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Are trams the correct answer?

Thursday, 24 October 2013
Author: Liam Mannix, Indaily

South Australia's transport plan is betting heavily on trams.

They're going to be the panacea to all our ills - they'll increase residential density, activate city streets, and shorten commute times. But they're also much, much slower than trains, and much more expensive than buses. Has the State Government backed a horse running in the slow lane?

Currently Adelaide's public transit network relies on about 1000 buses to transport more than 80 per cent of its passengers. That's set to change under the transport plan, announced by Premier Jay Weatherill earlier this week.

He's spruiking a new network backbone based around five new tram lines radiating in a spoke out from the CBD and down nominated development corridors. Parts of the existing bus network - which currently ferries people from across Adelaide into the city - will be reconfigured into feeder services which will take people from the suburbs to the trams.

The switch away from buses may at first glance be welcome to commuters who have grown tired of the State Government's struggles to get the bus network to run on time. But it's not that simple.

Buses make a lot of sense to transport economists. They're really cheap (something which both economists and governments approve of) and because they can run through multiple streets they have large catchment areas - a single bus can collect passengers from many locations.

"If you talk to public transport economists, they'll say a city like Adelaide should concentrate on buses because you can deliver a lot more bang for your buck than trams," says University of South Australia public transport expert Dr Andrew Allan.

"Buses are cheaper to providers, there's probably bigger economies of scale, you can run it on the existing road network, you can do it on the cheap."

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