How can trams be made better?

Why Swanston St is the No. 1 priority for action (tram network city centre, 2011)

As a follow-up to yesterday’s discussion on cars (and trams) in the city centre, I thought it would be useful to look at the Melbourne City Council’s draft Transport Strategy Update 2011-2030, which apparently will be considered by Council tonight. This is a big report so for the moment I’ll only look at the section on trams (you can download the report here, but it’s a big download). The report says the key issues with trams in the city centre are:

  • Slow average running speeds – caused by sharing tramways with other traffic, limited priority at signalised intersections, insufficient distance between stops, and slow boarding and disembarking (excessive dwell time)
  • Network imbalances and gaps – in particular, the network is overly dependent on Swanston Street (see graphic). Even small disturbances can have a major knock-on effect across the network
  • Poorly designed interchanges e.g. at Federation Square and Southern Cross Station

These issues result in poor reliability and overcrowding. The report provides this example:

Tram route 96 is already one of the most successful, and the third most patronised, tram routes in Melbourne. However, current running times between Spencer Street and East Brunswick are 40 per cent slower than in 1950 (28 minutes today compared with 20 minutes in 1950). Route 96 trams spend 33 per cent of their journey time stationary. This is in addition to the 17 per cent of the journey spent loading passengers. This is a poor use of public investment in the tram system.

Council is impressed by the gains in speed made in Munich by a ten year program that separated trams from traffic, gave them priority at signalised intersections and optimised stop spacing. The report says these changes improved average tram speeds from about 16 km/hr to 21 km/hr, leading to greater reliability and punctuality and increased patronage. Read the rest of this entry »

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