Transport: July 2008 Archives

More trams please.

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constitutionsttram.pngSome people have got a real bee in their bonnet about trams. By "some people" I predominantly mean the SNP. I got into a constructive debate about this with Jeff at SNP Tactical Voter, and realised there's a lot of misunderstanding out there. 

Let's address some of their concerns, drawing on an article by Kenny Macaskill in 2000, in which he explains why we should all back trams, not the guided busway.

But we've got buses already..
True, we do, and Edinburgh's buses are about the best of the lot, given that the Council sidestepped the worst of de-regulation and retained control of the buses. (declaration of interest: my old man was LRT's general manager during much of the 1980s)

However, as I pointed out in that debate with Jeff, trams appeal to a much wider audience than buses. People who (unreasonably, in my view) look down their noses at buses are happy to take the sleek, efficient tram. For a comparison, consider attitudes to the train versus the humble coach. The evidence is clear: light rail is six times better at getting people out of their cars than buses are. 

There are still some parts of the city inadequately served by buses, and some common routes across town that you need two buses to do. Trams will give Lothian Buses the opportunity to do that. 

"Instead let us recognise that at the start of [the 21st century] the route ahead for the City of Edinburgh is a light rail network that adds to both existing and reopened lines and that compliments and dovetails with other current and future modes of travel." - Kenny Macaskill

My dear pal Calum Cashley has particular anxieties about safety, and when he talks about trams he tends to use accident photos. I suspect he was taken on a Blackpool tram as a child and dropped his stick of rock onto the floor. Nevertheless, what is the safety record?

In 2007, the Office of Rail Regulation recorded a single death on Britain's tramways, and that was a suspected suicide on the Sheffield network. So no accidental deaths whatsoever. (see table A6 of this substantial pdf)

In contrast, there were almost 3,000 deaths on Britain's roads. Now, obviously, there are a lot more passenger-kilometres on the roads, but still, I know where I'd feel safer.

Trams aren't green - they run on coal and nuclear power
This is the most spurious of all. As you'd expect, I believe energy efficiency and massive investment in renewables can fulfill all our energy needs. And then the trams will run on clean energy. Until buses go electric, they'll always pump pollution out in town centre, less than the equivalent number of cars, but still worth tackling.

Even using the current power generation mix, trams emit just 65g of CO2 per passenger kilometre, compared to 89.1g for buses. The Nats' beloved cars stick out 182.2g, for contrast. (BBC figures)

The lines are inadequate
Agreed. Line 3 will make a huge difference, if there's ever the political will to build it. And more should follow that, too. Trams work best as a network, and while they're starting in a sensible way, the improvements will ramp up as the network grows.

"Bit by bit the network can and will be extended." - Kenny Macaskill

Trams are expensive
Sure, there's a cost to building trams, currently estimated at £512m, and that's less than an eighth of the £4.2bn the SNP propose to waste on a replacement for the entirely repairable Forth Road Bridge.

"[A light rail network] will be costly and it will take time. However this is a network not just for a few years but for many generations to come. It will be the basis upon which Edinburgh can grow and flourish. It is after all the physical arteries that are the lifeblood of the community. Better therefore to take our time to get it right than progress at pace and repent at leisure. Moreover in transport like most other things in life you get what you pay for. Do it on the cheap and you'll get the quality it merits." - Kenny Macaskill

The construction causes congestion
Again, true, it does. I think the Council could have handled this much better, and paid more for overtime to get the job done quicker. Much of town, especially around Leith Walk, is virtually impassable for much of the day. But it'll pass. As Kenny noted before me, we do need to move quickly on this project.

"Time is of the essence as the difficulties mount and the traffic flows continue to increase. It is not enough to simply bemoan that Edinburgh has become a victim of its own economic success. Action is needed in view of the problems that are arising and the timescale for construction." - Kenny Macaskill

Edinburgh simply doesn't need trams
The Nats' shift since 2000 is poor politics for the longer term, and an abject failure of vision. If I were in the SNP, single-mindedly focussed on independence, I'd want to paint an aspirational picture of Edinburgh as a modern European capital. Wouldn't you?

"The vision for Edinburgh has to be to aspire to be a truly Capital City. That means to have the public transport networks taken for granted in other European Capitals such as Copenhagen and Helsinki." - Kenny Macaskill

Thanks Kenny. I couldn't agree more.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Transport category from July 2008.

Transport: August 2008 is the next archive.