Saturday, May 19, 2007

Why Tramways over More Buses?

So this is the debate. Montreal has decided that its priority is to develop a tram network, starting with about 20 km that will eventually expand. I took a course a couple of years ago in Urban Transportation and one main focus was on the differences between bus service and tramways in the way they shape a transit system and travel behaviour (as well as the city landscape). I have to first point out that i am not a tram enthusiast. I just truly believe that the a tram system is needed in Montreal.

Because there is a large initial capital cost in a tram system, it's more relevant to compare costs of the two services over a long period of time. With any sort of transit service the level of service (the type of service as well as frequency and quality of service) needs to be relevant in it's context. The bottom line all depends on ridership. Luckily, the proposed lines along Park and Côte-des-Neiges would replace the bus lines with the highest ridership. Apparently the Park bus line actually carries more people than the blue line (according to some big hotshot McGill researcher who gave a lecture in the course). So here is why, in Montreal's case, a tram network is advantageous :

-Fast. A tramway with a Dedicated Right of Way (that is, separated from normal traffic), is faster because it does not get stuck in traffic like buses do. Even the dedicated bus lanes have snarls when cars are turning. And a tram would have its own right of way even outside peak hours.

-Permanent. Tram stops have a more permanent place in the minds of transit users, like a metro station does. Same thing with tram lines. This is important in attracting investment and users. Bus routes and stops are not very prominent in the streetscape and (in the minds of transit users) can be moved or removed at whim. This also means trams routes aren't as flexible as bus routes.

-Clean and Quiet. Trams have no emissions and are quiet. Air and noise pollution is almost non-existent when compared with buses. This has a tremendous effect on quality of life of an area.

-Comfort. Trams don't change lanes or swoop into stops like buses do, so it is a much more comfortable ride.

-Ridership. Other cities have experienced an increase in ridership when tramlines are introduced.

-Maintenance. Tram cars have an average operating life of 25 years versus 17 years for buses. They also cost less in ordinary maintenance.

This is not to say that a tram system in the order of Projet Montreal's proposal is needed. Tram lines could only really be efficient on those lines with demand. As a intermediate mode between bus and metro, the capacity needs to be there. A line along Park is especially necessary to help alleviate the congestion on the orange line between Henri-Bourassa (or Montmorency) and Berri. That line is already fully saturated and can't handle any growth.

Update: i re-enabled comments, i must have accidentally clicked on 'don't allow'. Sorry about that!


sarah said...

okay! that makes sense. thank you for laying it out. i totally agree with a big advantage being to be able to stand up straight and not have to hold onto the pole and do a go go dance every time the bus turns a corner.

sarah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.