Light Rail Transit Association - UK Development Group 


MARCH 2001 


Many a potential light rail scheme has temporarily hit the "buffers" when the realities of cost enter the equation. Economy drives tend to put cost-cutting before quality and often it is only a matter of time before a review or some other factor helps to restore something similar to the original plans.

A particularly good example can be found in Edinburgh where the guided bus project, itself an economy measure and replacement for a light rail metro project, is now under threat because the successful consortium has pulled out (1). A fear had been expressed by the consortium that guided bus technology is not attractive enough to compete with ordinary services (2). Apparently by coincidence, a move has been made to look again at light rail for Edinburgh (3).


Professionals in the transport field usually regard these totally different transit modes as complementary to each other and plan on that basis. Prominent personalities though sometimes display personal preferences and one example recently caused a minor stir in Leeds (4). The public were quick to respond by comparing a German bus and tram system with present day all-bus Leeds (5).

A technical paper at the UITP 2000 Assembly in Melbourne covered this contentious point very thoroughly. Between 1986 and 1996, 25 European cities with mixed tram and bus systems but no underground or metro increased their transit trips by an average of 20.3%. This compares with 22 bus-only cities which during the same period lost an average of 5.6% (6).


Many places throughout the world, especially those proposing to invest large infrastructure funding on a bus-only system, often appear over optimistic when justifying this investment. A classic example came from Liverpool (UK) where a bold proposal to introduce an electronically guided trolley bus system was eventually rejected in favour of light rail.,

Another similar example comes from Essen in Germany where development funds for guided bus operation have dried up and future funding there is allocated to light rail development only.

Ottawa in Canada, well known for its network of busways, has responded to a poor passenger demand and excessive expansion costs in the form of a change in transport direction. This features converting railway lines to light rail operation and fully supported by the Federal Government offering financial support. The Mayor of Ottawa has decided to adopt "fast-track" plans which will in effect continue light rail expansion before tests from the first line have been studied fully. There is now a distinct possibility that buses will in future be sharing the transitways with light rail services (7).


Although well reported in public transport circles for its unusual busway system, a plan did exist some years ago to build a light rail line with some financial assistance from the municipal authorities and from property developers. Technical "know-how" was reported as being sought from Nantes (8).

It did not materialise though and a bus system was eventually provided. Known locally as LIGEIRINHO (Portuguese for THE SPEEDY ONE), it was specially treated with refinements usually associated with light rail operation. One very distinctive feature is of passengers boarding through "tube" stations. This unique procedure, combined with other experimental innovations, gained the former Lord Mayor, now in his professional role of architect, the United Nations Environment Programme Award 1990 plus a similar award from The International Institute for Energy Conservation (9). Basic operation allows convenient passenger interchange between feeder and express buses, all on a single fare. With increasing passenger demands on the network, Curitiba is running the risk of becoming congested which could ultimately affect the quality of its operations. Because of Brazil's limited resources, with restricted investment and difficulty in obtaining foreign credits, it is not difficult to appreciate that Curitiba is at a financial crossroads, the need is there but funding could be very difficult.


With passenger interchanges being such a major activity in normal operation, a considerable amount of research went into reducing boarding times. Passengers waited in enclosed and secure conditions having paid a fare on entrance to the "tube" (10). Because hydraulic lifts for wheel chairs are not practical on buses, the driver has to ensure that his doors are correctly lined-up with the shelter doors. The mechanism that opens the bus doors also operates a draw-bridge type folding ramp that drops down onto the shelter platform.

The Volvo built bi-articulated buses, 25 meters long, can carry up to 270 passengers with 57 seated (11). Express buses operate at approximately 32km/hr, those on busways with stops every 500 meters at about 20km/hr whilst buses in mixed traffic operate at about 10km/hr. As for loading time, it is claimed a "tube" shelter can load a 5 door bus with its high passenger load in about 20 seconds.


Whilst this fact sheet was being prepared, news surfaced of a plan to convert a Federal highway into an avenue with a partly elevated metro. 60% of the cost will come from the federal budget with the remainder from Curitiba City Council and the private sector. The first 13km section with 9 stations will be built within 5 years and is expected to serve 83,000 persons per day. The completed project, in many ways not unlike the rubber tyred system of the Paris metro but without rails (similar to a model used in Japan), will eventually be extended to a total of 27km. An unusual land-use law will help transit funding by seeking compensation from persons erecting a structure in the area that is over two stories high up to a limit of 12 stories (12).


The bi-articulated buses in Curitiba sound very impressive indeed, especially alongside a standard urban bus. Also, the integration procedure at "tube" stations contrasts somewhat with the "selling points" used to interest Adelaide into purchasing O-bahn. Curitiba's success tends to demonstrate that passengers prefer a high quality trunk section which then only needs a feeder bus quality for the final section of the journey.


  1. LOCAL TRANSPORT TODAY - 25th January 2001.
  2. Some commuters have gone back to their cars - a comment about the guided bus route in Leeds and its adjacent park and ride site Howard Williamson reporting in THE NORTH LEEDS WEEKLY POST - 9th February 2001.
  3. Light Rail Transit Association - FACT SHEET NO 111 - SCOTTISH LIGHT RAIL: IS IT A "U" TURN ?
  4. A former Government Minister condemned Supertrams as an expensive mistake - YORKSHIRE EVENING POST - 19th January 2000.
  5. Bremen was awarded ten points, Leeds three - YORKSHIRE EVENING POST - 25th January 2000.
  6. Dr Jeff Kenworthy - Senior Lecturer in Urban Environments at Murdock University in Western Australia TRANSIT AUSTRALIA (P.37) - February 2001.
  7. "Light rail has become the keystone to the city's plan to deal with transportation problems" - THE OTTAWA CITIZEN - 16th January 2001.
  8. URBAN TRANSIT INTERNATIONAL (P.9) - January/February 1992.
  10. A photograph and brief description of a "tube" shelter Can be seen on page 20 of LIGHT RAIL REVIEW No 4. - Published jointly by Platform 5 Publishing and Light Rail Transit Association - March 1993.
  12. Translation from a Portuguese report, THE CURITIBA INSTITUTE OF RESEARCH AND URBAN PLANNING by Lucia M Bierman, 128 Forestdale Drive, Queensland, 4118, AUSTRALIA.
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