Planning, don’cha love it?

Edinburgh’s problem-plagued tram system opened to paying customers on Saturday – three years behind schedule, more than two times over budget and limited to a route that covers less than half the network that had originally been planned for it.

Twice the money for half the system and late.

And all to be entirely useless in a decade or so as driverless cars make their appearance.

57 comments on “Planning, don’cha love it?

  1. The arrival of driverless cars is by no means guaranteed. Future tech can be tantalisingly close yet impossibly far away. Just look at nuclear fusion: it’s only ten years away, and has been since the 1950s.

  2. Scottish independence looks promising doesn’t it? Given the Scottish government’s apparently loathing of Edinburgh’s traditional architecture and inability to master a 19th century technology like trams.

  3. I expect the first driverless cars out on the market might be a tad expensive for the typical Glasgow tram user.

  4. Yes, but Edinburgh Council boasts that it’s “sustainable”.

    Admittedly not financially sustainable, nor will it be powered by windmills and unicorn farts, nor was it constructed using organic zero-carbon concrete, nor will it be immune to mechanical failure, shutdowns and maintenance.

    But it’s, you know, “sustainable”.

    Some of the comments in the Guardian are gems:

    Expensive though this transport system may seem, it is certainly better value for money than Trident.
    I know which I would rather spend my money on.

    Yes, possibly the world’s most expensive tram system is better value for money than our atomic deterrent. And he knows what he’d rather spend other people’s money on – and it’s not the only part of our armed forces that still terrifies any potential enemy government.

    Blame it on the impossibility of drawing up watertight contracts for such complex projects and the ease with which lawyers and accountants employed by private firms can run rings round officials employed by governments, local or national.

    See? Those bastards in the private sector are to blame. Nor the good politicians who spunked all the money.

    This guy gets it though:

    It’s only eight miles that’s nearly £100 million per mile! Staggering waste!

    Anything Scotland can do, England can do better. Roll on HS2!

  5. Steve – “But it’s, you know, “sustainable”.”

    To paraphrase someone with a silly name, they keep using that word. I don’t think it means what they think it means.

    “Blame it on the impossibility of drawing up watertight contracts for such complex projects and the ease with which lawyers and accountants employed by private firms can run rings round officials employed by governments, local or national.”

    Reagan used to say that the public sector could never compete with the private sector because if any civil servant was half good at his job he would have been hired away by business. It is an interesting idea. Even more interesting to see the fine people of Comment is Free agreeing with Reagan. It seems we have a consensus – civil servants are generally useless.

    “Anything Scotland can do, England can do better. Roll on HS2!”

    There is clearly room for synergy here – HS2 clearly needs to run all the way to Aberdeen. Whatever the English can do badly, the Scots can do even worse!

  6. To be fair, how do you do a tram system without planning? Surely what you want is competent planners, rather than the buffoons currently doing it because fapping away in some public sector guaranteed job is all they are capable of?

    Alternatively, not having ripped up all the tram networks in the ’50s (maybe that was also because driverless cars were on the horizon) might have been a good idea.

  7. SMFS – To paraphrase someone with a silly name, they keep using that word. I don’t think it means what they think it means.

    Either that, or the Left are so deep into Humpty Dumpty territory that all the king’s carbon-neutral organic fairtrade non-human animal conveyances and all the king’s pangendered trans*people couldn’t put their mangled syntax together again.

    See also “progressive”, which means “good”; “diverse”, which means “politically uniform”; “neoliberal”, which means “bastards”; and “equality”, which means “die, cis scum!”.

    Reagan used to say that the public sector could never compete with the private sector because if any civil servant was half good at his job he would have been hired away by business. It is an interesting idea. Even more interesting to see the fine people of Comment is Free agreeing with Reagan. It seems we have a consensus – civil servants are generally useless.

    There’s certainly a competence gap, which is linked to the lack of accountability in public spending. But I also think that local government attracts a certain sort of person who self-selects out of private sector employment – the kind of people who aren’t ashamed to regularly be on sick leave, the kind of folks who actually enjoy committee meetings and diversity seminars and drawing up mission statements to decarbonise the staff toilets. In other words, cunts.

    Yes, the CiF commenters are mostly unimpressed with this particular waste of money, there’s hope for them yet.

    There is clearly room for synergy here – HS2 clearly needs to run all the way to Aberdeen. Whatever the English can do badly, the Scots can do even worse!

    If only we had some kind of futuristic nationwide transportation network that allowed people to begin their journey at any time of their choosing, directly from their front door, and enabled them to travel in comfort inside their own private vehicle, making stops or amending their route on the fly whenever they saw fit.

    Till such a thing is invented, I suppose we’re stuck with inflexible 19th century fixed rail links that cost staggering sums of money. 🙁

  8. Tim, it’s certainly not useless, whatever you think of such items as driverless cars (or the perfectly acceptable, currently working solution of buses).

    Firstly, it will doubtless be manned by unionized labour, who can be counted on to vote the right way when it counts. This from wikipedia:

    “The body holds City of Edinburgh Council’s 91% stake in Lothian Buses, and its 100% stake in Edinburgh Trams. It has been reported that Transport for Edinburgh is the tenth largest employer in Edinburgh.”

    Secondly, by displacing road space that could have been used by cars or buses, it reduces the freedom of action of Edinburgh commuters, allowing the politicians who own it the ability to impose their preferences on the populace. Want to insist on staggered opening and commuting times? You can make it difficult not to comply!

  9. In fact the £770m quoted is almost certainly a vast understatement.

    There are very credible reports from senior council insiders here that budgets have been hived off from other departments and spent on the trams but not recorded as specific tram expenditure.

    Call for a public inquiry are pointless. After grand expense the conclusion will be exactly as stated above: the council was incompetent. But “lessons will be learned” until it happens again…and again…and again.

    It’s exactly the same issue as the Co-Op board. Councillors are generally ex-teachers, social workers, union officials and have no competence to be running and overseeing such things.

  10. I doubt driverless cars will ever replace mass transit in places like London or anywhere where there is a very high volume of demand, Driverless cars will revolutionise the world but they can’t get over the problem of there being too many cars for city traffic to work well if the demand remains the same even with the efficiencies driverless cars will allow.

    Whether it was worth it in Edinburgh, even at the original cost with the original plans I couldn’t say

    The real problem seems to have been corruption/incompetence

  11. And the other maddening thing is that Edinburgh had a truly outstanding bus service. Even if you disagree with the funding and provision of it, it achieved the aims of a public transport system: reliable, wide-ranging, generally safe and clean. It was certainly the best one I’ve ever travelled on in Britain and rivalled those on the continent.

    But the trams are going to eat away at the bus budget and the bus services will enter an inevitable decline.

  12. GlenDorran – the problem with buses is that you can’t easily change their routes to account for changing demand, roadworks etc.

    And when one breaks down, what are you gonna do? Send out a different bus? That’s madness. No, you need to let the entire route grind to a halt while a repair is effected.

    And it’s probably really hard to find licenced bus drivers, so they probably cost a fortune and can easily hold the city to ransom through their union.

    Wait… I’m getting buses and trams confused here… which is the “sustainable” option again?

  13. Steve – if only you’d been around to make those points ten years ago. Wait….everyone and their dog made them.

    And one broke down yesterday as well. On the first day, when they must have been making an extra special effort to get things working.

  14. Glen,

    I don’t even understand what this call for trams is all about. As far as I can see, it does roughly what a number of buses does, except that it’s dependent upon a tightly coupled infrastructure and as it’s all non-standard, you end up being forced to use one supplier. Which means that changing routes is going to cost you a lot more than with buses and any replacements are going to cost you much more than going out to tender for a bus from one of a number of suppliers.

    And even in terms of green energy, there are now buses that can do a 20km route on a few minute electrical charge (so when the driver grabs a fag at the end of his route, you charge it).

  15. If Neil Craig is out there how about contributing a short essay on corruption in Scotland. Perhaps Tim might publish it as a guest editorial. The trams caper is just the start.

  16. All electric buses with small on board petrol engines.They could have put power lines over the major main roads in the centre of Edinburgh and had the buses pick up motive power and recharge their batteries while in the city centre. When outside the centre they run on battery power. As the batteries run down to, say,70% the small petrol jenny kicks in and recharges them to 100% and then shuts down. That will keep ’em running until they get back in to the centre and pick up the power lines again. A few overhead cables as cost, refitted buses and then Bobs yer uncle. Total flexibility and–apart from the cables–no fixed installations .

  17. @Tim, main advantage of trams is that they are faster, more comfortable, and you know where they are going. Getting on the 476b (plus diversion for roadworks) in a foreign city is pretty nerve-wracking, a tram not so much.

    Also, as someone said in a previous thread – have you seen people on buses? It’s like something out of Lord of the Rings. On which note, I am campaigning for the trams in my city to reintroduce first class compartments.

  18. “…and you know where they are going.”

    Easily solved by putting a route map on every bus stop. And showing the destination and route on the bus.

  19. BiG,

    Faster? How much faster? I thought the time to the airport was 25 minutes by tram instead of 25-30 minutes by bus. And how much of that is because it’s got dedicated routes, which you could also do with buses.
    More comfortable? Probably, although I’ve no complaints about the comfort on the buses I go on.
    Routes? I’ve used buses in Paris and it’s a case of just looking at the route map. RATP even have an app now. And if it’s your first time, you aren’t going to know the trams either.

    As for the people, how’s a tram going to be different to the bus? If you create a tram route to Leith, why aren’t Sick Boy, Renton and Begbie going to ride it?

  20. A quick google throws up this:

    http://fuckyeahtrams.tumblr.com/post/552941158/advantages-disadvantages-of-trams

    Some reasonable points there as well as less reasonable ones. I think the different shape of the footprint is an interesting one – trams are generally longer and narrower than buses, which can make it easier to thread them through cities thanks to the decreased width, or conceivably harder thanks to the length. The possibilities for integration with existing light rail systems are also interesting.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve been on the Manchester tram system, and at least the line I was on operated like commuter-rail from the suburbs into the city, then took to the streets to drop people off at their destinations. Never took it in rush hour (if Manchester has such a thing), but for social use it seemed an excellent system.

  21. More comfortable – possibly yes if you get a seat, but 2/3 of the capacity is standing.

    Someone I know was on one yesterday and described it as bringing the London tube experience to Edinburgh: standing in a hot sticky box with your face in someone’s armpit.

    Although I doubt it will ever be as busy again.

  22. Just noticed that the trams cost about £2m and carry 250 passengers, mostly standing. You can buy a double decker bus for about £200K which will carry around 100 passengers.

    So, 250 passengers by bus is £600K, £2m by tram. So, with that £1.4m difference you need to pay for 2 extra drivers at let’s guess around £40K with all costs, which means that it’ll take 17 years before it starts paying off (not including the interest on the investment).

    Of course, you’re now in a situation where you have specialist tram drivers who can go on strike and hold your service to ransom rather than just being able to hire some agency staff with a PSV who can get behind the wheel.

  23. The tram system in Manchester is a joke. They bought vehicles that can corner at what feels like 3mph and 90% of the original “network” was created by closing two commuter rail lines for several years to – er – widen the platform for the smaller vehicles they were going to run on them. There are stations you could until recently still see the old British Rail signage underneath the stuck-on Metrolink signs.

    I’m sure you could make a tube-map style map for buses. Ever seen one? Outside of London, ever tried getting a ticket that lets you change buses? Ever seen anywhere (outside London) other than the shabby central bus station that you can change?

    On Sick Boy, that’s why I want first compartments on my local trams.

  24. Also Manchester has a station at Pomona where you can’t get into or out of the tram network – only change. That’s because they don’t want the feral hominids that inhabit the local badlands anywhere near the trams.

  25. Tim A>

    It’s not quite that simple a calculation, is it? If trams are quicker than buses, you’d need extra buses and drivers.

    If the lifespan of trams is 20+ years, as it should be, then we’re still looking at a saving, even if not a huge one. It’s also possible to hook more than one tram up end-to-end with only a single driver.

    In any case, staffing costs won’t be the only difference.

  26. Last time I was in Edinburgh I took taxis. It was only £20 (including tip) between the airport and my accommodation near Leith Street. This seems to be a much more sensible solution.

  27. BiG,

    “I’m sure you could make a tube-map style map for buses. Ever seen one? Outside of London, ever tried getting a ticket that lets you change buses? Ever seen anywhere (outside London) other than the shabby central bus station that you can change?”

    1. In Paris and Swindon
    2. In Paris and Swindon
    3. In Paris and Swindon

    There’s not many other things in common, so I’m guessing that this applies to more than Paris and Swindon.

  28. BIG
    I worked near there for nearly 20 years. It’s like most places with as bad reputation – 90% of the people are all right, 5% are a bit dodgy and the other 5% are absolute scum.

  29. Dave,

    OK, a tram has better acceleration than a bus. But compared to a bus on an 8.7 mile dedicated route with a stop every half mile, how much does that save?

    And while a tram might run for 20+ years, what’s the maintenance like if you have to use the tiny number of people who know how to service a custom-designed tram vs the number of people who know how to maintain a bus or coach? We already know that it costs more than 3 times as much to buy the same tram capacity as buses, so I think it’s reasonable to assume that the maintenance is going to cost a lot more too.

    And yes, I’m sure there’s other reduced costs. But I could probably get into things like the initial capital outlay, the maintenance of the tracks and the systems for delivering power, all of which are going to require rare skills (as opposed to people who can fix roads and buses) and are going to be more expensive as a result.

  30. “Just look at nuclear fusion: it’s only ten years away, and has been since the 1950s.” Come, come; forty years.

    “I’m sure you could make a tube-map style map for buses. Ever seen one? Outside of London, ever tried getting a ticket that lets you change buses? Ever seen anywhere (outside London) other than the shabby central bus station that you can change?” Christchurch, NZ. Though God thought it so unnatural that he shook it all down.

  31. @So Much for Subtlety

    “Scottish independence looks promising doesn’t it? Given the Scottish government’s apparently loathing of Edinburgh’s traditional architecture and inability to master a 19th century technology like trams.”

    It’s clear how much respect the socialist scum and self-appointed arbiters of taste like Kirsty Wark had for our glorious architecture here in Edinburgh when they chose the Scottish Parliament building design – about as close in looks for a building to a genital wart as you are ever likely to see.

    still, I suppose on that measure we got good value from the trams – cost overrun of only 100% compared to a 10x initial budget for the parliament.

    Cvnts

  32. If driverless cars are going to carry on looking like that Google clown car, it’s going to be a lot longer than 10 years before we’re all squeezing ourselves into them. Parp parp!

    And anyway as pointed out above, cars and public transport serve different markets, and I would like to see for instance the entire workforce of the West End and City arriving in processions of clown cars down the crowded streets rather than in subterranean mass transit first thing in the morning. Or not.

  33. BiG – here in the west midlands we have a bus ticket called a daysaver. Slightly more expensive than a return ticket last time I used one – at £3.90 for the entire day (£1.50 for the evening alone on the few occasions I took three buses home from work 12 miles away).
    With it I can travel on buses all day, across a chunk of the west midlands within around a 300 square mile radius with the biggest local bus operator. Have often used it for 2 or more buses each way to where I am going.

  34. @Jonathan, I worked in Eccles for 4 years and lived in Moss Side for 8. It takes a lot less than 5% to truly fuck somewhere up. 5% scum makes a no-go area, not just a bit dodgy.

  35. I rode it yesterday, its first day of operation. A mainly pleasant experience, but then I’m irrationally fond of train-like things.

    Good things: A tram every ten minutes. It’s not fast but it’ll probably be more predictable than the alternatives, as the council finds more inventive ways of punishing those alternatives. Ticketing integrated with the bus system, with a £3.50 day ticket for bus and tram.

    Bad things: No air conditioning. Not a hot day, just a bit warm, for Edinburgh, and the tram was pretty uncomfortable inside.

    There aren’t enough seats, and those are too small for humans of the currently fashionable size. The tram itself seems narrower than a bus. Maybe that’s an illusion. Anyway, there’s three standing for everyone seated.

    A tram ahead of mine broke down. So much for predictable journey times then.

    Like all trains, the tram takes you from where you don’t live to where you don’t work. I have a mile’s walk to a tram stop, then three miles at the other end because they cancelled the rest of the line. That’s after having Leith Walk dug up for years. (I don’t know how many businesses that closed down: I know I didn’t bother trying to go anywhere affected by the works. The same happened between Shandwick Place and Haymarket, but at least there is now a tram there.)

    It’s certainly not worth the billion pounds it’ll shortly have cost us. It doesn’t replace a single bus route.

    They could’ve spent the money on fixing the A9 so it’d kill fewer people and might even expand the economically active areas of Scotland. Even better, maybe not taken the billion off us in the first place.

  36. BraveFart – “It’s clear how much respect the socialist scum and self-appointed arbiters of taste like Kirsty Wark had for our glorious architecture here in Edinburgh when they chose the Scottish Parliament building design – about as close in looks for a building to a genital wart as you are ever likely to see.”

    Well I couldn’t blame them for the Third World monstrosity of a Parliament Building. Sure, they had a perfectly fine, actually really very nice, building they could have used. But they had to do the whole Third World Brasilia-type thing. I knew they were going to. And they did.

    On the other hand I do blame them for the National Library of Scotland’s Annex. This is a picture of the library that Andrew Carnegie gave Edinburgh:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Central_Library,_Edinburgh

    And if you go down towards the bottom here you can see their Annex:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Library_of_Scotland

    It is actually worse than it looks because it is smack dab in the middle of a very respectable neighbourhood so it is even more ugly than it appears at first sight. It is a gross violation of everything even remotely connected with good taste and respect for Scotland’s traditional architecture. Although I don’t suppose you can blame the SNP for it.

    “Cvnts”

    Worse than that really.

  37. Tim A>

    I’m no expert, certainly no tram fanboy or anything, but my understanding is that trams are a tool for a job, and make sense in certain situations and not others. Done right, trams can be better than a mix of commuter rail and buses. Maybe not cheaper, just better value, but I imagine that depends on how you work it out.

    That certainly doesn’t preclude the government doing the equivalent of buying a £1,000 hammer when a cheap screwdriver is needed.

  38. SMFS>

    Aren’t those two different libraries? The Central Library is alright, if you like overdone kitsch – some people seem to give anything antique a pass, so maybe that’s it – but the National Library appears to be a monstrosity, albeit a semi-classically styled monstrosity. It’s just awful, a looming gray edifice without a redeeming line. It’s derivative poppycock. Wikipedia says it was completed in 1956, so it doesn’t even have the excuse of actually being old.

    The annexe is also god-awful, fittingly. Best they’re next to each other, so that one can avoid them both in one go. Or blow them up together, either’s fine with me.

  39. It’s a pity that the sentimentality about trams didn’t lead to the introduction of horse-drawn trams. Delightful, and produce a useful dung by-product. Not for for The Mound, of course, but a lovely way to go to Turnhouse for anyone in no hurry. People in a hurry could take a train, which was the sensible alternative to the trams, if indeed anything at all was necessary.

  40. Dave,

    “I’m no expert, certainly no tram fanboy or anything, but my understanding is that trams are a tool for a job, and make sense in certain situations and not others. Done right, trams can be better than a mix of commuter rail and buses. Maybe not cheaper, just better value, but I imagine that depends on how you work it out.”

    And in what circumstances do they make sense?

  41. @Mr Ecks – “All electric buses with small on board petrol engines.They could have put power lines over the major main roads in the centre of Edinburgh and had the buses pick up motive power and recharge their batteries while in the city centre. ”

    – guess a bus might want 200 horses when accelerating, but much less most of the time, might find a 30 horses genny can keep the bus going with no need for overhead power lines. Especially as buses spend much of their time stationary.

  42. “And in what circumstances do they make sense?”

    They seem to work pretty well in airports.

  43. dearieme – “It’s a pity that the sentimentality about trams didn’t lead to the introduction of horse-drawn trams. Delightful, and produce a useful dung by-product.”

    I have ridden on a horse-drawn tram. There used to be one not far from where I grew up. Might still be. I don’t recall the dung being an issue really.

    But a better option would be the First Class. The problem with public transport is that you bump into crack-smoking criminals. Perhaps they could introduce bright red buses which cost five times as much?

  44. Tim A>

    Well, I’m just working from first principles here, but it seems to me that trams are a hybrid of light rail and buses. That means they make sense where they can replace a mixture of light rail and buses.

    I don’t really know enough about trams, nor care enough to find out, to say which are good implementations. If there’s no good central transport hub, then using trams would allow you to use the centre of town as your hub. I have no idea if anywhere does that successfully, but I imagine it’s been done at least once, and that’s often what the fools are trying to emulate when we see it done badly,

  45. SMFS>

    Crack smokers are never a problem. Ask them to share and they scuttle away. It’s the general smellies one has to avoid.

  46. Tim Almond – “And in what circumstances do they make sense?”

    When you inherit the track. Putting in a new track is often not a good idea, but if it is there already, why not?

    Although cyclists often complain because their tyres get caught and then they die. And they hold up traffic because unlike buses they cannot pull over very easily. Not without a dedicated station.

    Some places they have turned dis-used light rail track into a dedicated tramway which is often a really good idea. But then you could probably do it for buses too if you wanted.

    Dave – “Well, I’m just working from first principles here, but it seems to me that trams are a hybrid of light rail and buses. That means they make sense where they can replace a mixture of light rail and buses.”

    Using trams is more socially acceptable than buses. I don’t know why but they are. They are electric which can be Green but usually aren’t. They don’t require a dedicated track like light rail. You can just send them down the same roads as the cars. Which is usually a problem. They are actually often traffic-calming. Which seems counter-intuitive until you have to drive behind one.

    Of course a lot of advantages are found in one of my favourite forms of public transport not seen outside former Communist countries – the trolley bus. A bus that takes power from an over-head line. Give it some batteries so it can leave the power line for a short while and it would look even better. I always try to catch one when I am in the former Second World. But they are being replaced, alas.

    Dave – “Crack smokers are never a problem. Ask them to share and they scuttle away. It’s the general smellies one has to avoid.”

    I have been on a bus going through Piccadilly Circle with a crack smoker. I assume you he was not in the mood to share. Stab perhaps, but not share.

  47. SMFS>

    “Give it some batteries”

    Sod batteries. Gyrobus:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gyrobus

    (Jokes about giro-bus not worth making.)

    “I have been on a bus going through Piccadilly Circle with a crack smoker. I assume you he was not in the mood to share.”

    Which is kind of the point. Sit down next to him, greet him like an old friend, ask after that rock he owes you. Off at the next stop, without fail.

  48. dearieme
    ” Christchurch, NZ. Though God thought it so unnatural that he shook it all down.”

    It was replaced with a temporary one, however the council ordered it removed because it didn’t have planning permission. Now people just wait for buses on the street.

    That’s one of the reasons Christchurch will never be ‘rebuilt’.

  49. If you want to see a city with a good tram network, which forms the principal public transportation in the city, look to Melbourne. But there are probably characteristics of Melbourne which make trams work there but not elsewhere.

  50. SMFS,

    “When you inherit the track. Putting in a new track is often not a good idea, but if it is there already, why not?”

    That would make more sense, but it’s still £2m for a tram vs around £500K for the same bus capacity, plus you need to employ the people to manage the supply of power. And they have the downsides of inflexibility.

  51. SMFS,

    “Using trams is more socially acceptable than buses. I don’t know why but they are.”

    I think this is probably one of those Guardianland “what the continentals do” things, that we should have them because the Dutch and the Swiss do. But they don’t want sex clubs and gun ownership because those are the unsophisticated continental activities.

  52. GlenDorran,

    Not joking. Never been to Edinburgh and didn’t know about flybybus. Thanks for the link. Consider me even more gobsmacked.

  53. Mr. Ecks: a small petrol engine to recharge a humungous battery that can drive a bus? And do it quickly?

    How small is a small engine?

    Maybe you need to do the sums on this one.

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