fare payments, and top vehicle speed. Reliability is a function of things like exclusive rights of way and grade separation. Frequency is a function of how many vehicles are available and the demand for transport along that particular corridor. All of these are just as applicable to buses as they are to trams. In other words, you don’t need a $1.6bn upgrade to light rail to achieve them.

Source: Sydneys Light Rail Future, page 10

(Source: Sydneys Light Rail Future, page 10)

Take the dot points on the bottom half of this table which the government uses to sell the benefits of trams:

  1. The first point is frequency. Ironically, frequency is actually hindered by tram’s higher capacity, as one tram is able to carry as many passengers as multiple buses, and so the higher number of buses required to carry the same number of passengers will (all else equal) result in higher frequencies for buses than trams.
  2. The second point is reliability. A reliable service can be provided through the use of bus lanes and grade separation at intersections (i.e. a bridge over the intersection or a tunnel underneath it). Both of these are in place in the Northwest T-Way for buses between Parramatta and Rouse Hill.
  3. The third point is speed. Both buses and trams are capable of the 80kn/hour top speed along this route. So the actual determinant of average speed is things like widely spaced stops and off vehicle fare payment. The former can be achieved by buses through express or limited stop services, while the latter has been achieved at busy bus stops through the purchase or validation of a bus ticket before entering the bus, and will soon be universal once Opal is introduced. All door boarding can also increase speed through reduced dwell times, but can be done on buses as well as trams.
  4. Points four through six could just as easily be implemented on buses
  5. The points on improved amenity on the right are all to do with the fact that the light rail vehicles are new. But new buses also share these features, such as low floors, air conditioning, real time information, etc.

All this leaves capacity, which is a real and tangible benefit of light rail over buses. Trams carry more people per vehicle, and as there is only a certain number of vehicles of any type that can run on a particular corridor before that corridor (road or rail) becomes congested and capacity becomes limited, putting trams on a busy corridor can increase its capacity (just as replacing light rail with heavy rail can increase capacity there). Jarrett Walker at Human Transit spoke of this concept as getting causation the wrong way round: high patronage causes the roll-out of trams, rather than the roll-out of trams causing high patronage.

Despite all this, and to undermine the entire argument made so far, the higher capacity of trams does actually allow the government to focus its attention on that particular corridor and implement many of the things mentioned earlier. For example, the new light rail line will have an exclusive right of way for its entire alignment 24/7, something that would not be possible with just buses as they require multiple corridors to achieve the same capacity. For this reason, the move to convert the Anzac Parade bus corridor into a tram corridor will still provide tangible benefits that could not be achieved with buses alone.

  1. Balmain Enthusiast says:

    It is somewhat misleading to suggest that capacity is the only key benefit. Trams elevate the experience of public transit considerably, not just for the passenger, but also for those who host the corridor…

    Some points to remember in your assessment:

    1. Trams stick tightly to their corridor, buses regularly leave their’s, which increases congestion for everyone else on the road. 2. Trams have a much smoother, quieter ride – which ultimately attracts a bigger catchment of people – studies have been done to prove this – it’s quality of experience, just as much as quantity – which encourages the use of public transport. 3. Trams are far better for the environment and have no fuel costs for the operators outside of electricity – they are also much quieter, which makes a marked difference to the surrounding streetscapes – to those who live within them, and for those who catch the service. 4. A tram tends not to go past you when its full, because a tram (due to its higher capacity – and more regular frequency) is rarely that full that it would need to. 5. At the moment, trams have ticket collectors, which for many makes for a far more re-assuring and social experience that promotes a sense of community spirit and reduces anxiety – this in turn promotes greater patronage. 6. Trams are far more user-friendly for those who move on wheels. 7. Trams may have more limited stops, but all the other benefits tends to mean people will walk further to catch them. 8. Trams continue to run in service even when reaching the end of the line, whilst buses often terminate their service and then add to congestion as they re-connect with their route elsewhere, out of service. This is a waste of our road space. 9. Trams run longer hours and take money at all hours of the day, not just prepay. 10. You can take your dog or pushbike on a tram – with the discretion of the ticket collector.

  2. BigE says:

    Good discussion. The other thing perhaps to mention is the cost. As I understand it trams cost more but the service life is considerably longer than a bus.

    There are some very old trams still operating in Melbourne and I believe the trams running in Calcutta India are around 70 years old.

  3. @Balmain Enthusiast

    Most of the benefits listed there are not inherent to trams, which proves the point I was making in the post – that many of the promoted benefits of trams can also be achieved by buses.

    1. This has nothing to do with the vehicle (tram vs bus), it has to do whether the vehicle shares the road with cars, or has an exclusive right of way.
    2. Trams do provide a smoother ride, that is definitely a benefit. Though I would argue that things like speed, frequency, cost, accessibility, etc factor in more in the decision making process. In addition, there are many other contributors to comfort. A modern air conditioned and low floor bus is far more comfortable than a heritage tram, for example.
    3. Buses can also be electric, either with batteries or overhead wires (trolley buses). So this again is not inherent to trams.
    4. Your point on higher capacity is exactly the one I was making, so no point of disagreement here. However, I would dispute the higher frequencies. You are more likely to get higher frequencies with lower capacity vehicles, given the same transport corridor. So trams, with their higher capacity, might actually provide LOWER frequencies.
    5. There is no reason why trams require ticket inspectors (e.g. Melbourne has none) or why buses can’t have them (e.g. Sydney used to). So this again is not an inherent characteristic of the technology.
    6. It’s a low floor vehicle that achieves accessibility. New buses and trams have this, old buses and trams do not.
    7. Stop frequency is not linked to technology. There are lots of express buses. There are lots of trams that stop quite frequently.
    8. The ability of trams to stop and go in the other direction is something that buses can’t do, I’ll accept that.
    9. Hours of operation and fare collection has nothing to do with type of vehicle.
    10. What you take on board a vehicle has more to do with the size of the vehicle and whether there is space onboard.

  4. Balmain Enthusiast says:

    Write of reply… @ Bambul

    1. If you think the creation of exclusive rapid bus corridors are cheaper than rails in the existing bitumen – you’re wrong. Trams stick to their lane – always – for a bus to do the same thing is much harder to maintain. That’s my point. 2. A heritage tram may not have the mod cons of a modern low floor bus – but we’re not getting heritage trams, we’re getting new ones – and they are considerably more comfortable – still smoother – and quieter than your buses. 3. Buses in Sydney are NOT electric – and won’t be, anytime soon. 4. The InnerWest light rail is about to go from one tram every 10minutes in each direction, to 7.5mins in each direction – and there is even talk of one every three minutes in the peak periods. That is NOT how Sydney buses operate. Political will to fund buses at the same frequency is going to be your problem, not the vehicles themselves. 5. At the moment, it’s a cultural thing – no one expects them on a bus – but perhaps the length of the modern tram justifies the inspector more, because when it’s packed – it’s very hard for the driver to play any role of interaction. At least a bus is shorter and the driver would have some say or observation within earshot. 6. A lot of buses which are ‘wheelchair accessible’ depend on the driver to make them so, this is not always adhered to – as many disabled have been known to complain about the reluctance of a driver to leave his steering wheel. This is because it affects the delivery of service – and because you’re in a lower capacity vehicle every bus counts. Again, it’s one of those things which trams just make easier. The ticket collector also proves an asset in this regard. 7. True, but they don’t stop as frequently as buses and a metro bus tends to be slower because of the nature of stops and the traffic it inevitably sheers the road with. 8. Every bus that takes the long route home “out of service” is a waste of road space. Buses should be scheduled to run in loops, so they are hardly ever out of service. It will also keep them out of suburban backstreets, where they create hazards and noise which should otherwise not be there (an InnerWest problem), as they try to avoid traffic. 9. Again, you face the political reluctance to fund these things – if it is so possible, what’s the likelihood that a vehicle so easily retired will receive a boost in service funding for after hours operation? Trams have established themselves to run longer hours, because not only do the lines service the CBD (where the night economy is worth just as much as the daytime economy), they are anchored on the suburbs too – and it’s part of the same run. For any complaints about ticket prices, let’s not forget that the tram is a damn site cheaper than taxis – which are the only option when buses stop running. 10. That’s right, and that backs up why it is still discretionary on a tram – because it’s a bigger vehicle carriage to start with, with more standing room – which is also more stable and has less chance of needing to stop suddenly due to other idiots who share the same road space (like buses have to deal with).

    You won’t get arrogant P platers cutting off trams on the InnerWest line, which then forces a jolt on board which knocks old ladies off their feet, even if generation Y has not given up their seats for them. Make no mistake, whilst trams can go on the road that designated corridor for a tram is very worthwhile indeed (unlike a bus, which still has to move around traffic which shares the corridor) – for the safety aspect. If you’re going to completely quarantine a bus corridor (like a T-Way), then you will be spending a similar amount in infrastructure – and it remains completely pedestrian un-friendly.

    The SE light rail will have less designated corridor, but for the most part, it’s still an improvement on bus corridors – and THAT should be commended. I find it hard to reconcile your insistence to downplay the appeal of light rail on your transport blog. From a sheer accounting perspective, you may have a point, Bambul – but public transport is about the PUBLIC – and therefore your approach should be one which encourages the whole picture – and particularly how the community takes to public transit offered as a result. In this case, you cannot suggest that trams won’t win out – they are far superior – if not by accounting, at least by way of user perception – and that is a massive factor you can’t ignore.

    Last point – our friend has demonstrated that trams have a longer life and they require less maintenance. Add that to the accounting.

  5. Alex says:

    Jarrett Walker wrote an interesting post about this a while back on his Human Transit blog, addressing the wider issue of bus versus rail:

    I wrote a detailed response which I later turned into a post on my own (very) occasional blog, which can be found here: I’ll try to summarise this below.

    Jarrett was responding to an article that identified 36 reasons for the superiority of trams. These Jarrett classified into three groups:

    • “misdirected differences”, for example, those such as electric propulsion and dedicated rights of way which are often associated with rail-based technology but which can be (and have been) applied to buses;

    • “cultural feedback effects” which relate to the way trains, trams and buses are treated culturally, for example perceptions that “buses are for poor people” or that rail-based systems are more permanent are not technical differences but rather cultural constructs that can become self-reinforcing; and

    • “intrinsic differences”. Those are the “real” technical differences between bus and rail such as capacity, ride quality, energy efficiency and costs. Jarrett claimed that there were only seven such differences and only three were clearly to rail’s advantage.

    Jarrett’s article is a thoughtful piece and provoked lively debate. I didn’t entirely agree with him and took a slightly different tack. My point was that the approach of trying to identify the real “uniqueness” of bus and rail technology is important but can’t be completely divorced from the nature of the corridors and services involved.

    This is especially true at the “extremes”. For example, to provide a small, localised transport service in low density outer-suburban or rural areas, buses using existing roads are clearly the best answer because of their low cost and flexibility. At the other end of the scale are high speed/high frequency/high capacity services in dedicated and completely grade-separated corridors. Even if all the “non-intrinsic” differences were eliminated, bus technology would simply not be able to offer the same level of service in these situations for a number of reasons.

    The points Jarrett has raised are also relevant when applied to street-running bus services and trams, or a little further up the foodchain, busways and dedicated light rail corridors, though in both cases there is much more overlap between bus and rail-based services than at the “extremes”, but there are also some other issues worth noting.

    Generally speaking, bus technology has to be more fully “optioned-up” from its base form than rail to either eliminate or mitigate the non-intrinsic factors identified by Jarrett. Ride quality is a good example. Basic trams running on well-maintained tracks in mixed-flow situations will usually offer a better ride than buses in a similar situation.

    It is only in dedicated corridors that the buses have the potential to approach the standard of trams and light rail and even this requires careful planning and additional construction costs – for example, the decision to build the Western Sydney bus transitways to light rail standard to allow for their potential conversion, or the extent to which the Brisbane busways were engineered to improve ride quality.

    In some respects it’s a bit like choosing between a top-of-the-range car with all the extras built in or the basic model and then adding on the extras. Often the latter will end up being more expensive and the technology not as well integrated as the “de-luxe” model. In the case of busways, I understand that the cost of the dedicated busways in Sydney and Brisbane approached that of light rail.

    This isn’t necessarily a reason not to build busways if they offer other advantages, but if all the options Jarrett’s article mentioned are added (such as electric traction, vehicle guidance, etc) to mitigate the “non-intrinsic” differences, they could well cost more than light rail. This expense also often results in trade-offs being made in relation to busways, as highlighted in many of the responses to Jarrett’s original post.

    A couple of other observations. I would add another intrinsic difference not mentioned by Jarrett – rail (including light rail) has a built-in standardised “guidance system”. While there are differences in rail gauges and other associated technology, any railcar or tram of a given gauge will conform to this basic guidance system. This means it is possible for many tram and light rail systems to purchase vehicles off the shelf or lease them from other systems with little modification.

    Of course, basic buses used for ordinary street-running of course have very few compatibility issues, but the situation is much more complex in relation to guided buses. There are at least four different basic technologies (kerb-guided, central rail, optical and electromagnetic) in use and eight or nine incompatible guidance systems based on these technologies. This isn’t to argue against the concept of guided busways which have a lot of potential, but unless a dominant guidance technology emerges, rail should be considered to have an advantage in this area. You simply can’t buy (or lease) a guided bus off the shelf.

    Another interesting area of difference is flexibility and scale. Obviously buses have an advantage that the same vehicles can go very easily from running mixed-flow systems servicing local bus-stops in outer suburban areas to providing dedicated busway services in higher-density corridors.

    While trams and light rail can’t match the flexibility of buses at the suburban level, they can be more easily scaled up at the other end. The transport system in Cologne and some other German cities are good examples, where trams can start in outer suburbs with basic on-street services, then run in dedicated corridors as light-rail services in middle-ring suburbs, much like busways – however, they then go underground to provide metro-like high capacity services in the CBD, a feat that would be much more difficult to do with buses.

  6. michblogs says:

    I am unconvinced by the assertion that there will almost certainly be an increase in patronage.

    Apart from the obvious factor of people switching from exisiting buses to trams, an increase in patronage comes from one of two things: people making journeys on the tram, which they otherwise would never have bothered to make at all, and secondly, people switching from cars.

    To deal with the second item first, if you had a car, and ( more importantly ) you had access to parking at a cost you were happy with, in the CBD, and you are currently driving there, then what aspect of the tram service would encourage you to not drive, and catch the tram instead, which doesn’t already cause you to use a bus ? If you are currently a satisfied car user, the tram experience is not going to be much better than the bus experience, and in some respects, it’s worse. Car users, and particularly CBD car users, generally disdain public transport. A slow and crowded tram is not going to be any more attractive to them, than a slow and crowded bus is. Unless the tram offers a huge time advantage, which, realistically, it won’t ( in contrast to a train ), you are not going to find many takers. I am not convinced that many car users are going to switch to the tram.

    The other aspect of increased patronage comes from increased demand for trams, for journeys which would be less readily undertaken by bus. Where the bulk of demand is from people going to work, this obviously isn’t going to change. What you are really looking at here, is how likely people are to make an optional, discretionary journey to travel downtown from the eastern suburbs to go shopping or visit a pub or something. And are they more likely to do this on a tram than a bus ? Well, possibly. For irregular users, at least there will be less confusion about the route ( a major turn-off for ocasional bus users ). But this is not going to be a huge number of people, in the big picture.

  7. michblogs says:

    I’d dispute the assertion that trams are smoother than buses. None of the trams I have been on at various places recently, are any smoother than buses. Nor faster.

    Various things that are claiming to be “improvements” of trams over buses, are not necessarily actual improvements from the perspective of the average customer, particularly people who are customers by choice ( as distinct from people who are poor, disabled, or have no alternative way to get to work ). For example, various provisions for disabled people are often inconvenient for other customers. Having fewer stops can be inconvenient for other customers. At least with buses, you can have all-stops and limited-stops services, if it is relevant on a particular corridor. With trams, this is in practice impossible.

  8. michblogs says:

    “the CBD (where the night economy is worth just as much as the daytime economy)”

    That’s simply delusional. Do you think those 160,000 people beavering away in those office towers all day long are not economically productive ? If the “night economy” was so great, the shopping arcades and David Jones would be open until midnight like they are in China, and they are not.

  9. Tony Bailey says:

    The main reason for the adoption of LRT on the Gold Coast was that trams outlast about three generations of buses, thus negating any cost savings for BRT. I would suspect that maintenance of BRT roadway may be higher then LRT track maintenance.

  10. michblogs says:

    One category of car users, who might be tempted out of their cars by the tram, are car users driving not to the CBD but to other places. If I lived at Randwick and was currently driving to Burwood or St Leonards or somewhere like that, the tram might be an improvement because of a better connection at Central. But if the particular neighbourhood I lived in , already had a good bus service to Central ( some do, some don’t ), then the tram would be less of an attraction.

  11. Balmain Enthusiast says:

    @michblogs – I’m not delusional. I’m actually quoting a recent study by the City of Sydney – and my point was that services and goods paid for at night (like restaurants, hotels and entertainment) are of equal value to those being bought during the day. Office workers don’t generate that much spending – you may be surprised to know.

  12. JC says:

    Very perceptive pieces – both from Bambul and from Alex. The latter points boil down to a question of perception. People prefer trams to buses – and LRT systems always perform better in terms of patronage and satisfaction than buses. The key point is not that they prefer trams though. What they prefer is comfortable vehicles, on deidcated rights of way, that have a high quality ride, don’t mix wity other traffic, have lots of doors, have easily predictable destinations etc etc, all of which can be delivered by a bus – but not by the buses we are used to.

    New BRT sytems can work – but they have to be 100% new, with 100% segregation – and vehicles that don’t remind people of the misery trucks they currently suffer twice (or more) a day. The French seem to have a solution – many of the new systems that call themselves trams (e.g. Caen) are actually electric guided buses that trick the riders into thinking they are on a tram.

    An approach like this to the SWLR might have worked. Swish new comfortable vehicles (that look like trams rather than buses) on FULLY segregated tracks, powered by electricity (or hydrogen, hybrid, or whatever) might be able to bring in the punters – and (1) be $millions cheaper and (2) make it up Albion or Foveaux Street. And could cope with the expected passenger numbers.

    But I think we probably have to pay the monety and get the superior service because we can’t trust the politicians to be thankful for the savings they would be making over LR – and baulk at the higher cost compared to the buses we all hate.

    Cutting corners (e.g. using old buses, mixing with traffic in the busiest bits just when they need segregation most etc) squandered the potential of the Western Sydnet T-ways and the Adelaide O-bahn – so that they just became more of the same (buses) but more expensive. At least there is less scope to do this with LR – they have to have the courage of theor convictions.

  13. Dudley Horscroft says:

    As regards assertions as to what people might, or might not, do, it is better to see what people actually do. I suggest that consideration be given to the new tram systems in the USA. I believe it is correct to say that most, if not all, have had more passengers than the buses they replaced. There is a general rule of thumb that patronage for the trams is between 110% and 130% of the previous bus patronage. While construction of a tram track is costly, operating and maintenance costs for the trams and tramway are in most cases less, and often substantially less per passenger kilometre. There is a financial gain here.

    There is one error (at least) in the original article – “the new light rail line will have an exclusive right of way for its entire alignment 24/7”. It will not. From the eastern end of Devonshire Street to Circular Quay the new line will share street space with other vehicles or pedestrians. From the end of the reservation in Alison Avenue (?) to the Randwick terminal the route will be either side of road reservation on in with other traffic.

    I feel mitchblogs may have been unfortunate in his choice of trams. Steel rail inherently provides a smoother surface than asphalt or concrete, and is quieter to boot. The improved ride quality can be seen in the proportion of passengers who are happy to stand when seats are available.

    One other error in the original article relates to speed. It matters not that the top speed may be 80 kilometres per hour (NOT Knots per hour). The acceleration is more important. Acceleration (and braking) depends on the power available, and it is uneconomic to provide a sufficiently powerful diesel engine in a bus to match the acceleration from the electric motors. Trolleybuses do better, but still suffer from not powering all wheels.

    There is one disadvantage that Bambul fails to mention – the question of seating capacity. Examination of the timetables for the peak hour bus routes from the outer termini to the CBD show there are 87 buses heading to the CBD between Kensington Junction and Cleveland St. This does not include buses on the 8xx routes serving the UNSW unless these are timetabled for the non-UNSW routes on their return journey (running back empty to Eddy Avenue not counted). Assuming a mix of artics and rigids such that the average seating capacity is 60 persons per bus, this provides 5220 seats per hour. A two minute headway gives 30 trams per hour, which SHOULD provide 174 seats per tram. This is just not possible on a 43 m vehicle. It is just feasible on a 60 m tram – the 60 m Skoda 15T with six sections, four of which could carry 32 seated passengers and two carrying 24 each gets 176 seats. So passengers will definitely be short-changed in the matter of seats if the current proposal for short trams is carried out.

  14. JC says:

    And a few further thoughts about trams generally re this post and the comments on the previous SELR post…

    I’ve been doing a bit of travelling lately and observed the longish multi-articulated double ended trams in Brussels and Dublin – presumably similart to what is plabnned for Sydney (but happy tyo be corrected by those who follow this in more detail.

    In both cities (of architectural merit of at least the level of Sydney, not to mention density of services, power supply wires manage with a combination of attachment to buildings, combined light/wire poles and the (very occassional) simple pole.

    The driving cabs are surprisingly compact, and given the length of tram, the lost capacity from being double-ended seems pretty minimal; much less than my recollection of Melbourne trams (do they still have that silly little perch (x2) for the non-mobile conductor?).

    So I am feeling confirmed in my prejudice against batteries, but challenged in my prjudice against double-ended.

    BTW I think the best comparitor for the CBD section covering reservation/pedestrian use would be Manchester (which would also have a comparable culture re safety etc). Does anyone know what sort of speeds they manage there? and what about the safety issues?

  15. Dudley Horscroft says:

    Conductors have gone from Melbourne trams – except perhaps for the City Circle W class trams (fares not charged, but conductor was basically a tourist guide when I was last on one of the
    CC trams) – so the desks have been removed for some years. Conductors were taken off the trams between 1996 and 1998.

  16. Dudley Horscroft says:

    Just received this video of the new Melbourne trams – note explanatory comment!


    For those who keep batting on about the number of seats on ‘modern’ trams please note in the interior shots the passengers choosing to stand when there are empty seats available.”

    Still think that Sydney-siders would prefer more seats, they are used to bumpy riding buses and hence need seats, Melbourne passengers are used to smooth riding trams, and may well be more willing to stand,.

  17. Simon says:

    Balmain Enthusiast, I’ll pick up a couple of points in your post that deserve a response:
    ” 7. True, but they don’t stop as frequently as buses” – Umm, you can bet your bottom dollar that the tram will stop more often between Kingsford and Circular Quay than the L94. In fact, the inability to have a layered stopping pattern is a feature that goes against the trams, unless you’re one of the weirdos who believe there should never be a limited stop service; even then there is no way on planet earth that this is an advantage for trams though.

    “Political will to fund buses at the same frequency is going to be your problem, not the vehicles themselves.” – There’s the rub. Spending over a billion dollars to achieve something which can easily be achieved by funding a few more frequencies on the bus services and some marketing seems to have a negative ROI. Note that the politicians are reflecting the values of the people here.

    I actually think Bambul is very kind to this proposal. It’s only real benefits are (a) realised capacity and (b) mode specific factors. However it has some very real downsides, particularly wrt travel times which may make it a less attractive service than just running the bus service properly. It’s not at all clear that there will be a patronage increase with it, but I guess we’re going to find out.

  18. Balmain Enthusiast says:

    @Simon. Sigh… Getting pretty tired of the tram bashing on individual points – if you want an express bus, like the L94, I imagine you’ll still be able to get one. It seems to me the big problem most of Sydney has in these conversations, is the inability to see the bigger picture and what else it brings. This CSELR service is not just about people in the SE suburbs as commuters, its also about cleaning the buses out of George St – which will make congestion far less of a problem there and will help transform what is currently an attrociously noisy street scape. That’s pretty hard not to justify for this price, particularly given we’ve discussed the ongoing maintenance costs and rolling stock are (over time) less.

    Don’t think for one second that this is an either-or scenario. Do you really think all your bus services will stop? Of course they won’t. People will have a choice of both, even there aren’t as many buses for them to choose from.

    What you will no longer be able to choose is a bus that slows right down when it reaches and starts to snail down George St, because those buses from the SE will be most likely forced to terminate at either Central or Elizabeth Streets. Beyond that, the tram will offer a superior service down George St, due to its fast right of way – and overall it will be far more quiet, smoother, and it will remain more reliable and frequent. I think these points have been covered quite clearly. Dudley would agree.

    If you still want a bus after all that Simon, that’s great but yours is a highly subjective favouring and a very hypothetical argument. I somehow can’t see the A-Class bus you and Bambul keep suggesting which could compete with these trams as being paid for by Gladys on this route, especially when the rest of the Sydney fleet is so clearly out of that league.

    Why not be thankful that the commitment of light rail is on the table? Rather than bagging it out in favour of something you’re never likely to get. You’re worth it, and the rest of Sydney’s waited too long.

  19. Simon says:


    I fully expect services like the L94 to no longer operate as present. Otherwise there will be almost no benefit at all from the entire project. “Sydney’s Light Rail future” showed a reduction in buses from Oxford St – what do you think this would be made up of if not a number of 37n, 39n and L94 buses?

    And closing George St to buses will not make congestion better except on George St itself. The buses are being thrown into Elizabeth St which will become a bigger basket case than George St ever was.

    I completely agree about the public debate on such things in Sydney being a complete joke. It spends its entire time arguing about things which are tangential to what is important: frequency, speed, span (operating hours) etc. We also still don’t know what will happen to the trams to/from Kingsford south of Alison Rd, for example.

    One more point: while trams might last longer, on a discounted cash flow basis this is almost no effect on reducing their (higher) effective purchase price.

    We agree to disagree.

  20. @Balmain Enthusiast –

    I did make it quite clear in the initial post that I am a supporter of the CSELR project, and think the capacity increase alone (from 10,000 pax/hr to 15,000 pax/hr) makes it worthwhile. That is where Simon and I differ in our opinions.

  21. JC says:

    “And closing George St to buses will not make congestion better except on George St itself. The buses are being thrown into Elizabeth St which will become a bigger basket case than George St ever was.”

    There wil be less congestion because (as mentioned elsewhere on this page) there will be a lot fewer buses entering the CBD from Elizabeth St (south) and Oxfprd Street. Also for the reasons set out here (about people preferring trams to buse)s, a large number of inner west busniks will bail out at Central* and continue the journey by tram (rather than sit in a traffic jam in Elizabeth Street).

    * Or even Broadway/City Road for the cost of an extra 2km of track to Sydney University – making even more disappear.

  22. Simon says:

    JC, that’s just factually incorrect as discussed under the relevant blog post.

    Bambul, I’m surprised. The capacity of the Eastern Distributor option is not near to be constrained.

  23. Balmain Enthusiast says:

    This just in from:

    “At 33 metres long and 2.65 metres wide, Melbourne’s new jumbo-size light rail vehicles from Bombardier carry 210 people, or roughly four times the capacity of most busses, and will ply the grid-lined city’s more heavily patronised runs.”

    I’d say that’s pretty good – given we’ve got another five years to choose the rolling stock for the CSELR, maybe that will end the debate – the latest trams are better – and blow bus capacity out of the water – Melbourne leads the way – again…

  24. JC says:


    Agree it is not in the existing projectsions and planning – which are based on modelling behaviour based on waht people say they want; and a conservative risk averse approach to “maintainung existing service levels”. Once the LR is established (for all the reasons identified above) people will use it in preference to buses if at all possible – and the bus schedules can be trimmed, diverted. This is more or less what happened at Edgecliff and Bondi Junction when the eastern suburbs line opened (if I remember correctly – but probably don’t).

    I believe that people will change modes to tram if it easy and more comfortable for them, the evidence being (admittedly based on experience and observation rather than surveys).

    1. There is more platform changing at Central in morning peaks than necessary for people to change between City Circle and Harbour Bridge services. Lots (and I have done this) of people on via St james services change platforms because it gets them to Town hall or Wynyard quicker than going round the CC.

    2. At all the bus stops at the southern end of King Street, CBD-bound passengers at peak hours (almost universally) get on a 370 if it comes before the 422, and change at Newtown Station to another 42n bus.

    3. In the evening peak lots of passengers change from trains at Newtown station to southbound 422s, presumably becasue of convenience at the CBD end, when presumably if they were as change averse as the modellers tell us they would have taken the train to St Peters.

  25. Peter says:

    I couldn’t disagree more. I’m a bus driver too. Trams attract and represent culture that buses could never ever do. the metro bus is the closest buses will ever get to trams and there is no doubt they have attracted a hell of a lot of people but will still never attract the numbers trams do.

    You also need to take into account the millions in dollars a year the transport system will save on wages, maintenance and ‘fuel’ per passenger. we have rigid, 43 seat 15 standing buses out there using over 75L/100k’s. that alone would probably be close to the cost of electricity for a 5 segment tram carrying well over double that of the bus.

    Trams can run in areas that buses can’t also, such as through parks in one of your other posts. Trams are also more easily monitored by command centres, not only because there is less of them but monitoring system are more accurate than the current Ptips system our buses use. (which is getting better mind you) therefore on time running can be more easily monitored also to reduce early running and bunching. Having less of them needed to carry many more people also helps. All door boarding and alighting with more than twice as many doors (in some instances its quadrupled) at major termini also means much faster at moving in an out of such termini and stops.

    Drivers changeovers at terminus can reduce ‘layover’ at terminus as one driver could get in one end as one is getting out of the other for the sakes of meal breaks or toilet breaks which isn’t as easy in buses as you need to setup machines for yourself and change seating and steering wheel and mirror position to be as comfortable as you can to operate pedals and steering in a fully controlled vehicle which isn’t as necessary in a rail vehicle. There are many, many many, efficiencies of rail vehicles that have been overlooked here in what appears to be a rather biased, one sided view.

  26. Jack says:

    Hi Guys,

    Any thoughts on running 4 Electric Bendy buses in convoy like a virtual tram?

    4 electric bendy buses, all the benefits of tram, but no fixed tracks or wires.

    Greater capacity 460 v 450 for tram and 240 seated v 120 seated for light rail.

    4 drivers, but there would be 1 driver and 2 conductors on new double trams I presume?

  27. Dudley Horscroft says:

    Buses – you do not get the benefits of trams such as comfortable ride – you are still dependent on roads. Compare Sydney’s newest buses with Sydney’s newest trains. The trains are smooth riding and very comfortable, the buses are NOT.

    Either you have a reserved track busway or you run the buses on street. The busway costs just about the same amount as a rail track. Costs given to members of a consultation in about 1998 by a major constructor were that busways would cost about $870 000 per km, tram track about $890 000 per km. The $20 000 difference will be larger now, but this is still chicken feed. Electric buses can be powered by overhead wires (trolleybuses) or by batteries or supercapacitors. Batteries are heavy and have a short life – it is hoped that research is developing batteries with a longer life. Supercaps should have a life as long as the bus but are bulky for the same energy storage capacity. To get the same service as is proposed for the CSELR you must have the same amount of reserved track, and to avoid the penalties of excess weight you must have continuous overhead. It is possible that with supercaps you can get them recharged at the bus stops, but this is at present a lengthy process.

    With four bendy buses you will have a very long stretched out bus stop (and think about the recharging points for supercaps or batteries!). Pity the poor passenger trying to find one with room – at least with an articulated tram passengers can, and do, move along to less congested compartments, making room for boarding passengers.

    Greater capacity – yes, 440 for electric versions of Sydney’s current artics against Budapest’s 352, but the Budapest NF12 is narrow (2.4m against Sydney’s proposed 2.65m (10% increase) and is shorter (54 m against the proposed 67 m, 24% greater) and allowing for both these factors the new trams should carry 480. Certainly the seating capacity could be better, but we have not yet seen how this is to be arranged. One problem is that the Sydney trams are supposed to be double sided, and comprise 2 x 33 m trams, which means reduced seating because of the offside doors where seating is not possible, and there will be a wasted space in the middle where there will be two driver’s cabs and a coupling – 4 to 5 metres wasted. Note that Sydney trains with their latest purchase of trains decided that it was worthwhile getting rid of the driver’s cabs in the middle and decided to order 8 car sets instead of 2 x 4 car sets to make up a train. Using single ended trams and decent design should provide a seating capacity of 168 in a 60 m tram.

    One benefit of the long tram is that the whole unit drives off as one, it slows as one and at a stop all doors open as one and close as one. It thus behaves as a single unit for traffic purposes, just a rather large one. With four buses there would be delays between a bus ahead starting and the following bus starting – this would mean chaos at traffic lights if they were intended always to operate in convoy. Effectively they would operate as four separate buses – which would alleviate some of the difficulties I have posed above.

  28. Simon says:

    Partly agree with Dudley. Where busways do have an advantage is that it is possible to go off the dedicated infrastructure.

    You don’t see double bendy buses in too many places and where you do they are normally in dedicated corridors, which goes against the advantage above. So I think the suggesting of four buses linked together is ridiculous.

  29. jack says:

    Hi Dudley and Simon – thanks so much for the feedback.

    Just wanted to clarify a few things about this idea:

    The idea is not to have the buses physically linked to each other, merely that they travel in convoy. e.g. at circular quay you have 4 stops where 4 electric bendy buses pick up together. (For Kingsford, you would have stop 1 for Kingsford, 2 for Maroubra, 3 for Little Bay and 4 for La Perouse, for example. The four buses would then pick up all together, leave together and stop at each stop together – in convoy. The stops would be approx the same length as the tram stops.

    The huge benefit is that at Kingsford, the four buses then break out of Convoy and travel straight through to their final destination – no changing.

    All of the rest of the work on the project goes ahead, just tracks and wires do not need to be installed, meaning less disruption for the city.

    The new electric buses are really beautiful – check out this one in Gothenburg – they even did an acoustic vocal recording on it, they are that quiet.

    Simon, just to address your comment about not seeing many bendy buses around, except on dedicated corridors:

    I commute every day on bendy buses from Maroubra to Circular Quay via Kingsford and Randwick, and thoroughly enjoy the experience, even with some very tight turns (small roundabouts etc.) I get a seat, catch up on work, meditate, watch the scenery go by, and it only takes usually around 40-45 mins. (I travel off peak, when most of my services will be abolished when the trams come in)

    Using trams, i will need to go to Kingsford or Randwick (15 mins) wait for up to eight minutes for a tram, and then have a 40 minute journey to the city, and probably be one of the 330 people standing up, not one of the lucky 120…but who knows :)

    It would be really great to get a full cost comparison done between what running 4 electric bendy buses instead of a tram would be – anyone know how to find that info?

    Addressing Your Comment Dudley: With four bendy buses you will have a very long stretched out bus stop (and think about the recharging points for supercaps or batteries!). Pity the poor passenger trying to find one with room – at least with an articulated tram passengers can, and do, move along to less congested compartments, making room for boarding passengers.

    The stops will be approx same length stop as tram, and electric buses can travel for 250km, without a need of a charge, and this can be done at the terminus, or topped up as you suggested en-route, but I think its only 12km’s for this corridor?

    I had an idea about the passenger trying to find room. Given that the idea is that most passengers are already sorted into their final destinations (e.g. Randwick, Clovelly, Coogee, Maroubra) – for a Randwick Bus) passengers would simply wait at their stop. For all the other passengers only travelling to central, Surry Hills etc. I had an idea that each bus could somehow be fitted with an electronic device to let passengers at the next stop know how many seats/standing room areas were available on the next bus – anyone know how to achieve this?

    Also as already stated the new trams will have 2 quite separate trams coupled together, so passengers won’t be able to travel the entire length of the tram to get to less congested carriages.

    Addressing your next comment Dudley: “One benefit of the long tram is that the whole unit drives off as one, it slows as one and at a stop all doors open as one and close as one. It thus behaves as a single unit for traffic purposes, just a rather large one. With four buses there would be delays between a bus ahead starting and the following bus starting – this would mean chaos at traffic lights if they were intended always to operate in convoy. Effectively they would operate as four separate buses – which would alleviate some of the difficulties I have posed above.”

    If all the buses were electronically synched, e.g. when all passengers had boarded, the lights in the cabs all went green, bus doors closed, and then buses took off together. If you have a look at 4 or more buses in convoy next time you are around town, you will see how remarkably quick and efficient they are, and this is even without the electronic synching. Examples of this are at Elizabeth street.

    Another benefit I could see would be that at some intersections, the buses could pull alongside in pairs, and travel through the intersection with half the length of a tram, and a much greater speed, before reforming in single file.

    Let me know what you guys think about this?
    Thanks again

  30. Simon says:

    Buses with a single bending point are commonplace but what I was referring to was ones with two or more bends in them. These are normally confined to dedicated corridors such as on Transmilenio (Bogota).

    I wouldn’t run buses in convoy – when one stops then they all have to stop. Better to spread them out and increase frequency. Also more limited stops stopping patterns. However, that’s all academic now because the tram is happening.

    I’m not aware of any cost/benefit analysis. The analysis is that people voted for it. You wonder if it would be positive with removing all the counter peak 891s preventing dead running, but who knows? More to the point, who cares? It’s too late for change.

  31. Alex says:

    Yes – as Simon points out the argument about bendy buses v. light rail, at least in relation to the CBD and southeast, is moot – the contract has been let, the work is underway and we are getting light rail. This is the point I made in a piece I wrote about this recently – Personally I think a metro would have been a better option for capacity reasons but light rail is certainly a viable option and it is the option we’re getting, so we should now be thinking about how it can be made to work as effectively as possible.

    The discussion is a bit more relevant in relation to other transport corridors such as the northern beaches and Parramatta Road upgrade which are still being planned. In some cases I suspect buses are a better solution, in others, light rail. It’s also worth reading back through some of the earlier discussions in this thread about both the tangible and intangible benefits of each mode.

  32. John says:

    I am just moving to Sydney next month from Brisbane. We have a busway system here which is larger than the proposed tram network. A study was done here and it showed, that even though a tram can carry more people, they are limited to how many can run at time. Also if a tram breaks down it holds up the network. If the tramway to Parramatta was converted to a busway you would find it would carry more people. It would also speed up other services as a STA bus running special to start in the city in the afternoon peak could use the busway saving time and money.

  33. Dudley Horscroft says:

    Re John’s post at 1131. Unfortunately there is no tramway at Parramatta – apart from possible the steam operated heritage line. Not certain if this is still operable. So no possibility of converting it to a busway!

    The current Parramatta tramway proposal is for a line starting at Westmead Hospital to the west of Parramatta, through the Parramatta CBD, and then through an industrial brown field site not served by public transport at present, to a location somewhere in Strathfield. I believe that the Strathfield terminus is supposed to be at the railway station – this I find difficult to believe as the only time I have been there there was massive congestion on the roads – Saturday or Sunday afternoon with the trains not operating past Strathfield, replacement bus services doing their best to operate, and Western line trains diverted to Liverpool.

    Where there should be a Parramatta Road tramway is from George Street, via Railway Square, Broadway, and Parramatta Road to Norton Street. According to the Sydney South bus map – downloaded today – there are 9 bus routes running along the road marked with the black and white chequered line. From Broadway in there are 18! As one might appreciate these get in each other’s way at stops, contributing to the congestion in this area. This would be far more efficient as a tramway out as far as Norton Street, with a spur to Newtown Railway Station and one to Glebe Point.

    Give the density of services as far as Norton Street a segregated median strip tramway could be justified (which would release the existing bus lanes for all other vehicles so there would be no loss of road space to other traffic). Being segregated from other traffic, the trams could do the trip, in peak hours, nearly as fast as the buses currently do on the first or second trips of the day, when there is no other traffic, and far faster than they do in the current peak.

    Caution – the current bus map still shows buses running the full length of George Street! After two months . . . .!

  34. Johnny Jhonsface says:

    You forgot the most important benefit of Trams; they look cool af. I would pay anything for my city to look pristine and modern.

  35. […] dashes from one stop to the next. You’re much more likely to beat a red light sitting in a tram than you are a bus. Trams also have their own right of way, which means they get priority movement from all the other […]

  36. Rohan THE GREAT says:

    Tramway is the best mode of suburban transportation. For saving resources, for decreasing pollution, for comfortably, for making city beautiful and for road crossing too.
    Happy to see that Australia is acknowledging this.

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