Trams, energy saving, private cars, trolley buses, diesel buses

Dear Claverton,

If was a matter of belief, then this debate would be theological. If should however be a matter of engineering and science. If we consider the energy issue as a supply side question, then no one would be promoting trams (or buses etc) because bicycles are an order of magnitude more energy efficient (and run on renewable sources) and the tracks required are very cheap to construct.
But this debate cannot be a supply side issue, unless Fred or someone manages to impose an absolute dictatorship with a command economy, where there is no choice.  Since even in today’s volatile political climate, no one considers anything other than a liberal democracy, then people will have a choice over their transport mode, which is the private car, even though it costs 2 – 3 times more to run than using taxis or other public transport. The UK also has nearly the lowest level of car ownership in the EU BUT the highest per capita car usage. Except in Central London, in the UK, the car is the dominant means of transport. 
So if we are to get car users to use public transport, they have to be attracted ?  Fortunately we have a serious body of evidence from the US, Transportation Research Board Report 1221. This analysed 40 years of data to answer the question “on a like for like basis, what is the difference in the use of urban bus and rail systems ?” The like for like was: fares, frequency, travel speed and  access to service. Report 1221’s conclusion was that rail attracted 35-45% more passengers than bus, and virtually all the difference was car (commuters) transferring. There are similar figures  for EU countries.
So how can we make trams as affordable as “flexible, cheap buses” ? Ian Perry’s email is one solution. There are surely other equally economic possible solutions to providing a mode of public transport that is proven to ATTRACT car users, and can to powered by non fossil fuels ?
PS The Present Government has been pushing congestion charges to force people from their cars, like the earlier window tax people find ways around ? In London, whilst car traffic in the charge zone is about 25% down, in the rest of London traffic is about 4% higher, as central drivers displaced to inner London. There has been no significant transfer to public transport.
With best wishes to all serious seekers of low energy, zero carbon transport solutions,

Sincerely, Professor Lewis Lesley
On 27 May 2009, at 05:50, dave andrews wrote:

Aren’t the pro tram people putting too much emphasis on the energy saving of trams compared to say trolley or diesel buses?   Isn’t the bigger point that any shift from private to public transport makes a huge gain in efficiency in terms of individual miles per kWh, but in general people don’t want to give up their cars for buses – perceived as low class and low status.   But research shows people do prefer trams, because they are quieter and more comfortable and perceived as having higher status.  

People love the way traffic has to part like the Red Sea when a tram comes gliding towards it, meaning they can move around cities much more swiftly than in buses or trolley buses.   That is the trick – getting people out of their cars – and it just so happens that trams are the most energy efficient form of public transport and can run on electricity rather than imported fossil fuels.  

In terms of NPV, they are also the cheapest – Blackpool trams are still running after 100 years, but buses only last about 15.   We must ask ourselves in what way and by whom is our transport policy being manipulated to give us expensive, uncomfortable, imported fossil fuel dependent transport in English cities?   Remember, the masses were quite happy to move around in trams in most English cities, until they were got rid of so that the (then few in number) car owners could move around unimpeded.
Dave A
2009/5/26 Ian Perry


Dear All,

I am normally the one being controversial and unpopular…  It’s good to
know that I’m not alone!

If a tram uses more energy to climb a hill, then surely it needs less energy
when going back down and does it suffer greater energy loss than
alternatives when it comes to tight cornering?

The infrastructure costs of trams can be greatly reduced by laying LR55
track.  Much of the cost of laying new track comes from moving the utilities
under the street, but the need to do this can be averted.

There is also the potential, as seen already in parts of Europe, to ship
freight by tram, thus further utilising the track.  If freight movement is
consolidated, as in Bristol in the UK and Freiburg in Germany, further
energy can be saved.  Many shops prefer a single delivery from a
consolidation warehouse, rather then have staff frequently distracted by
deliveries throughout the day from multiple deliveries.

TRAM Power, believe that they can build and operate a passenger tram system
in London, without the subsidies currently required by the bus operators.

It’s time to realise the full potential of the tram.

Ian Perry


Can you or the other tram experts comment on the likely NPV of tram systems over say the 60 year life, which is the normal horizon for long term utility type investments, compared to say 1. diesel buses 2. trolley buses?

I note one of Fred’s criticisms of trams are that they are inflexible – I wonder what he means by this and what is the relevance?

Large cities are by definition inflexible – they take many decades too build and are hardly going to suddenly spring up somewhere else – no doubt the French re-introduced trams, were re-introduced on the lines they had been taken out of after the war.

kind regards

Dave A

2 comments on “Trams, energy saving, private cars, trolley buses, diesel buses

  1. Item from the Forum (The flexable bus): Hi All,

    The bus dose not need to stick to the same route, this week it goes down road “A” and next week it goes down road “C or F” or anywhere you like.

    Trams or railways can not change their route overnight and so are not flexible.

    The strange thing is that it is the fixed route that makes trams and trains so popular.

    In the 1930 the London Tube system was extended into open countryside and towns pooped up around the new stations such as Edgware, Stanmore etc.

    Now no one has ever heard of a new town popping up along a bus route. Bus services develop after new housing or out of town developments as an after thought.

    The flexibility is the buses undoing as people do not know if the service will still be here next week let alone in 10 years time.

    You do not chose to live where transport may be withdrawn at any moment.

    Of course ULR and other low cost tram systems can be extended or diverted from as little as 1m pounds per system Km.

    The true cost of bus operations are never taken into account.

  2. The whole life cost of Bus systems is not done in the same way as trams and still over the life of a tram system the trams win hands down.

    Bus systems do not pay for the roadway to be built or the true cost of maintenance.

    They do not pay for bus stops or stations and so these costs are not taken into account.

    The age of cheap energy is coming to an end and so the cost of energy per Km operated will become very important.

    Trams weather going uphill, down hill or on the level require less energy then the same size road vehicle.

    But the other important issue is having an integrated, cheap to use public transport system.

    Cities in Austria can do it so why not the UK.

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