West of England Combined Authority (WECA) and Bath and Bristol Area Trams Association (BBATA) are working together to deliver a clean, efficient express public transport network for Bath & North East Somerset, Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire. A reminder of the original Bristol trams, still in place at Temple Meads. Image by Geof Sheppard under Creative Commons.
Campaigning by building relationships works! At many meetings with the mayors, politicians, and officers of WECA, Transport for Greater Bristol, Bath & North East Somerset Council (BANES) and Bristol City Council over the last 4 years, BBATA used evidence to demonstrate that only a tram / light-rail system, integrated with feeder buses for rural areas and lightly trafficked routes can deliver a low carbon, low pollution economic regeneration of our towns and cities.
Thus WECA, which holds the keys to funding for transport in the region, is now considering delivering a Mass Transit project based on a regional tram / light-rail system with 4 lines:
- Along the route of the A4 from Temple Meads to Bath
- To North Bristol & South Gloucester
- Line 3 Between Bristol Airport to Bristol Temple Meads
- Line 4 Into East Bristol
The project is at an early stage of development. WECA is currently planning for public consultation in summer 2021 and wants to start an informal conversation about the project early this year with key stakeholders, businesses and communities.
To quote the WECA Joint Transport Plan: ‘The ambition is for new forms of mass transit (e.g. light rail or trams) where the potential is greatest for high passenger flows. On major corridors, rail-based mass transit will be considered to accommodate future demand and to maximise mode shift from car-based trips.’
BBATA fully supports the new vision from WECA and the Bristol Mayor and looks forward to working with them to achieve this long overdue initiative, at speed. They are seeking senior well-placed individuals within the area to assist them in that drive, reducing reliance on roads. Other city regions such as Manchester, Croydon, Edinburgh, Blackpool, Docklands, Birmingham, Nottingham, and Sheffield, already experience the many benefits that trams bring (Nottingham has one of the lowest pollution levels of any UK city due in a large part to its trams) and BBATA are delighted that Bristol and Bath will now be joining them.
This is a new start for the region and we sincerely hope the residents of the WECA area (including Bristol, Bath, Keynsham, Radstock, Midsomer Norton, Frome, and Portishead) will welcome this modern efficient prosperity generating vision for the future of our region and support WECA and the Bristol mayor and BANES councils in pursuing this exciting project.
Why light rail?
Anyone who has visited cities such as Vienna, Amsterdam or Bordeaux will have seen how trams are an integral part of their highly successful public transport systems. These cities have far less congestion and rate as some of the most liveable cities in the world. This is why trams have been reinstated in many cities and city regions of Holland, France and Spain and are even catching on in the USA.
At a time when pollution from conventional petrol and diesel vehicles, and the dust from the tyres and brakes, is estimated to kill over 1000 people per year in Bristol alone, the argument for trams is very strong. It is hard to ignore that clean, modern, efficient trams are the best transport solution for the region and that the previous focus to build ever more roads and reliance on Metrobus is no longer valid.
The reason for their success in combating congestion is that only trams have been shown to actually create a significant shift from cars, and make the cities they are installed in more pleasant and business friendly, creating much needed city wide prosperity.
This attraction to car drivers is down to the much better quality of service a tram offers, in the same way that car drivers buy the most prestigious car they can, people like to use the most prestigious and comfortable urban public transport, namely trams, which offer lower pollution and generally higher standards of service.
Modern trams are very smooth, quieter, comfortable, has more space per person than buses and can carry large numbers of people with ease. While trams have a higher initial cost than buses, over their lifetime they are cheaper per passenger mile than a bus because their running cost is lower and can carry many more passengers per driver.
This switch to public transport is underpinned by significant reductions in road space and exclusion of private traffic in city centres, alongside fully-integrated public transport planning and operation. This will only be achieved in the UK by devolution of all traffic management powers to city mayors and the reversal of bus deregulation with public transport levels decided by the public sector, albeit privately operated under contract to a transport authority.
As trams run on rails and thus concentrate passengers it is politically easier for highway authorities to give priority and benefit from Green Wave Traffic Light Priority where the traffic lights can be tuned to permit the trams’ smooth flow through the city without in fact disrupting cars.
Due to these different economics, tram timetables can be as many as one every 6 minutes through a much larger part of the day and more frequently than a bus. This is because having expended the capital on the infrastructure amortised over 40 years, the marginal cost of running the vehicles is very low, so there is no great incentive to reduce services during off-peak hours, at holidays or on Sundays. Indeed services cannot be scrapped and rearranged as happens to bus services at present.
Modern track installation methods means that track can be rapidly installed avoiding disruption. Mistakes have been made in Britain, notably with the Edinburgh system, but learning from this experience means these mistakes can be avoided. It is worth noting that the Edinburgh tram is now highly successful and the lines are looking to be extended.
Trams are electric and can be run entirely on renewable energy, which can be delivered either by overhead wire, as is traditional, or through various wire-free options. Another of the proven benefits of a fixed rail-based tram system is the sense of certainty which it creates for businesses and home builders alike, property values have been shown to increase in an area serviced by trams.
To summarise, no bus, super bus or metro bus system in the UK has ever managed to attract significant numbers of car drivers sufficiently to improve the commercial or natural environment because buses offer an unacceptable low quality of service to car drivers. On the other hand, all of the light rail systems installed in the UK have attracted significant numbers of passengers and had a positive impact on congestion, the environment and the commercial activity. For example, Nottingham is the only city that has not had to have a clean air plan and this is due in part to its tram system, and the city has thrived (as have Edinburgh, Sheffield, Docklands, Newcastle and Birmingham for example) since its reintroduction.
Bath expanded based on an extensive tram network from 1885 -1930, ascending the hills with ease. Electric trams ran in Bristol from 1895 to 1941. Our vision sees Bath, Bristol and the surrounding region benefiting economically, environmentally and socially hugely with the reintroduction of a public transport system based on the backbone of modern highly efficient trams. WECA and BCC need to emulate the aforementioned now thriving cities, and Cardiff too which is re-introducing trams.
West of England mass transit project
Travelwest Joint Local Transport Plan including update on the project, the timeline and next steps]
Upcoming BBATA virtual conference with leading light-rail and tram developers and operators
Bath and Bristol Area Trams Association
Railfuture Light Rail campaign