Trams And Light Rail

This measure was fully updated by INSTITUTE FOR TRANSPORT STUDIES (ITS) in 2014 under the CH4LLENGE project, financed by the European Commission.


Trams have a long history of use in cities, but in many cases were withdrawn in the 1950s and 1960s. Where they have been retained they have typically been substantially upgraded.  Wholly new tram systems have also been introduced, and are often referred to as Light Rail.  This entry makes no distinction between modern trams and light rail, but the term "light rail" is used for simplicity.  Trams and Light Rail share many characteristics with heavy rail systems such as metros and suburban rail, but operates with a lower capacity. Their main advantage over these other systems is that they are cheaper and more flexible since they can be operated on the road in mixed traffic. Usually they have a much simpler signalling than heavier rail systems, often relying on the driver's judgement, particularly in mixed traffic conditions. When running along a highway they can be given priority at signalised junctions. Trams and Light Rail can also be elevated or routed through tunnels. Often a combination of these is used to match local circumstances, for example by using disused railway embankments to provide a fast interurban route with street running in town centres.

Despite the substantial capital costs associated with its implementation, light rail is still cheaper than comparable modes (metros and suburban heavy rail schemes). Light rail also tends to outperform metros and heavy rail in terms of fare box recovery (the proportion of operating costs recovered through fares).

Stimulating economic development is the foremost reason for implementing light rail systems, closely followed by a desire to ‘improve public transport’ and ‘to reduce traffic congestion’. Less important objectives include improving ‘the environment’ and ‘accessibility to the city centre’.

The building of a light rail system is unlikely to stimulate development on its own but it can form part of a package to facilitate development by providing a modern, efficient way for residents to reach jobs in the city centre; providing city centre access for shoppers and those on leisure trips; and by demonstrating a commitment to the area by various levels of government. In order to implement these concepts there needs to be investment in housing, jobs, shops and leisure facilities. Most of this will be provided by the private sector. The evidence however, suggests that in the case of the Manchester, Sheffield, Baltimore and Los Angeles light rail schemes the impact upon development has been restrained, whilst in St Louis, San Diego, San Jose, Portland, Rouen and Tyne and Wear evidence has been found to support development.

Light rail schemes have generally improved public transport in terms of widening the choice and improving the quality of public transport. This may however impact on other modes of public transport, e.g. evidence from Los Angeles suggest that funding was transferred from bus services in the inner city serving low-income households to subsidise the light rail system serving high-income households. In terms of reducing road congestion the evidence suggests that whilst car use has not been reduced there has been a modal shift from car to light rail and the counter factual would have seen larger increases in road congestion.

Terminology

Sheffield SupertramTrams and light rail are a modern form of public transport that runs on rails. This entry makes no distinction between modern trams and light rail, but the term "light rail" is used for simplicity.  Light railshares many characteristics with heavy rail systems such as metros and suburban rail, but has lower capacity. Its main advantage over these other systems is that it is cheaper and more flexible since it can be operated on the road in mixed traffic. Generally this is not advisable since it will suffer from the effects of congestion, but it can also be run at the margin or along the median of highways. Usually it has a much simpler signalling than heavier rail systems, often relying on the driver's judgement rather like a bus, particularly in mixed traffic conditions. When it is running along a highway it can be given priority at signalised junctions. Light rail can also be elevated or built in tunnel. Often a combination of these is used to match local circumstances, for example by using disused railway embankments to provide a fast interurban route with street running in town centres.

Light rail only signLight rail is nearly always powered by electricity which is usually supplied through overhead wires, but can be supplied through a third rail system. The latter can only be used when the system is completely segregated from the public except at stations. It is also possible to have driverless automatic systems which also have to be segregated.

Light rail has much in common with the conventional tram. Most cities which have retained trams, such as Amsterdam and Melbourne, have substantially upgraded them and have built new light rail lines, often with some segregation, to provide high speed links to areas not previously served by trams. Thus upgraded tram systems and light rail offer a spectrum of similar schemes which are considered here.  For simplicity the term "light rail" is used to cover all such schemes. Generally, light rail is modern, has at least some segregation from other traffic, and is powered by electricity. New systems are usually the subject of extensive marketing campaigns, and branded with a suitable name such as 'Metrolink' or 'Supertram'.

Description

The growth of light rail

Light rail grew in popularity during the 90s in the UK with the new Labour government declaring that there would be 25 light rail transit systems built in the UK. A number of new systems have come on line in the UK with new light rail lines opening in Croydon (2000),  Nottingham (2004) and Edinburgh (2014) but the ‘avalanche’ of expected schemes has not materialised, largely due to concern from the Treasury with the costs of building light rail systems with the mothballing of several planned projects, e.g.  Merseyside, South Hants, Bristol and St Albans-Watford.  There now appears to have been a movement by the UK government towards favouring bus-based solutions - possibly also influenced by the apparent success of Transport for London in increasing bus patronage – such as the trolley bus system proposed for Leeds (www.ngtmetro.com).  

For a worldwide perspective, it can be difficult to quantify the numbers of light rail lines given the complexity of definitions used across the world.  The KonSULT definition is quite broad and as a result covers both light rail and tram.  Lists of current light rail lines in existence are provided by both wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_tram_and_light_rail_transit_systems) and the Light Rail Transit Association (http://www.lrta.org/world/worldind.html). The latter estimates that there are currently the following numbers of systems worldwide, either in place, under consideration (UC) or postponed (P).

Metros

Light Rail

Trams

Light Railways

Heritage Trams

Other

162
(24 UC, 13 P)

94
(11 UC, 9 P)

338
(28 UC, 21 P)

120

58
(2 P)

31
(5 UC, 1P)

Source: Light Rail Transit Association

Why introduce light rail?

Light rail lines are often introduced as direct replacements for existing bus services or as new public transport services along corridors with poor provision of public transport.  As such light rail will be more attractive to ‘discretionary travellers’ (VTPI, 2013) who have the option of driving.  It will also be more attractive to existing public transport users who may change  modes for existing journeys, change destinations or make new journeys.

01

A study of the decision process underlying the choice of technology (metro, light rail, guided bus or conventional bus) for a number of systems around the world was carried out at the Centre for Transport Studies at University College London in 1991-1994 under the UTOPIA project. As part of that work interviews were held with a number of experts involved in the development of some systems to collect information on various aspects of the decision-making process including discussion on why the systems were developed. A postal survey was carried out on other systems. The status (at the time of the study) of systems examined for their objectives are shown, as are the objectives for developing the systems cited by the experts.

Status of systems examined for their objectives

Country

City

Type of system

Status

Australia

Brisbane

Light rail

Abandoned

 

Melbourne

Light rail

Operational

 

Sydney

Light rail

Operational

Canada

Calgary

Light rail

Operational

 

Scarborough

Automatic light rail

Operational

 

Vancouver

Automatic light rail

Operational

China

Tuen Mun, Hong Kong

Light rail

Operational

Denmark

Copenhagen

Automatic light rail

Planned

Sweden

Stockholm

Light rail

Planned

Switzerland

Lausanne

Light rail

Operational

UK

Croydon

Light rail

Operational

 

Leeds

Light rail

Planned

 

London Docklands

Automatic light rail

Operational

 

Manchester

Light rail

Operational

 

Nottingham

Light rail

Planned

 

Sheffield

Light rail

Operational

 

Tyne and Wear

Light rail

Operational

 

West Midlands

Light rail

Operational

USA

Baltimore

Light rail

Operational

 

Dallas

Light rail

Operational

 

Honolulu

Light rail

Abandoned

 

Kansas City

Light rail

Planned

 

Sacramento

Light rail

Operational

 

San Diego

Light rail

Operational

 

San Jose

Light rail

Operational

Source: Mackett and Edwards (1998).
Note: The surveys upon which these data were based were carried out in 1992-1994.

The table below "objectives of developing light rail systems" indicate that the most popular reason for developing the systems was to stimulate development. In three cases, Brisbane, Copenhagen and London Docklands, the light rail system was an integral part of the redevelopment of a large area. It is not clear what the mechanism is that underlies this process although for the Calgary, Croydon and Dallas systems the objective was to help stimulate development in the city centre by providing easier access to the economic activities there. There is also evidence of wider regional development (Hass-Klass et al., 2004).  Some experts suggested that the mechanisms are related to 'image', 'confidence' and so on. The only evidence cited was in the case of Leeds (Pope, 1994) where a survey of businessmen showed that many of them would support the investment in a new public transport system. Apparently some of the major store chains would be more likely to expand their shops in Leeds if such a system were developed.

The second most common objective cited was 'to improve public transport'. It might be argued that this is axiomatic, but usually it was linked to a social objective, for example, providing better access for those without a car. A related issue is that of serving the city centre, because segregated public transport is very good at this, as it can serve efficiently the main corridors which focus on the city centre where most economic activity takes place and interchange is easier. An interesting variant on this is to provide transport from the inner city where there is often high unemployment outwards to newer employment centres. This was mentioned for the Croydon, Tyne and Wear and West Midlands systems.

'To reduce traffic congestion' was cited in 10 cases, implying that a significant transfer of trips from car to the new system was anticipated. In five cases, 'To improve the environment' was cited and was also found by Puchalsky (2005). Generally this means reducing atmospheric emissions from cars and so is related to reducing car use. These two reasons imply that some planners believe that developing new light rail schemes can reduce car use significantly.

The 'other' reasons include a variety of factors. For example, the Manchester and Tyne and Wear systems were developed as ways of dealing with heavy rail lines in need of renewal. Replacing heavy rail by light rail meant that the system could be brought into the city centre to improve access there. In Dallas, a prime motivating factor was to help to promote Dallas as a 'World city'. The logic was that all 'World cities' have a modern public transport system so Dallas had to have one.  

Other indirect benefits are highlighted by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute TDM Encyclopaedia (http://www.vtpi.org/tdm/tdm121.htm).  These include increasing property values, improving community liveability and also affordability by providing  a good alternative public transport option to the car.

Objectives of developing light rail systems

City

To improve public transport

To reduce traffic congestion

To
improve the environ-
ment

To serve the city centre better

To stimulate develop-
ment

Other

Brisbane

 

 

 

 

X

 

Melbourne

 

 

 

X

 

 

Sydney

 

 

 

 

X

 

Calgary

 

X

X

 

X

 

Scarborough

X

 

 

X

X

X

Vancouver

 

 

 

 

 

X

Tuen Mun, Hong Kong

X

 

 

 

 

 

Copenhagen

X

X

X

 

X

 

Stockholm

X

X

X

 

 

X

Lausanne

X

 

 

 

X

 

Croydon

X

X

 

 

X

X

Leeds

X

 

 

 

X

X

London Docklands

 

 

 

 

X

 

Manchester

 

 

 

X

 

X

Nottingham

 

X

 

X

X

 

Sheffield

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tyne and Wear

X

 

 

X

 

X

West Midlands

X

X

 

X

X

 

Baltimore

X

X

 

 

 

X

Dallas

X

X

 

 

X

X

Honolulu

 

 

 

 

 

X

Kansas City

 

 

 

 

X

 

Sacramento

X

 

X

 

 

 

San Diego

 

X

X

 

 

X

San Jose

 

X

 

 

 

 

Source: Mackett and Edwards (1998).
Note: The information in this table is based upon interviews and postal surveys of experts involved in the development of the systems. For the list of experts see Mackett and Edwards (1998). The surveys upon which these data were based were carried out in 1995-1996.

The effects on supply and demand

Demand impacts

Responses and situations (impact on vehicle trips/mileage)
Response Reduction in road traffic Expected in situations
The introduction of light rail may impact on departure time via its impact on journey time for car.  Substantial modal shift away from car may lead to reduced car journey times and so allow a later departure.  Conversely, reduced capacity on the roads may lead to slower journey times and earlier departures.
Infrastructure may reduce capacity for other vehicles causing diversion on to other roads. Alternatively transfer to light rail may free up road capacity again leading to changes in route.
Car drivers may possibly change destination and mode to travel to areas served by light rail. 
Improved public transport supply may lead to modal shift away from car and a reduction in road traffic. Possible reduced road space for other vehicles due to light rail infrastructure may reduce car trips.
Possible transfer from car to light rail.
Improved public transport supply may encourage reduced car-ownership
A possibility - especially if in rented accommodation.
= Weakest possible response = Strongest possible positive response
= Weakest possible negative response = Strongest possible negative response
= No response

Short and long run demand responses

The table below indicates the potential magnitude of expected responses in the short and long-term.

Demand responses
Response - 1st year 2-4 years 5 years 10+ years
-
  -
  Change job location
- Shop elsewhere
  -
  To light rail
  -
  -
= Weakest possible response = Strongest possible positive response
= Weakest possible negative response = Strongest possible negative response
= No response

Supply impacts

Light rail systems are likely to have the effect of reallocating road space from general traffic to light rail. The system may reduce the vehicle carrying capacity of a road that is certain to increase the person carrying capacity. Where modal shift occurs from car, road capacity may be freed up, encouraging people who were deterred by congestion to drive (Mogridge, 1997).

Light rail transit often represents a significant improvement in quality of service from that which can be provided by bus - particularly if there are insufficient bus priority measures. Ride quality, capacity, speed, access for disabled, and reliability are all likely to be improved.

Impact on the supply of other public transport may depend on the level of regulation. In a regulated bus market bus services are likely to be rearranged to complement the light rail system with feeder services. In a deregulated market, in the short term at least, there is likely to be significant competition from bus operators on the same corridor.

If the system is not carefully designed the rails can represent a significant danger to cyclists (McLintock, 2003) e.g. Sheffield Supertram.

Financing requirements

The cost of light rail

The cost of light rail systems depend upon the scale of the schemes, their design (levels of tunnelling and segregation) and the topography they are operating in.   Babalik (2000) collected data on a number of systems around the world. The table ‘cost of light rail systems (and metros)’ shows data for 23 light rail systems, plus four metros for comparison.

The cost of light rail systems (and metros) (in 1998 prices)
Country City Route length (Km) Capital cost (£millions) Annual operating costs 1998 (£millions) Fare Revenue 1997 (£millions) Notes
Canada Calgary 29

643

6 n/a One of the highest capital costs for a non-automatic systems
- Edmonton 14 362 n/a n/a -
- Scarborough 7 184 n/a n/a Automatic system
- Vancouver 29 843 22 8 One of the highest capital costs – being automatic adds to capital cost (extra technology and complete segregation)
France Grenoble 18 247 n/a n/a -
- Nantes 26 271 n/a n/a -
- Paris 9 67 n/a n/a -
- Rouen 15 256 24 9 -
- Strasbourg 11 207 n/a n/a -
Switzerland Lausanne 8 7 n/a n/a The lowest capital cost system (8km)
UK London Docklands 28 775 n/a 12 One of the highest capital costs – being automatic adds to capital cost (extra technology and complete segregation)
- Manchester 31 176 9 13 -
- Sheffield 29 271 9 5 -
- Tyne and Wear 59 533 27 21 -
USA Baltimore 49 503 15 4 -
- Dallas 32 353 18 n/a -
- Denver 9 141 5 n/a Lowest operating costs
- Los Angeles 57 717 34 3 One of the highest capital costs for a non-automatic systems; highest operating costs
- Portland 24 309 15 3 -
- Sacramento 30 165 10 4 -
- San Diego 80 609 17 10 One of the highest capital costs for a non-automatic systems; longest light rail system but not highest operating costs
  San Jose 32 527 17 3 -
- St. Louis 29 260 13 5 -
USA Atlanta 62 3679 63 20 -
Metros Baltimore 25 1136 22 6 Noticeably higher capital costs than light rail
- Los Angeles 18 1278 21 1 Noticeably higher capital costs than light rail
- Miami 33 1058 32 9 Noticeably higher capital costs than light rail
- Washington DC 144 7372 190 n/a Noticeably higher capital costs than light rail and operating costs (a much longer system)

Source: Babalik (2000)
Note: N/A indicates that data were not available. 
Capital costs represent the value of the investment in the year 1998.

All costs and revenues are in UK Sterling at 1998 prices with currency conversions made using the purchasing power parity index provided by OECD.

The figure below shows that in the US average operating costs per passenger mile tend to be higher for light rail than heavy-rail and commuter rail but lower than the equivalent figure for bus. It is likely that if the analysis were performed on a per trip basis light rail would perform less favourably when compared to bus but more favourably in comparison with other rail systems.

Average operating cost by mode and city category in the US (APTA, 2002)

Average operating cost by mode

It is useful to consider costs in terms of patronage, and to compare operating costs and revenue to see how close to profitability the system is. The table below shows the capital cost per kilometre of route, the annualised capital cost per passenger, the operating cost per passenger, the fare revenue per passenger, and the farebox recovery ratio, which is the ratio of revenue to operating costs. For comparison, the five metros are also included.

Cost and revenue indicators for light rail (and metro) systems
City Capital cost/km (£million) Annualised capital cost/passenger £ Operating cost/passenger Fare revenue/passenger Farebox recovery ratio (%) Notes
Calgary 22 1.27 0.14 n/a n/a Lowest operating cost per passenger
Edmonton 26 2.92 n/a n/a n/a Relatively high capital costs per km, but was the first modern system
Scarborough 28 4034 n/a n/a n/a One of the most expensive capital costs per km – an automatic system
Vancouver 29 1.67 0.53 0.19 38 One of the most expensive capital costs per km – an automatic system
Grenoble 13 0.90 n/a n/a n/a Over 20 million passengers per year
Nantes 10 0.86 n/a n/a n/a Over 20 million passengers per year
Paris 7 0.32 n/a n/a n/a -
Rouen 17 1.50 1.73 0.64 37 -
Strasbourg 18 0.96 n/a n/a n/a -
Lausanne 9 0.80 n/a n/a n/a -
London Docklands 28 3.04 n/a 0.72 n/a One of the most expensive capital costs per km – an automatic system
Manchester 6 1.05 0.69 0.99 143 Over 20 million passengers per year
Sheffield 9 2.42 1.15 0.60 52 -
Tyne and Wear 9 1025 0.76 0.58 77 About 35 million passengers per year
Baltimore 10 5.87 2.14 0.53 28 High operating cost per passenger – reflection of low patronage, 7 million passengers per year
Dallas 11 2.65 1.66 n/a n/a -
Denver 17 2.42 1.09 n/a n/a -
Los Angeles 13 2.45 1.41 0.15 7 Over 20 million passengers per year
Portland 13 2.15 1.23 0.25 20 -
Sacramento 6 1.68 1.20 0.49 40 -
San Diego 8 2.18 0.76 0.55 68 Over 20 million passengers per year
San Jose 16 6.27 2.49 0.48 20 Highest operating cost per passenger – reflection of low patronage, 7 million passengers per year
St. Louis 9 1.47 0.87 0.37 46 -
Atlanta Metro 59 3.89 0.82 0.23 32 Notably higher capital costs per km
Baltimore Metro 46 7.28 1.73 0.51 31 Notably higher capital costs per km
Los Angeles Metro 71 8.57 1.72 0.06 4 Notably higher capital costs per km
Miami Metro 32 6.46 2.40 0.67 29 Notably higher capital costs per km
Washington DC Metro 51 2.85 1.13 n/a n/a Notably higher capital costs per km

Source: Babalik (2000).

Note: N/A indicates that data were not available.
All costs are in UK Sterling at 1998 prices. 
The capital cost has been annualised by discounting the capital cost in the year 1998 over 30 years at 8%. This has been done for all systems to allow comparisons. It is not necessarily how it was originally done for economic evaluation of the scheme.

Expected impact on key policy objectives

Contribution to objectives

Objective

Scale of contribution

Comment

  /

By reducing overall disutility of travel for those travelling by LRT. If there are significant transfers from car then reduced congestion will improve transport efficiency. On the other hand, reduced road space dedicated to private car may increase congestion in the short run at least.

 

Any transfers from car will reduce the adverse impacts of traffic allowing development of more attractive urban areas. In residential areas, the light rail layout often leads to pieces of land left unused. These can be turned into linear parks or play areas (e.g. Sheffield). Overall, a new light rail system is likely to make cities more pleasant to live in, partly because of the opportunity for complementary development that it offers.

 

By reducing air and noise pollution and pressures on green space and environmentally sensitive sites. Light rail systems are invariably electrically powered avoiding all omissions locally but probably requiring fossil fuel consumption for the production of that electricity. In the longer term, environmental benefits are likely to be greater if the scheme reduces road capacity for private vehicles.

 

A light rail system does offer a high-quality alternative to the car although not necessarily in areas where the socially excluded live. Modern light rail offers level boarding which is helpful for the mobility-impaired - especially those in wheelchairs.

 

Light rail is safe compared with car and even bus, both because the technology is intrinsically safe and because operating regimes tend to place heavy emphasis on safety. If there is a net transfer from car to light rail with little induced road traffic, then it should lead to an increase in safety.

With on-street running systems the main danger is likely to be a lot of cyclists slipping on or getting stuck in the tracks. Careful design can mitigate these risks.

  /

By offering a stimulus to economic development; by enhancing the economic potential of existing economic centres and possibly encouraging investment through improved image of an area. On the other hand, the major investment required and the implied increase in taxation may stifle economic growth. It is sometimes argued that light rail (and other major transport investments) redistribute economic growth but do not lead to a net increase in growth. The same may be true or increases in property prices.

On the other hand, it could be argued that light rail can encourage centralised high-density development which is more sustainable economically and environmentally than out-of-town developments that can only be accessed efficiently by private car.

 

High capital costs with the majority of systems not even covering operating costs with fares, and none covering capital costs.

= Weakest possible positive contribution = Strongest possible positive contribution
= Weakest possible negative contribution = Strongest possible negative contribution
= No contribution

Expected impact on problems

Contribution to alleviation of key problems

Problem

Scale of contribution

Comment

Congestion

Reduce delay due to transfer from car. In the shorter-term disruption associated with construction may increase traffic congestion, whilst reduced road space once the system is operational may increase congestion on certain corridors.
Community impacts A segregated system could actually sever a community but careful design can avoid this. The most likely impact is a positive one due to reduced road traffic levels associated with transfer from car on certain corridors.
Environmental damage Due to reduced road traffic levels associated with transfer from car.
Poor accessibility A high-quality alternative to the car although not necessarily in areas where the socially excluded live. Modern light rail offers level boarding which is helpful for the mobility-impaired - especially those in wheelchairs.
Social and geographical disadvantage Tends to serve high volume corridors that are likely to already be well served by public transport.
Accidents Providing the system is designed in a manner that considers cyclists’ safety then modal shift away from car will result in reduced accidents.
Economic growth By offering a stimulus to economic development; by enhancing the economic potential of existing economic centres and possibly encouraging investment through improved image of an area.
= Weakest possible positive contribution = Strongest possible positive contribution
= Weakest possible negative contribution = Strongest possible negative contribution
= No contribution

Expected winners and losers

We would not necessarily expect everyone to directly benefit from the introduction of a light rail system. The table below highlights the main groups of people who could be expected to be direct beneficiaries, as well as those who could be expected, in the first instance at least, to lose out. It should be remembered, however, that this only relates to the direct, immediate impacts; mitigating measures could be put in place to help those who lose out. It should also be noted that impacts are focused on the routes served by the light rail system, and that long term impacts as a result of potential changes in surrounding land use could be different.

Winners and losers

Group

Winners/Losers

Comment

Large scale freight and commercial traffic

High value journeys - because less car traffic, therefore less time spent in congestion the greater the vehicle utilization - relatively small proportion of journey distance in urban conditions.

Small businesses

In areas served by light rail.

High income car-users

New alternative mode, fewer cars on the road.

Low income car-users with poor access to public transport / They will benefit if they live in an area served by light rail, but if this is not the case and there is less funding for other alternatives to the car, they are likely to dis-benefit.
All existing public transport users New public transport alternative - mainly benefits those living near route.
People living adjacent to the area targeted They may benefit from reduced congestion and improved or increased public transport supply.
Cyclists including children Providing the system is designed in a manner that considers cyclists’ safety then modal shift away from car will result in reduced accidents.
People at higher risk of health problems exacerbated by poor air quality Reduced road traffic levels associated with transfer from car should lead to localised improvements in air quality and so benefit people with air pollution related health problems.
People making high value, important journeys A new efficient alternative is available.
The average car user Where they are able to travel more efficiently, saving time and money.
= Weakest possible benefit = Strongest possible positive benefit
= Weakest possible negative benefit = Strongest possible negative benefit
= Neither wins nor loses

Barriers to implementation

As the decision to implement a light rail system can be largely political, there may well be problems associated with this, not least justifying the substantial expenditure. However, further, factors will be the way in which the policy is presented to the public, the public acceptability of the policy and whether the necessary legal powers are in place. The scale of barriers is indicated in the table below.

Scale of barriers
Barrier Scale Comment
Legal The extent of legal barriers varies greatly according to the legislative framework. Integration of a light rail system with local bus in particular but also rail networks is important to its success.
Finance Even if a business case can be demonstrated, the size of the sums involved for construction means that in many countries implementation plans are dictated by the finances of regional and/or national government.
Governance The majority of light rail schemes are overseen by transport authorities with the operation tendered out to a private company or kept ‘in-house’.  There is a large amount of experience to do this efficiently. However, where public transport is deregulated it can be difficult to achieve an integrated network.
Political acceptability The political situation often relates to the question of financing. However, there are also local issues associated with construction itself such as the forced purchase of land and the removal of parking and delivery access for business premises.
Public and stakeholder acceptability Can vary depending upon local circumstance.  Light rail is normally perceived as a high quality public transport which adds considerable prestige to the city it operates in.  The two key issues that ‘de-rail’ the concept surround who finances the scheme and the level of disruption caused by the scheme.  Adverse responses to both can raise opposition to public and stakeholder acceptability.
Technical feasibility Technical feasibility varies greatly according to physical and human geography of the area. Most technical difficulties are not insurmountable in themselves but may push costs to an unacceptable level.
= Minimal barrier = Most significant barrier

Introduction

In this section some case studies to demonstrate the empirical evidence of the use of light rail schemes as policy instruments will be described. Schemes to be examined include Manchester Metrolink and Sheffield Supertram, both in Britain.

Case Study 1: Manchester Metrolink

Manchester Metrolink Context

Scheme description

Design, building and operation

Light rail scheme in the county of Greater Manchester in the north of England. Opened 1992.


Phase 1
- Took over mainline suburban rail lines linking Manchester city centre to Bury in the north and Altrincham in the south. These lines are linked by an on street section, with a spur to Manchester Piccadilly - one of the main heavy rail stations in Manchester. Total length - 31km.


Phase 2
– A 6.4 km line from Cornbrook Metrolink station to Eccles via Salford Quays was opened in two stages - 1999 & 2000.


Phase 3a
– A series of new lines have been built these include a 23 km conversion of a heavy rail line from Victoria to Rochdale via Oldham; a 2.7 km South Manchester line from Trafford Bar to St Werburghs road in Chorlton-cum-Hardy; a 6.4 km East Manchester line from Piccadilly to Droylsden.


Phase 3b
– Construction began in 2011.  To date the following lines have been completed: (1) 4.3 km extension of the South Manchester line to East Didsbury Metrolink station; (2) 3.4 km extension to the East Manchester line, linking Droylsden and Ashton-under-Lyne.


Phase 2CC
(Second City Crossing) will offer an alternative route across Manchester city centre.  The 1.3 km route is expected to be finished in 2016/17.

Phase 1 built under a DBOM contract by a private consortium (GEC, Mowlem and AMEC). 15 year contract to operate awarded to GMML. The original out-turn (final total including inflation) cost was £140 million (£53 million from national government, £75 million from local taxpayers, £12 million from the ERDF). System has to cover operating costs - no operating subsidy (Hellewell, 1993).


Funding for phase 2 came from non-government sources – GMPTA (Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Authority), European Regional Development Fund and private developers. With costs estimated at £160 million.


Funding for phase 3a came from two sources - £244 million from central government and borrowing by GMPTE (Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive).


Funding for phase 3b came from the creation of a £1.5 billion Greater Manchester Transport Fund (raised from an increase in council tax, government grants, Manchester Airport groups, Metrolink fares and 3rd party funding).  


Phase 2CC
is being funded by the Greater Manchester Transport Fund.

More information about the system can be obtained from GMPTE's website and the LRTA website:
http://www.metrolink.co.uk/Pages/default.aspx
http://www.lrta.org/Manchester/metrolink.html

Impact on supply

The total length of the Manchester metrolink is now 78 kms, with more than a doubling of line length since its inception in 1992.  The table below shows the quantities of light rail vehicle miles (in millions) and the passenger carriages or tram cars in Greater Manchester.  The figures reported reflect the key extensions to the system, and  how that has increased capacity on the system.  Despite the increase over time the contribution of the light rail system to Greater Manchester’s public transport supply is still relatively minor.  However, it is likely to have a significant impact on those corridors it serves, in particular influencing modal shift away from car.

 

1992/93

2000/01

2011/12

2012/13

Vehicle miles (millions)

1.2

2.7

2.9

3.6

Tram cars

26

32

56

70

Impact on demand

The demand for travel by public transport in Greater Manchester is shown in number of journeys by light rail, bus and train in Greater Manchester (millions) in the table below. It can be seen that total demand for public transport in Greater Manchester has generally declined during the 1990s. Patronage on Metrolink was 8.1 million in its first year of operation, after which it grew to about 12-13 million where it seems to have stabilised. Patronage on other rail services in Greater Manchester has been fairly static. The fact the Metrolink overtook other rail in terms of patronage shows that the latter is not a very important mode in Greater Manchester. Bus is the dominant public transport mode and it is generally declining. Even though it is likely that some users of Metrolink formerly used the bus, Babalik (2000) showed that the introduction of Manchester Metrolink did not seem to alter significantly the long-term downward trend in bus patronage in Greater Manchester. This is partly because bus has such a large share of the market. Even by 1998/99 Metrolink only had 5% of the market compared with 90% on the buses.

Number of journeys by light rail, bus and train in Greater Manchester (millions)

 

1990

1991

1992

1993

1994

1995

1996

Metrolink

-

-

8.1

11.3

12.3

12.6

13.4

Bus

131.3

128.9

133.1

138.4

146.3

146.9

137.6

Train

8.0

7.6

7.1

7.6

6.4

6.4

6.4

Source: DETR (2001a,b)

An alternative way of trying to see the impact of Metrolink on the use of other public transport modes is to compare what happened when it was opened with the trends in comparable areas, as shown in the table below. Number of journeys in other metropolitan areas outside London, 1991/2 - 1992/3 shows the changes in the numbers of public transport trips between 1991/2 and 1992/3 in other metropolitan areas. Total public transport trips declined by 7% in the other areas, compared with a 1% decline in Manchester, suggesting that Metrolink may have helped to sustain public transport patronage in Manchester. Conversely, train patronage in Manchester went down by 16%, whereas it only went down by 3% elsewhere, suggesting that Metrolink may have attracted some users from heavy rail services. (The heavy rail lines to Bury and Altrincham closed in August and December 1991 respectively, so this partly explains the decline in Manchester). Bus travel in Greater Manchester declined by 3% over this period compared with a 7% decline elsewhere, confirming the point made previously that Metrolink has not had a serious detrimental effect on buses in Greater Manchester.

Number of journeys in other metropolitan areas outside London, 1991/2 - 1992/3

 

1991/2

1992/3

Bus

1217

1130

Rail

120

117

Total

1337

1247

Source: DETR (2001a)
Note: the other metropolitan areas are West Midlands, Merseyside, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and Tyne and Wear.

An alternative way of trying to see the impact of Metrolink on the use of other public transport modes is to compare what happened when it was opened with the trends in comparable areas, as shown in the table below. Number of journeys in other metropolitan areas outside London, 1991/2 - 1992/3 shows the changes in the numbers of public transport trips between 1991/2 and 1992/3 in other metropolitan areas. Total public transport trips declined by 7% in the other areas, compared with a 1% decline in Manchester, suggesting that Metrolink may have helped to sustain public transport patronage in Manchester. Conversely, train patronage in Manchester went down by 16%, whereas it only went down by 3% elsewhere, suggesting that Metrolink may have attracted some users from heavy rail services. (The heavy rail lines to Bury and Altrincham closed in August and December 1991 respectively, so this partly explains the decline in Manchester). Bus travel in Greater Manchester declined by 3% over this period compared with a 7% decline elsewhere, confirming the point made previously that Metrolink has not had a serious detrimental effect on buses in Greater Manchester.

Number of journeys in other metropolitan areas outside London, 1991/2 - 1992/3

 

1991/2

1992/3

Bus

1217

1130

Rail

120

117

Total

1337

1247

Source: DETR (2001a)
Note: the other metropolitan areas are West Midlands, Merseyside, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and Tyne and Wear.

As well as trips, the total distance travelled can be considered, as shown in number of passenger-km by light rail, bus and train in Greater Manchester (millions), in the table below. It can be seen that in 1998/99 Metrolink had 12% of the market, heavy rail 15% and bus 76%. The total demand for public transport has declined over the 1990s, with bus declining fast, heavy rail between 210 and 220 million in most years, and Metrolink growing steadily. The faster rate of growth in total distance travelled than the number of trips by Metrolink implies that the average trip length is increasing.

Number of passenger-km by light rail, bus and train in Greater Manchester (millions)

 

1991/2

1992/3

1993/4

1994/5

1995/6

1996/7

1997/8

1998/9

Metrolink

-

53.0

72.6

78.6

80.8

85.6

117.0

153.3

Bus

1226

1117

1138

1141

1081

1040

1041

1009

Train

241.0

216.0

222.4

197.4

212.2

215.4

214.8

197.0

Total

1467

1440

1433

1417

1374

1341

1344

1323

Source: DETR (2001a,b)

It can be seen, in the table below, that the opening of Metrolink coincided with a decline of 2% in total public transport patronage in Greater Manchester. This compares favourably with a 5% decline in other metropolitan areas (see number of passenger-km in other metropolitan areas outside London, 1991/2 - 1992/3). It should be borne in mind that this was a period of economic recession in Britain. Total rail patronage in Greater Manchester grew by 12%, compared with a static position elsewhere, which suggests that Metrolink helped rail travel to grow in Greater Manchester. Bus showed a 9% decline in Greater Manchester compared with a 6% decline elsewhere. Given that the number of bus trips in Greater Manchester went down less than elsewhere, this suggests that a number of longer bus trips have been lost to Metrolink, but there may be some more short trips being made by bus, possibly because of increased seat availability because of the transfer of some longer trips to Metrolink.

Number of passenger-km in other metropolitan areas outside London, 1991/2 - 1992/3

 

1991/2

1992/3

Bus

5008

4685

Rail

912

911

Total

5920

5596

Source: DETR (2001a)
Note: the other metropolitan areas are West Midlands (bus only), Merseyside, West Yorkshire and Tyne and Wear.
It is possible to see how much Metrolink contributes to meeting the total travel demand by mechanised modes. As number of passenger-km in Greater Manchester by car, light rail, bus and train, 1998 shows, it is only about 1%. Car is overwhelmingly dominant, with 91% of the market. Public transport has only 9%. Hence, in overall terms Metrolink is making a very minor contribution to meeting travel needs in Greater Manchester. However, by its nature, light rail is very location specific, so it will contribute much more than this in the corridors it serves.

Number of passenger-km in Greater Manchester by car, light rail, bus and train, 1998

 

Passenger-km (millions)

%

Car

13530

91

Metrolink

117

1

Bus

1041

7

Rail

197

1

Total

14885

100

Source: DETR (2001a,b)
Note: the Metrolink figure is actually for the financial year 1998/9. The car figure is based upon the annual road traffic on main roads figure of 11 billion, of which 80% are cars and assuming a car occupancy of 1.54, which is the national average, based on figures from DETR (2001b).

This localised effect of Metrolink on the corridors it serves is illustrated in change in rail demand in Greater Manchester corridors, 1990-93, in the table below. The changes in rail demand in the Bury and Altrincham corridors are compared with adjacent corridors. The Altrincham corridor shows a 63% increase in the peak and 166% increase in the off-peak. This compares favourably with a 15% decline in the peak and a 3% growth off-peak in adjacent corridors. The Bury corridor is not so buoyant with a 3% decline in the peak and 101% growth off-peak. This can be compared to a 21% decline in adjacent corridors in the peak and a 109% growth off-peak in adjacent corridors.

Change in rail demand in Greater Manchester corridors, 1990-93

Corridor

Peak (07.00-10.00)

Off-peak (10.00-13.00)

Bury

-3%

+101%

Altrincham

+63%

+166%

Northern corridors

-21%

+109%

Southern corridors

-15%

+3%

Source: Table 3.1 in Oscar Faber (1996a)
Note: The Northern and Southern Corridors exclude the Bury and Altrincham corridors.

According to Law et al (1994) patronage was higher on Metrolink than the former heavy rail lines because of:

  • Higher service frequency;
  • Better penetration of the city centre;
  • The fare structure on Metrolink made many journeys cheaper;

The peak period patronage on Metrolink on the Bury line was lower than anticipated for two reasons:

  • Price competition from buses;
  • Higher fares than charged on the heavy rail.

It is relevant to consider where the patronage on Metrolink has come from. As shown in the table below, comparison of estimated observed and forecast sources of Metrolink patronage shows the estimated observed transfer from the monitoring study carried out by Oscar Faber (1996a,b). It can be seen that the majority have transferred from rail, mainly the heavy rail lines that Metrolink replaced. Just over one quarter have come from bus, and about 13% from car. This table does not include any trips generated as a result of the existence of Metrolink. The table also shows the original forecasts of the proportions. A comparison of the two sets of figures suggests that the transfer from car and bus was underestimated in the forecasts and that from rail was overestimated.

Comparison of estimated observed and forecast sources of Metrolink patronage

Mode

Estimated observed proportion

Original forecast proportion

Car

12.5-14.8%

11.5%

Bus

25.8-28.2%

19.9%

Rail

57.0-61.1%

68.5%

Source: Table 5.3 in Oscar Faber (1996a)

An alternative calculation of the modal origins of the Metrolink trips from the University of Salford Monitoring Study is shown in estimated annual Metrolink patronage (millions) by previous mode, as shown in the table below This makes the comparison with the situation that was expected to have occurred if the Bury and Altrincham lines had still been operated as heavy rail. This is used rather than the 'before' situation because there was a gap of several months when neither heavy nor light rail operated on these lines and a high quality bus service was operated, which may have influenced travellers' modal choice in the medium term. They estimate that there are 4.5 million more trips on Metrolink than would have used the heavy rail lines that they replaced. Of these, 2.6 million (58%) were previously car trips, 36% were bus trips, 4% used other rail lines, and 4% were not made previously.

Estimated annual Metrolink patronage (millions) by previous mode

 

Metrolink forecast

Metrolink actual

Control situation: if Bury/Altrincham lines still had BR services

Metrolink impact

Not made - new trip

1.3

2.5

2.3

0.2

Car

3.3

0.7

2.6

Bus

3.0

2.6

1.0

1.6

Rail

7.6

3.5

3.3

0.2

Other

0.0

0.2

0.3

-0.1

Total

11.9

12.1

7.6

4.5

Source: Table 2 in Knowles (1996) from the Metrolink Impact Rail User Survey 1993.

Whilst there seems to have been quite a large transfer to Metrolink from the car, this does not necessarily mean that there will be a significant decrease in traffic flows because some people who were previously deterred from using their cars because of congestion may start using them. According to Law et al (1994) there is evidence that car traffic has reduced in the Bury and Altrincham corridors, except in the peak period in the Altrincham corridor, where there has been little change. The effects are complex, but at that time (1993) it seemed reasonable to conclude that there had been some reduction in car use on roads parallel to Metrolink, but it was impossible to measure the effect precisely.

Oscar Faber (1996a) looked at the effects on highway demand in the city centre, as shown in city centre impacts of Metrolink on highway demands, shown in the table below. They concluded that there had been a 1.8% reduction in the number of cars entering the city centre in the morning peak and a 0.7% decrease off-peak. They also concluded that there has been a reduction in the number of parking acts: 690 long-stay and 520 short-stay.

City centre impacts of Metrolink on highway demands

% reduction in cars entering the city centre - AM peak

1.8%

% reduction in cars entering the city centre - off-peak

0.7%

Number of long-stay parking acts likely to have been removed

690

Number of short-stay parking acts likely to have been removed

520

Source: Table 6.5 in Oscar Faber (1996a)

More recently Scheurer et al (2001) claim that Metrolink has taken 2.5 million car trips a year off the roads, equivalent to a 10% reduction in traffic on the Metrolink corridor (but possibly releasing space for other car drivers, so that there might be no visible effect on traffic levels). According to GMPTE (1995) Metrolink may have affected the pattern of car purchases in the area it served because between 1991 and 1994, the number of cars per person dropped by 3% in the Metrolink corridor compared with a rise of 5% in the county as a whole.

More recent demand data is provided in the table below and illustrates a growing demand year on year apart from 2009-11 when patronage declined as a result of the recession.  The figures reflect the ability of light rail to encourage modal shift and generate new trips.  They are also boosted by the continued  extension of the light rail system with sizeable jumps in 2001/02 and  2011-13.

Metrolink Passengers and Passenger Miles (millions)
Year

97/98

98/99

99/00

00/01

01/02

02/03

03/04

04/05

05/06

Passenger Miles

54.8

72.7

78.3

94.6

100.2

103.5

105.0

126.8

128.0

Passenger Journeys

13.8

13.2

14.2

17.2

18.2

18.8

18.9

19.7

19.9

Year

06/07

07/08

08/09

09/10

10/11

11/12

12/13

 

 

Passenger Miles

129.0

130.5

137.1

128.1

124.8

141.9

162.6

 

 

Passenger Journeys

19.8

20.0

21.1

19.6

19.2

22.3

25.0

 

 

Source: DfT (2014)

Contribution to objectives
Objective Scale of contribution Comments
  Reduction in car traffic should have led to increase in economic efficiency due to increased traffic speed and reduced congestion.
  Reduced car trips so led to a more pleasant environment, especially along corridors served.
  Reduced car use will have reduced pollution, but effects will have been small.  Initial concern, during construction, about  visual intrusion of poles to support electric cables.
  Rider profile similar to public transport so providing benefits to low income users including the elderly and disabled who benefit from easier access onto vehicles.
 

Switch of some journeys from car to light rail will have increased overall safety in Manchester (with corridor specific concentration).

  Initial line built during recession so difficult to assess early benefits,  Since then it has been credited with assisting in the redevelopment of the southern section of the CBD, aided by Central Manchester Development Corporation.
  The capital cost of Metrolink has been substantial and has been covered by various funding sources – central government, local government and private.  Metrolink now covers its operating costs.
= Weakest possible positive contribution = Strongest possible positive contribution
= Weakest possible negative contribution = Strongest possible negative contribution
= No contribution

Manchester Metrolink appears not to have had a dramatic impact on Manchester in terms of development. It should be borne in mind that it opened at a time of economic recession, so that not much development would have been occurring then. It should also be noted that the two monitoring studies were carried out in the few months after it opened, and much may have happened since then. Furthermore, the annual patronage is over 14 million, and it has attracted some motorists out of their cars. Perhaps most significantly it requires no operating subsidy with fares covering 140% of operating costs.

Manchester hosted the Commonwealth Games in 2002, and a modern public transport system is essential in making a successful bid for this type of activity, which in turn can lead to huge amounts of money coming into the city and various developments. Putting it another way, this is a good illustration of the catalytic effect that a light rail system can have alongside many other elements. It is very difficult to unravel the contribution of the individual elements, but they all need to be there.

According to Law et al (1994) the following features have reduced the potential impact of Metrolink:

  • Metrolink and bus services were not integrated (because of the deregulated regime for bus services);
  • No traffic management restraint initiatives on roads parallel to Metrolink;
  • Car parks not provided at all Metrolink stations;
  • Since 1992 car parking charges have been levied near Metrolink stations;
  • Plenty of car parking available in the city centre;
  • Land rezoning near stations to ensure land use aims were met, was not carried out;
  • Land was not bought near stations with the aim of having it redeveloped;
  • No specific grants offered to encourage development.

Case Study 2: Sheffield Supertram

Sheffield Supertram Context

Sheffield Supertram

Description

Design, build and operation

3 Lines running along corridors radiating from the centre of Sheffield, a city in the county of South Yorkshire in the north of England. Additional line into Lower Don Valley added to system prior to construction. First line opened was 7km long, extended to a total of 29km with the opening of a second and third line. Also known as South Yorkshire Supertram or Stagecoach Supertram.


In 2013 it was announced that a new line will be constructed from Meadowhall to Dore (southwest Sheffiled) to provide a connection with the newly proposed HS2 station.

July 1976 - Sheffield and Rotherham Land Use and Transportation Study recommended a segregated passenger transport system on 6 radial corridors.

1979 - 6 lines safeguarded against conflicting development by SYCC.

1982-83 - studies to consider alternative modes.

1984-85 - technical evaluation.

1985 - private bill before parliament seeking powers to develop and operate a system. Further bill in Nov 1988 for a line to Lower Don Valley.

1990 - Financial approval; two companies set up by SYPTE to own infrastructure and use assets under concession agreement (with view to privatisation later) respectively.

1992-94 - construction.

March 1994 - first line opened from city centre to the Meadowhall shopping mall just north of Sheffield.

October 1995 - full system opened.

December 1997 - system privatised - taken over by Stagecoach. 

More information about Sheffield Supertram can be obtained from the website www.supertram.com. Information can also be obtained from the LRTA website at http://www.lrta.org/sheffield.html.

Impact on supply

The total length of the Sheffield Supertram is now 29 kms.  The table below shows the quantities of light rail vehicle miles (in millions) and the passenger carriages or tram cars in Sheffield.  In contrast to the Greater Manchester Metrolink the supply has remained more or less constant, despite the addition of new lines. As with Metrolink, the contribution of the light rail system to Sheffield’s public transport supply is still relatively minor.

 

1995/96

2000/01

2005/06

2012/13

Vehicle miles (millions)

1.6

1.5

1.5

1.5

Tram cars

45

47

48

48

Impact on demand

The annual level of revenue from patronage forecast for 1996 was 22.1 million: 17.1 million on Line 1 and 5.0 on line 2. The actual figure was about 6.6 million at this time (Haywood, 1999). Haywood (1999) gives the following reasons for the shortfall in patronage on Sheffield Supertram:

  • Decline in bus use 24%
  • Competitive buses 12%
  • Supertram frequencies 8%
  • Supertram run times 8%
  • Supertram fares 3%
  • Park and ride 4%
  • New developments 4%
  • Unexplained 4%
  • Actual patronage 30%

According to W S Atkins (2000) the two biggest sources of error were assuming that there would be a major transfer from bus to Supertram and assumptions about trips from new developments. The former problem arose from the fact that the rival bus companies decided to operate in a very competitive way, in terms of both routes and fares, which meant that there was not the scale of transfer anticipated. These problems have largely been solved by the taking over of operation of Supertram by Stagecoach which is a major bus operator (It was not the major incumbent operator in Sheffield at the time of the opening of Supertram. Fox (1996) argues that the incumbent operator wished to take over Supertram when it was privatised and so had an interest in it being in a financially weak position). The forecast errors arising from assumptions about new developments were symptomatic of the problem of poor co-ordination between the city planners in Sheffield and SYPTE who were developing Supertram (Fox, 1996). The route pattern was devised to serve some high density developments. The three tower blocks at Herdings Park, which are at the end of a short branch line, were emptied of residents because they were in a very poor state of repair but the line was still built. The Kelvin development which would also provide customers was demolished rather than being renovated as originally planned, and the Norfolk Park Estate has been gradually emptied so that it can be redeveloped at a much lower density.

However it is also clear is that patronage is increasing steadily following changes to the service pattern and fares, the introduction of conductors to help overcome problems of vandalism, and improvements in the local economy. Technically, it is a very good system, but the many problems have led to delays in it reaching its potential.

As shown in the table below, total public transport demand in South Yorkshire declined throughout the period shown, and the opening of Supertram has not reversed this trend, but it might have slowed it down, since the decrease levelled off in 1993/94 to 1995/96. Bus patronage has been in long-term decline, and it is not obvious that Supertram has accelerated this trend, a point confirmed by analysis over a longer period by Babalik (2000). Heavy rail demand in South Yorkshire is low, and appears not to have been affected by the opening of Supertram, which is not surprising given the route pattern of Supertram.

Number of journeys by light rail, bus and train in South Yorkshire (millions)

 

1991/2

1992/3

1993/4

1994/5

1995/6

1996/7

1997/8

1998/9

Supertram

-

-

-

2.2

5.3

7.8

9.2

10.4

Bus

177

176

166

163

158

150

144

135

Train

6

6

6

6

6

6

6

6

Total

183

182

172

171.2

169.3

163.8

159.2

151.4

Source: DETR (2001a,b)
Note: Rail services are those supported under Section 20 of the 1968 Transport Act.

The figures in the table above can be compared with the changes in patronage on bus and heavy rail in other metropolitan areas at the time Supertram was opened as shown the table below, in number of journeys in other metropolitan areas outside London, 1993/4 - 1994/5. In the other areas there was a small growth in bus use (probably associated with the improving economic situation at the time) whereas in South Yorkshire there was a small decline, suggesting that Supertram may have prevented a short-term growth in bus patronage in South Yorkshire Heavy rail showed a decline in the other areas whereas it was about constant in South Yorkshire at a very low level.

Number of journeys in other metropolitan areas outside London, 1993/4 - 1994/5

 

1993/4

1994/5

Bus

935

941

Rail

109

100

Total

1044

1041

Source: Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (2001a)
Note: the other metropolitan areas are West Midlands, Merseyside, West Yorkshire and Tyne and Wear (Greater Manchester has been excluded because of the introduction of Manchester Metrolink).

The table below indicates that most trips (55%) have transferred from bus. 20% have come from car and 12% are new trips that would not have otherwise been made. Given that patronage on Supertram is low, 20% transfer from car would not make a huge difference even if no other travellers started using their cars because of the resulting reduction in congestion.

Abstraction of Supertram trips from other modes

 

%

New trips

12

Car

20

Bus

55

Other modes

12

Total

100

Source: W S Atkins (2000)

According to calculations by Babalik (2000) Sheffield Supertram uses 13% of its total capacity, calculated as the ratio of average passenger trips per hour to the total passenger carrying capacity of the system per hour. This is the lowest value out of eight systems examined in Britain and North America where the highest was 52% for the Tyne and Wear Metro.

A more recent picture of demand is provided in the table below and illustrates a steady growth or around 5% per annum, despite some stagnation from 2009 with the onset of the recession. 

Sheffield  Passengers and Passenger Miles (millions)
Year

94/95

95/96

96/97

97/98

98/99

99/00

00/01

01/02

02/03

03/04

Passenger Miles

9.4

23.1

33.9

40.0

45.0

47.3

48.1

49.7

50.0

53.5

Passenger Journeys

2.2

5.3

7.8

9.2

10.4

10.9

11.1

11.4

11.5

12.3

Year

04/05

05/06

06/07

07/08

08/09

09/10

10/11

11/12

12/13

 

Passenger Miles

55.7

57.0

60.9

64.4

65.2

64.0

60.5

60.3

58.0

 

Passenger Journeys

12.8

13.1

14.0

14.8

15.0

14.7

15.0

15.0

14.4

 

DfT (2014)

Contribution to objectives
Objective Scale of contribution Comments
 

Increased range of transport options in Sheffield, so may be meeting some travel needs more efficiently.  Now covering operating costs.

 

Reduced car trips so led to a more pleasant environment, especially along corridors served.

  Initial concern over visual intrusion of overhead wires at development stage, but addressed in public consultation. Provided an opportunity to improve local streetscape taken during construction.
  Rider profile similar to public transport so providing benefits to low income users including the elderly and disabled who benefit from easier access onto vehicles.
 

Any reduction in net road traffic as a result of the introduction of Supertram should have improved safety, but effect will have been small and potential localised.

 

A mixed picture with early concern about the negative impacts from disruption (caused by construction) and the flight of footfall from the city centre to Meadowhall (on the route of the first line).


Since then Supertram seen as an asset with postivie development benefits and an endowment of civic pride that helps to market the city to companies/agencies and tourists.
  High capital cost have been met  by local taxpayers.  Initially operating costs were around double those of revenue.  Now the operating company (First Group) is covering them.  
= Weakest possible positive contribution = Strongest possible positive contribution
= Weakest possible negative contribution = Strongest possible negative contribution
= No contribution

Other systems

Context

Reference has already been made to a number of light rail systems around the World. In most cases, unlike the Greater Manchester and Sheffield systems, specific monitoring studies have not been carried out, so it is not possible to draw detailed conclusions about their impacts. However, surveys of light rail and similar systems by Mackett and Edwards (1998) and Babalik (2000) do provide some evidence. The Manchester and Sheffield systems were included in both surveys and so will be included here where appropriate for comparison.

Effects on demand

All the systems examined in the two surveys mentioned above are carrying large numbers of passengers, and so have stimulated some demand. One useful indicator of demand is how well actual patronage matches that forecast since the forecast would have been used as part of the planning process and to help determine whether the project would be worthwhile financially. Forecast and actual patronage on a weekday for light rail systems in thousands shows the forecast and actual patronage for a number of modern light rail systems.

It can be seen that there are huge errors in the forecasting procedures. Out of the ten systems shown, patronage was overestimated in four and underestimated in six, with errors of up to 161%. The one Canadian example, in Vancouver, was an underestimate by 36%. On the Manchester Metrolink demand was underestimated by 25%, but as Knowles (1996) showed, the type of patronage forecast was very different to the actual, with much more off-peak travel and much less peak travel in reality than expected. The forecasts for Sheffield Supertram were significantly out (see "The overall effects of Supertram"). Forecasts for the Tyne and Wear Metro were fairly close to the actual values, but the patronage declined after this point, and was down to 126 900 by 1996.

Forecast and actual patronage on a weekday for light rail systems in thousands

City

Forecast

Actual

%

difference

Year

Patronage

Year

Patronage

Vancouver

1996

100.0

1996

136.0

+36%

Manchester

1996

35.7

1996

44.5

+25%

Sheffield

1996

70.7

1996

18.7

-74%

Tyne and Wear

1985

219.1

1985

208.9

-5%

Buffalo

1995

92.0

1995

29.0

-68%

Pittsburgh

1985

90.5

1992

31.1

-66%

Portland

1990

42.5

1995

24.0

-43%

Sacramento

1987

20.5

1987

12.0

-42%

San Diego

1981

9.5

1981

12.0

+25%

St Louis

1994

17.0

1994

44.4

+161%

Source: Mackett and Edwards (1998) and Babalik (2000), using information from Pickrell (1990), Dunphy (1995), Warren (1995), Federal Transit Administration (2000) and DETR (2000b).

The four US systems in which patronage was underestimated, in Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Portland and Sacramento, as shown in the table above, were all constructed using some Federal funding, giving some credence to the claim that patronage demand was often overestimated under these circumstances. On the two other US systems patronage was underestimated: San Diego Trolley which was initially built with no Federal funding and St Louis MetroLink which was constructed after the funding rules were changed.

Babalik (2000) has calculated the extent to which the total capacity of light rail systems is used, as shown in the table below.
The figures look low, in general, because they are averages over the whole day, including reverse flows during peak periods. The highest value is for the Tyne and Wear Metro, but this is high partly because during the construction of the extensions, stations were designed to accommodate only two-car trains instead of the original four in order to save money. If the capacity of the original system were considered then 38% of the capacity would be used. This suggests that the San Diego and St Louis systems are the most efficient in terms of matching supply to demand. They were both systems where the actual demand has exceeded the forecast which probably explains the relatively high capacity utilisation: they have more passengers than they were originally expected to carry. 

Percentage of total capacity used on light rail systems

City

% of capacity used

Vancouver

38

Manchester

33

Sheffield

37

Tyne and Wear

75

Sacramento

33

San Diego

55

St Louis

45

Source: Babalik (2000)
Note: the capacity used is the ratio of the average number of passenger trips per hour to the total passenger carrying capacity of the systems per hour.

Effects on supply

No detailed information of the effects of the new light rail system on the total supply of transport are available other than those already shown for Greater Manchester and Sheffield. It is likely that in all cases the total did increase, because, only if road space were decreased significantly to allow on-street running, would it be possible for the development of a new system to lead directly to a decrease in transport supply.

It is accepted practice in the appraisal of LRT systems in the UK to include a "mode constant" in the modelled disutility or generalised cost of light rapid transit use to reflect the improved quality compared to bus that LRT represents. The mode constant is subtracted from the generalised cost of each trip. For appraisals of Manchester metrolink, Leeds Supertram and South Hants Rapid Transit the mode constants applied were 17.4 minutes, 15 minutes and 9 minutes respectively (Steer Davies Gleave, April 2002). The mode constants are generally derived from stated preference surveys and are likely to reflect the public's perceived superiority of LRT over bus in terms of reliability, cleanliness, ride quality, personal security and so on. Journey time is explicitly modelled elsewhere and, assuming that the stated preference is well-designed, is not part of the mode constant. This evidence suggests believes that LRT provides significant quality and reliability benefits when compared with bus.

Litman carried out matched pair analysis of six US cities which suggested that it is with large rail transit systems (heavy or light rail) have significantly less per capita traffic congestion delay (i.e. more supply of road space) than similar sized cities that have small or no rail transit. The results are presented in the figure below.

Annual per capita congestion delay, matched pair analysis of US cities

Figure 1

Other Impacts

Contribution to liveable cities and neighbourhoods

Tram projects are often associated with a great deal of improvement of the urban domain, in Montpellier this formed part of the strategy for convincing the public and business community that the tram would be beneficial (Hylen and Pharaoh 2002). Whilst a tram scheme may provide the impetus for such landscaping to occur and may also make it more politically acceptable to reduce road space dedicated to private vehicles, it may nonetheless not be appropriate to attribute these benefits to the tram itself. Whilst it seems intuitively obvious that building a modern, efficient, not polluting (at source) public transport system should help to make cities and neighbourhoods more liveable, the direct evidence of their doing so is very sparse.

Contribution to equity and social inclusion

In Manchester and Sheffield there was some evidence of use by the elderly and other off-peak users, but there is little direct evidence of light rail schemes helping to increase social inclusion in terms of providing travel opportunities for those suffering from social deprivation. The systems in Croydon, Tyne and Wear and the West Midlands have all been designed to provide access from areas of high unemployment to areas with vacant jobs, but there is no evidence on how successful they have been. There is the example of Los Angeles (Wachs, 1993) where funding was transferred from bus services in the inner city serving low-income households to subsidise the light rail system serving high-income households because it could not cover its operating costs, thereby leading to a loss of equity.

Many light rail systems run from outer prosperous areas to the city centre, passing through inner urban areas which house low-income households. In some cases, for example, Vancouver, San Jose and Rouen, the systems were used as catalysts to help regeneration which can lead to jobs and investment in infrastructure in these areas. Generally this involves using complementary policies to help in the regeneration process, and it may be these policies which actually help reduce social exclusion by offering jobs and so providing income, but the light rail scheme is required as the catalyst.

In summary, light rail schemes can be used to help reduce social exclusion, but this may well be indirectly through increasing investment in deprived areas leading to economic regeneration rather than directly as a form of public transport.

Contribution to safety

Light rail is very safe compared to the car both for users and non-users and so its introduction into an area should increase the overall safety of the area as people transfer from the less safe mode. Litman categorised the 50 largest US cities into those with a large rail system, a small rail system, and bus-only, as shown in the table below.

  Large rail system Small rail system Bus only
50 largest US cities 7.46 9.99 11.72

The analysis lumps together heavy and light rail but that does not significantly reduce its relevance here.

Contribution to economic growth

The stimulation of development is a key objective for the building of many light rail systems. A new light rail system will not, on its own, induce development, but it can form part of a package to facilitate development. It plays several roles in the process: it provides a modern, efficient way for residents to reach jobs outside the area, it provides access into the area for workers, shoppers and those on leisure trips, it demonstrates a commitment to the area by various levels of government, it provides a useful theme for marketing the area, and so on. In order to implement these concepts there needs to be investment in housing, jobs, shops and leisure facilities. Most of this will be by the private sector which will see the commitment made by the public sector to the light rail system and will recognise that the system will convey workers and customers in a suitably high technology style, that a bus simply would not do. In this regard LRT's lack of flexibility when compared with bus is a positive asset because developers can be confident that once the LRT infrastructure is in place high quality services will be run for a very long time. Bus services on the other hand (particularly in a deregulated market) can be altered on a yearly or even monthly basis. In order to start the development process off, incentives of various sorts may have to be offered, such as tax reductions or reductions in planning restrictions. These issues of complementary policies are discussed in the next section, but it is important to note here that light rail has a role to play in the urban development process along with other policy instruments.

In terms of the systems examined here, neither Manchester Metrolink nor Sheffield Supertram seem to have had much impact in terms of development. There are at least two reasons why this may be the case: from about 1989 to about 1994, Britain was in economic recession, so there would not be much happening in the form of development with or without light rail, and secondly, the survey work was carried out within a few months of the opening of the system, and it could take several years for definite evidence of development induced by the light rail system to show.

Evidence of development impacts were found for the new systems in St Louis, San Diego, San Jose, Portland, Calgary, Vancouver, Rouen and Tyne and Wear. In these cases complementary policies were used and there have been at least some years since they opened when their national economies have not been in recession. Some other systems, those in Baltimore, Los Angeles and Sacramento, have not induced development to any significant degree, and are regarded as generally not very successful (Babalik, 2000, Mackett and Babalik, 2001a).

It can be seen that light rail systems can be used with complementary policies to stimulate development in particular areas. In some cases this may be simply a matter of shifting development from one area to another, and therefore not necessarily adding to the overall level of economic development in the city. In other cases, it may be making the city served by the light rail system more attractive than other cities without such a system, and so adding to economic growth locally, but not at a regional or national scale. That may not matter if it is desired to stimulate development in a particular area, for example to help 'kick-start' a major regeneration process.

Contribution to objectives
Objective Comments
  Evidence presented suggests that cities with rail systems tend to have lower levels of congestion. It is accepted practice to apply a factor to reflect the improved quality of light rail over bus when modelling its impacts. This practice is based on numerous stated preference surveys were respondents indicate a preference for light rail over bus.
  Tram projects are often associated with more general improvements in the urban domain but it may not be appropriate to attribute these improvements to the tram scheme itself. Where there is transfer from car it is likely to provide some improvements in liveability.
  Where there is transfer from car there is likely to be a net reduction in CO2 and local pollutants.
  Some evidence of LRT forming part of a package that has led to regeneration of a particular area.
  If a system achieves transfer from car then accident rates will reduce. Evidence from US cities suggests that those with rail systems tend to have lower traffic fatalities per head of population.
  The evidence suggests that the other complimentary policies are in place then and LRT can help stimulate economic growth in an area. It is not clear whether this represents a redistribution of growth or a net increase.
  -
= Weakest possible positive contribution = Strongest possible positive contribution
= Weakest possible negative contribution = Strongest possible negative contribution
= No contribution

Wider Design Concepts of Different Systems

Experience of the systems with operating policies

System High frequency service Travelcards Free transfer to buses Some free travel Marketing and advertising Security staff on board and at stations

Calgary

Vancouver

Manchester

Sheffield

Tyne and Wear

Baltimore

Los Angeles

Portland

Sacramento

San Diego

St Louis

= The policy has been effective in enhancing the success of the system
= The policy has been implemented but failed to have significant effects
= It is not clear whether the policy has had any effect on the performance of the system

Source: Babalik (2000), Mackett and Babalik (2001b)
Note: In Sheffield, introducing additional staff for ticket sale on board has enhanced the security image of the system.

It should be recognised that some of these indicators imply simply an assessment of the extent to which the policy has been implemented: for example, all the systems received some form of marketing and advertising even if the only coverage has been in the local press (adverse or otherwise), so a positive indication in the table implies the implementation of the policy to a significant extent, which is not necessarily the same as whether or not it was effective, only where a policy was clearly not a success is a cross allocated.

Of the systems being considered here, only Vancouver and Manchester are considered to offer high frequency service. A travelcard is a period ticket which permits travel on all public transport modes in an area. It is sometimes possible to offer a ticketing system that offers travel on several modes in a deregulated environment, but it is unlikely to be comprehensive. Such a system has been tried in Sheffield, but does not seem to have had a significant effect. All the other cities outside Britain, except Portland, have implemented such systems. The deregulation of buses in Britain (outside London) makes it very difficult to offer a travel card and free transfer to buses because these require co-operation between companies whereas deregulation is designed to encourage competition.

Calgary, Portland and St Louis offer some free travel. For example, free travel is offered between six stations in the city centre off-peak on St Louis MetroLink. The idea is that it will encourage those who would otherwise never use public transport to try it, thereby overcoming a mental barrier.

As mentioned above, all new light rail systems are likely to be publicised, but some systems have had explicit marketing and advertising campaigns. All the North American systems were the subject of such campaigns, but in the case of Sacramento it seems to have been fairly ineffective. Of the three British systems, only in Sheffield has there been an extensive campaign, but it has not been very effective.

Like many examples of publicly-owned infrastructure, light rail systems can be vulnerable to vandalism. They can also be perceived as dangerous for lone travellers, particularly after dark. All non-automatic systems carry a driver, but he or she is usually in a locked driving cab, partly for their protection. For all these reasons some systems have staff either at stations or on board. Whilst this increases costs, it can save money in terms of revenue protection and reducing vandalism, and can enhance revenue by encouraging those who would otherwise find travelling unescorted intimidating. For example, in Sheffield the ticket machines on the stations were regularly vandalised and there was considerable revenue loss from non-payment of fares. The introduction of conductors has helped to increase revenue significantly. 

An indication of the effectiveness of transport planning policies to increase the benefits of LRT are shown in the table below.

Experience of the systems with transport planning policies

System Integrating system into regional planning Integrating system into existing urban projects Locating stations at trip attractors or generators Integrating bus services with new system Providing car parking at stations Restricting car parking in the city or in the CBD

Calgary

Vancouver

Manchester

Sheffield

Tyne and Wear

*

Baltimore

Los Angeles

Portland

Sacramento

San Diego

St Louis

= The policy has been effective in enhancing the success of the system
= The policy has been implemented but failed to have significant effects
= It is not clear whether the policy has had any effect on the performance of the system

Source: Babalik (2000), Mackett and Babalik (2001b)
Note: * Policy was implemented and was effective during the first 5 years of the operation 

Integrating the system into regional planning and integrating the system into existing urban projects are to do with integration of the light rail system into the existing infrastructure, either by incorporating it into a regional plan as happened in Calgary, Vancouver, Portland and Tyne and Wear, or incorporating it into an existing urban project, such as regeneration of an area, as has happened in Vancouver, Tyne and Wear, San Diego and, unsuccessfully, in Sheffield.

A light rail system is more likely to be successful if it connects two large centres which generate or attract trips, preferably over the whole day, to ensure a continuous high level of patronage. This happened in Calgary, Baltimore, Los Angeles, Portland, St Louis and San Diego. In all cases except the last it seems to have helped increase patronage. The effects are not so clear in the case of San Diego.

Buses can serve a complementary role to a light rail system by acting as feeder services. This approach takes advantage of the bus's ability to go on any road, to collect passengers to take to the light rail system which can then take them into the city centre at high speed on a segregated track. Buses can also be used as distributors if appropriate. This method is used for the North American systems. Deregulation of buses in Britain prevents it. It was used in Tyne and Wear until the buses were deregulated in 1986.

Integration with walking and cycling are further considerations. Safe and convenient walk and cycle routes to the stations are likely to increase patronage by reducing the total disutility (generalised cost) of the trip. Improving access by cycle to public transport interchanges can significantly increase their catchment area. A report by the Bikerail consultancy on the potential for integrating cycling and heavy-rail estimated that whilst only 19% of the population were within a 15 minute walk of a station, 60% are within 15 minutes of their nearest station by cycle (Bikerail 1999).

Cycle parking is a relatively cheap and space efficient means of improving integration between LRT and cycles. Consideration should also be given to allowing cycle carriage, particularly during the off-peak. In the Netherlands 30% and 10% of light rail trips access and egress interchanges by bike respectively, demonstrating the potential of the integration of cycles and light rail transit (Presentation by Hugh McClintock, 2004). Significant levels of integration between cycling and LRT have been achieved in various European cities such as Basle, Freiburg, Karlsruhe and Strasbourg (McClintock, 2004).

The other two policies relate to car parking: providing car parks at stations means that the light rail system can be used for park and ride. Restricting parking in the city centre can make use of light rail relatively more attractive. Car parking has been provided at stations on all the systems except Vancouver. In the British systems it does not seem to have been very effective. Only in Calgary has car parking been restricted elsewhere as a policy to encourage light rail use.

Calgary seems to be the place where transport planning policies have been used most to encourage use of the light rail system. In Britain, some policies have been tried, but they do not seem to have been very successful, especially in Manchester and Sheffield. All the US systems have been the subject of at least two complementary transport planning policies which seem to have been successful.

The systems utilising urban planning policies to increase benefits are shown in the table below.

Experience of the systems with urban planning policies

System Adapting plans to the new system by rezoning Incentives for transit-oriented development City centre redevelop-
ment projects and actions
Urban renewal projects Joint develop-
ment projects
Locating public develop-
ment at stations
Pedestria
-nising
streets

Calgary

Vancouver

*

Manchester

Sheffield

Tyne and Wear

*

Baltimore

Los Angeles

Portland

Sacramento

San Diego

*

St Louis

*
= The policy has been effective in enhancing the success of the system
= The policy has been implemented but failed to have significant effects
= It is not clear whether the policy has had any effect on the performance of the system

Source: Babalik (2000), Mackett and Babalik (2001b)
Note: * These are the projects that the systems were integrated into the second transport planning policy; therefore, they are not shown under urban planning policies to avoid double counting.

One urban planning policy that is used in North America is rezoning. This means changing local plans to encourage location of activities that will produce many light rail trips near to stations. Sometimes local ordinances are varied, for example allowing higher buildings close to stations than would normally be allowed. Rezoning has been used successfully in Vancouver, Los Angeles, Portland, San Diego and St Louis.

Several of the urban planning policies shown here relate to the concept of synergy between the light rail scheme and major urban development schemes: the urban development generates passengers for the light rail system, the light rail system provides access for customers, staff and residents who will make the urban development scheme more successful. These include offering incentives for transit-oriented development as has happened in Vancouver, Portland, Sacramento (unsuccessfully), San Diego, and St Louis. Other ways urban projects can be used to encourage use of the light rail system are by undergoing major redevelopment projects in the city centre, or elsewhere, undertaking joint projects of which the light rail scheme is an integral part, and locating public development at stations, either facilities for public use or offices in which public servants work. Vancouver, Los Angeles, Portland and St Louis are the cities where such policies have been used most successfully.

The final complementary policy to be considered here is pedestrianising streets. This means closing streets to cars to make them available for pedestrians, and in some cases, light rail vehicles. This means that the light rail system can operate in the city centre without interference from cars, pedestrians can access shops without having to worry about traffic in crossing streets, the whole environment can be landscaped and made more pleasant, and car journeys to the centre are discouraged. Often park and ride facilities on the light rail system means that motorists can travel efficiently to the city centre without taking their cars all the way. Issues such as deliveries have to be addressed. This is a good example of a situation in which the introduction of a new light rail scheme can be used to instigate a whole series of improvements to the city.

These types of urban planning policy have been used most extensively in Vancouver and Portland. They have not been used much in Calgary, Baltimore and the British cities.

Babalik (2000) has developed a simple technique for assessing the factors which make urban public transport schemes successful. Success seems to be a function of two sets of factors: the nature of the city and the complementary policies that are used. Once it has been decided to develop a light rail scheme in a city, apart from careful choice of the line of the routes, success or otherwise seems to depend fairly heavily on the skilful use of these complementary policies. Such skilful use seems much more prevalent in North America than Britain. This means that, although cities in Britain with their relatively high densities and low car ownership levels, are intrinsically more amenable to light rail, some of the North American systems are more successful. In fact, of the systems examined by Babalik (2000) the most successful ones seem to be in Canada, in Vancouver and Calgary. Then come systems such as those in St Louis, Portland and San Diego, which seem to be doing better than those in Britain. It can be seen in the tables above that these North American systems have many of the complementary policies in places, whereas that is not the case to the same extent in Britain. It ought to be added that some of the US systems, such as those in Baltimore and Sacramento are fairly unsuccessful, and these are the ones where such complementary policies have been used less.

It has been shown that complementary policy instruments can be used to enhance the benefits of light rail schemes, and the work cited suggests that such policies can make the difference between success and failure.

Contribution to key objectives and alleviation of key problems for Manchester Metrolink, Sheffield Supertram and other systems is summarised below, with more detailed discussion of each following.

Contribution to objectives

Summary of different systems’ contribution to key objectives
Objective Manchester Metrolink Sheffield Supertram Other systems Comment
  Light rail systems encourage modal shift and reduce levels of congestion in city centres and along the routes they operate. The level of reduction will depend upon local circumstance.
  Light rail can improve the urban environment through its ability to reduce car usage.  Again this will differ on a scheme by scheme basis.
  Modal shift will reduce environmental pollution levels.  Again this will differ according to local circumstances.
  Light rail offers another public transport option for non-car owners who tend to be on low incomes and who face higher levels of social exclusion.
  Modal shift from car will reduce accident rates. Care needs to be taken that the design of the system minimises any impacts on cyclists.
  Evidence that light rail can help to stimulate land use development. To achieve this complimentary policies need to be in place.
  Light rail systems are costly. Few schemes are able to cover their operating costs and none can repay their initial infrastructure costs.
= Weakest possible positive contribution = Strongest possible positive contribution
= Weakest possible negative contribution = Strongest possible negative contribution
= No contribution

Contribution to problems

Summary of different systems’ contribution to alleviation of key problems
Objective Manchester Metrolink Sheffield Supertram Other systems Comment
Congestion Light rail leads to modal shift away from cars and will reduce congestion along the routes it operates and in city centres.
Community impacts Will improve accessibility and reduce social exclusion of the community as a whole.
Environmental damage Modal shift will lead to reduced levels of pollution.
Poor accessibility Provides another public transport option to improve accessibility to the community. Physical accessibility also improved due to light rail design.
Social and geographical disadvantage Provides a better quality public transport option for existing public transport users & an attractive alternative for car users.
Accidents Modal shift away from cars will lead to reduced accident levels. Care needs to be taken that the system design has no adverse effects on cyclists.
Economic growth Will lead to land use development, especially if complementary policies are put in place.
= Weakest possible positive contribution = Strongest possible positive contribution
= Weakest possible negative contribution = Strongest possible negative contribution
= No contribution

Appropriate contexts

The table below provides some indication of the suitability of light rail transit for different area types.

Appropriate area-types
Area type Suitability
City centre
Dense inner suburb
Medium density outer suburb
Less dense outer suburb
District centre
Corridor
Small town
Tourist town
= Least suitable area type = Most suitable area type

Adverse side-effects

Light rail does not have many direct adverse effects, although noise, visual intrusion and possibly social inequality (for example if routes are focused on high income areas only) have been indicated as examples. The first two tend to be concerns prior to opening rather than real concerns during operation as experience shows such systems are soon accepted as part of the urban fabric. The social inequity problem largely relates to the use of resources, as happened in Los Angeles where operating losses on the light rail system had to be covered out of a public transport budget which meant diverting resources away from low income bus users. This touches on the main adverse effect of light rail schemes which is their large cost.

Capital cost has normally to be paid out of public funds, and can be very high. Spending public funds in this way means that funding is either diverted away from other public goods and services or from private expenditure because taxes are higher than they otherwise would be.  In countries such as Britain the higher taxes would not normally be explicitly linked to the new light rail system, but in the US, local citizens can vote to increase the scheme making it essentially a political decision, which is not always rational (Edwards and Mackett, 1996, Richmond, 2001).

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