A campaign group has called for trams to be used in Bristol’s mass transit system instead of bendy buses.
Bristol City Council revealed in March that vehicles like the Belfast Glider — which are 18 metres long and bend in the middle — could play a role in a rapid bus network for the city.
But the Bath and Bristol Area Trams Association believes trams would be a better option, citing the “much higher time, cost, delay and unreliability of the UK bus approach”.
Its chairman Dave Andrews said: “The Glider bus is simply a bus dressed up to look like a tram, but it is still subject to the same limitations of any automotive vehicle.”
The city council says a consultation on mass transit will start next month and there are “several ideas” for what it could look like, adding: “All options, including trams, are being considered at this early stage of the project.”
Back in March, the council revealed plans for a Bristol rapid bus network to feature bendy buses and high-frequency services on a segregated city centre loop.
It would be the first phase of Bristol’s mass transit system, which would go on to include a £4billion underground system. The first underground line — potentially to Bristol Airport — is expected to be running within eight years, says Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees.
Adam Crowther, a strategic transport service manager at the council, said in March that a rethink of the vehicle fleet was needed.
“If we are going to convince people to make a wholesale change to mass transit, we need to make it more attractive,” he said.
“Double deckers are great but there are vehicles like the Belfast Glider where you don’t have to go upstairs for seats. We need to build that high-quality vehicle into the scheme as early as possible.”
The Belfast Glider, operated by Translink, launched in 2018. It caters for more passengers than conventional buses and uses a ticketing system which “speeds up getting on and off the vehicle”, according to its website.
There have been some concerns over the service, with Belfast’s News Letter reporting that capacity was down from 1,100 passengers in the previously used peak-hour double-decker buses to 1,000 in the Gliders.
But there has also been praise. The BBC reported this month that a Belfast community group deemed the system a “positive introduction”, while an estate agency said the service had made longer commuting distances feasible.
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The trams association says it “questions the wisdom” of the city council and West of England Combined Authority’s (WECA) proposing bus schemes to solve Bristol and Bath’s transport issues.
The group, which has around 200 people on its mailing list, criticised a recent WECA statement on plans for the Bristol to Bath A4 Corridor. WECA said it aims to improve travel between the cities “through better bus services and enabling more cycling and walking”.
Mr Andrews, 70, who formed the tram association six years ago, believes the statement showed a “failure to grasp the nettle”.
The engineer from Bath said: “It is abundantly clear that buses alone are not and never have been a solution because they cannot be made attractive to motorists.”
He pointed to the analysis of transport expert David Walmsley, who wrote in a report on roads into Bath: “Buses can be 2.5 times more effective [capacity-wise] as car, but trams are 12 times as effective as cars, and about five times as effective as buses.”
The report added: “This is why trams can afford to operate at a six to eight-minute schedule throughout the day, whereas buses have an inherently longer service interval and are more expensive per passenger kilometre, and thus tend to ‘cherry-pick’ the peak-time routes.”
Mr Andrews cited the Belfast News Letter’s coverage as evidence that Gliders would not be an improvement capacity-wise on double decker buses.
Pointing to Budapest trams, which can carry up to 562 passengers in one vehicle, Mr Andrews said: “You share that cost over one driver. Operating cost per passenger is much lower. Trams can afford to run much more frequently.”
The engineer formed the group after organising an energy conference in his day job and arranging for a tram expert to speak there.
“We were short of people, so we got this guy to come along to talk about trams because he suggested himself. We thought it would be nonsense.
“I had to sit through the talk three times and the third time I thought, ‘This is unassailable. This bloody works — why the hell aren’t we doing it here?'”
Mr Andrews added he travels around Europe a lot for his work and enjoys using trams whenever he can.
What the council says
A Bristol City Council spokesperson said: “We have ambitious plans to deliver a mass transit public transport system that will be fast, green, reliable, high capacity, and separated from traffic on over and underground lines.
“This is a transformative vision to provide a real alternative to the car for Bristol and we are working with WECA and neighbouring councils to make it happen.
“It will be delivered in phases, with work already underway to lay the foundations with rapid bus routes and new railway stations – including the new change to make Bristol Bridge a bus lane and ongoing work to improve bus journeys on key routes like the A4.
“We know many Bristolians want better public transport and there are several ideas for what mass transit could look like. All options, including trams, are being considered at this early stage of the project.
“We will be carrying out technical assessments to determine the best mode of transport to allow mass transit to be kept separate from traffic on each route option as they are developed.
“Consultation on mass transit is due to take place next month and we encourage everyone to have their say and help us to create a more connected city with cleaner air and less barriers to jobs, education, and each other.”
Bristol Live has approached WECA for comment.