Environment & the World

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Public Transportation in France

Filed under: Transportation — Cathy @ 1:17 am

In previous posts, I’ve talked a little bit about the advantages of “bus rapid transit” systems, which, if properly designed, can greatly enhance urban mobility at a fraction of the cost of traditional subway systems.  It seems that many French cities are now becoming interested in the idea of surface public transportation – not buses, but trams (http://www.spiegel.de/international/0,1518,454517,00.html).  Paris recently unveiled its new tram line, which will carry almost twice as many people every day as the local buses.  Despite the fact that only about 28% of Parisians own cars, the city’s streets are still overcrowded, with an average speed of only 10 mph in the downtown areas.

Already six other French cities have modern tram lines and 3 more cities plan to build them next year.

In an interesting twist, not only do the trams make public transportation more convenient, but they also make private transportation less convenient.  One lane of road has been converted to tracks for the train, and traffic lights have been set to give the trams an automatic right-of-way so they never have to brake for red lights.
It would be interesting to understand why the French have chosen to go the tram route rather than making significant improvements to their bus system.  The capital investment for a bus system would be cheaper because there is no need to install rails.  Moreover, the same policies that favor trams – creating designated lanes and setting traffic lights to always give the right-of-way to public transit – could also be applied to buses. Perhaps the impetus for trams is to restore and modernize a historically popular mode of transportation.   After all, streetcars were the first form of urban public transportation, with their use in France dating back to 1853.


1 Comment »

  1. On the Livable Region Coalition mail list this controversy is raging about the idea of trams (or “LRT” which sounds more modern) on Broadway in Vancouver. But even the LRT advocate worries about the reaction of drivers who might lose some road space. But of course that is entirely the point. And what people seem to have missed is that when you reduce road space, traffic evaporates, in just the same way that road building generates more traffic.

    Why trams and not buses? Simple – capacity. Modern trams can be extended as demand increases. Buses are limited to what is permitted by the use of normal roads. 60′ seems to be the curent limit for artics in Canada, through the Brazilians have got longer buses (double artics) running on exclusive busways. Incidentally these are high floor buses with high loading platforms at stations.

    The French have long favoured rubber tires on concrete over steel wheel on steel rail even for their metros but I think the energy argument about less waste through rolling resistance is likely to win out in this argument. Several experiments with buses that look trams are under way – as well as gudied bus experiments in UK as well as France. But tram technology works well and does increase ridership, even though there is a need to switch modes for feeder services (something that busways can avoid).

    I think that BRT is a good stepping stone towards LRT. And can easily be implemented instages. In fact for many years this was the declared transit strategy for the GVRD – then it was called Intermediate Capacity Transit Systems – as way to incrementally move from convetional bus in traffic to Rapid Transit. It is still a good idea, and is only out of vogue at the monent thanks to the success of the car/truck lobby.

    Comment by Stephen Rees — Wednesday, December 20, 2006 @ 12:35 pm

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