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12th February 1999
Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution

This transcript first appeared in the Proceedings of the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution  Volume 3  1999 and is reproduced with the author's permission

As a background, the convener explained that the Council had employed JMP Consultants Ltd to report on the feasibility of a rapid transit scheme to replace the present special bus services between the Park & Ride sites and the City centre. Their Interim Report of May 1998 recommended that a bus-based system was more appropriate than a light rail and that diesel- or CNG (compressed natural gas)- powered buses, using kerb guidance and bus priority traffic management measures could ëextend the effective life of a bus-based Park & Ride system substantiallyí. Although a rail-based electric system was found to be more expensive, some critics of the report considered it had sufficient advantages for a World Heritage Site for it to be viable. This meeting was arranged to obtain more information about Light Rapid Transit (LRT) systems.
Mr Lomas then explained that LRT was used as an abbreviation for both Light Rapid Transit and Light Rail Transit: the 'Rapid' indicated that the vehicles were separated from other traffic and could therefore travel very quickly. It allowed kerb-guided buses to be considered an LRT system, but the definition (basically, not a conventional railway train) allowed systems which were not light and not rapid! The 'Rail' version was essentially a modern tramway of some kind.
The advantages of a Light Rail system were:
capacity: the number of seated and standing passengers normally carried.
elasticity: capable of coping with a surge in demand, e.g. when a football crowd comes out, by accepting a ëcrush loadí of twice the nominal capacity and increasing the frequency of the service
compressibility: how much space the system occupies in the town
comfort: both for seated and standing passengers; smooth acceleration
attractiveness: clean; large doorways; good signs
for children's buggies, wheelchairs, bicycles and disabled or aged passengers, achieved by floor-levels matching the pavement of stops.
non-user benefits: low pollution, quiet vehicles
The claim for buses of 'flexibility' ( the ability to run off the usual route) is false; passengers want vehicles to follow a known route. The optimum routes do not change, although they are sometimes extended. The tram routes of 1904 (extended) are, broadly, the bus routes of 1999 in Bath, because that is where people live.
The earlier 1995 report from JMP Consultants Ltd had claimed that LRT was more expensive than buses, but this was because they were considering a non-stop journey from a Park & Ride site to the centre. It is more sensible to provide frequent stops so that local residents can use the service also, and this considerably improves the economics of an LRT system, which is designed for just such a regime. With a suitable ticketing arrangement, machines or a conductor, the more frequent stops do not appreciably lengthen the time for the journey. The 1995 study also did not include the cost of the vehicles, which were assumed to be leased, thus loading the revenue budget with the cost instead of the capital budget, which is more usual and suitable for LRT systems.
Mr Lomas then described and illustrated with pictures the wide variety of Rapid Transit systems available and used in different parts of the world ñ guided busways in Adelaide, Essen, Leeds and Ipswich; trams in many European towns and in the UK. Finally, he compared the costs of the various installations, emphasising that these were considerably affected by the terrain ñ tunnelling in particular, was expensive.
For an efficient service the integration of buses, LRT, trains, Park & Ride and car parking is necessary and a common interchange point for many of these is very desirable.


Copyright © 2000 Don Lovell

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