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Light rail and trams

In large towns or cities, trams are often a good solution – they fill the gap between trains and buses. They can carry large numbers of people and can be integrated with existing public transport.

While trains move lots of people quickly over a long distance and buses move smaller numbers of people, and for shorter journeys, trams are more flexible than trains - because they stop more often - and faster and more reliable than the bus.

The UK has fewer trams than other countries than Europe. Right now there are only six. As we explained in our response to a public inquiry in 2009, it's important we work to get more trams because:

  • Trams are very popular and they encourage people to leave their cars behind. At least 22 million car journeys a year no longer happen in the UK because of trams. On average, one in five peak hour passengers on UK trams previously travelled by car. At the weekends, half of the tram passengers used to travel by car. The number of people using trams has increased by 52% since 1999.
  • Trams reduce congestion in city centres by providing people with a quick, reliable, high-quality alternative to the car. They can reduce road traffic by up to 14%.
  • Trams can help us tackle climate change. Travelling by car produces over three times as much CO2 as travelling by tram, according to Defra.
  • Trams make cities nicer places to be. They improve local air quality because they run on electricity so don’t produce any pollution at the point of use. They are very quiet and safe.
  • Trams improve the image of a city and contribute to economic regeneration. A new tram is a visible, permanent way of showing that an area is being invested in for the future. It attracts businesses and tourists, and helps people access jobs and services.

We celebrated when new tram lines were opened in Nottingham in summer 2015.

To get more trams, we need:

  • Political will and funding from the Government

Trams need Government funding to be built. At the moment, the Government is reluctant to invest in trams because of the initial cost; it prefers local authorities to promote buses instead because they are cheaper. In some areas buses may be appropriate but in many others, the Government must recognise that a tram is needed.

The Government should provide funding for the cost of running trams not just building them. Currently, Government provides revenue funding for buses and trains, but not for trams. Given the benefits that trams bring, this does not make sense.

  • Government trials to reduce the cost of trams

There are many tram options, and some cost less than others. Ultra light rail and Parry People Movers are examples of where lightweight trams could be very good value for money. The Government should fund trials into these alternatives to bring down the cost of building trams. It should also recognise that the same level of regulation is not required for trams as for conventional trains.

The way in which tram schemes are funded (under a form of Private Finance Initiative) means that the private sector must take on all the risk of building and operating a tram, for a 30-year period. This means bids for tram schemes are high, to deal with the high level of risk. Government should consider alternative ways of funding trams and take on more of the risk of these projects.

  • Sensible transport appraisal

The Government assesses the benefits of transport schemes through an appraisal process which makes it difficult to get approval and funding for a new tram. Government guidance makes it hard for transport authorities to introduce a tram scheme, and encourages them to build road or bus schemes instead.

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