Wednesday, 4 March 2015

The coming transport war in Beeston

My title may be a little misleading. Perhaps the war between buses and the tram in Beeston has already begun. Within the next few weeks the first trams may be weaving their way through Beeston, albeit at night and with a police escort. Then they will appear during the day, until we reach the point where, all tests and safety checks completed, they are ready to carry their first passengers.

Then we will all clamber aboard and enjoy the thrill and comfort of gliding along Beeston streets and going into the city along a route which offers new vistas. I will be there with thousands of others and I, like many, am excited by the thought of that first ride into the city centre. There will be others, and at times it will be very convenient, especially if and when I have to visit the QMC Treatment Centre, but most of the time I will continue to use Beeston buses.

To use a phrase I first used in 2013, buses have 'more stops than the tram' and, assuming the Toton Lane park & ride car park is as successful as others along the line of the tram, seats will be few by the time it reaches Beeston and it will be the same in the opposite direction coming from the city centre. This fact alone will prompt many to stay with the buses.

We should remember that the tram has been running through Bulwell for over ten years and local bus routes to and from the city centre continue to run frequently every day of the week. The tram has not flattened the competition. I can even go to Hucknall on a Trent-Barton bus every day and, what's more, in drops me off in the town's Market Square.

By the time many of the first Beeston tram users add on the extra distance they will walk to reach a tram stop and then the extra distance they will walk when they get off, combined with the fact that they may have to stand all the way, they will return to travelling by bus.

The tram will take 20 minutes to travel between Beeston and Nottingham railway station and another 7 minutes to the Theatre Royal. Even on present bus timetables, a 36 or a Y36 will take about 23 minutes for the same journey — in other words the bus will remain just as quick and, if the Toton Lane car park is as successful as others, traffic along the Derby Road should reduce (for a while at least). In other words the bus will remain as convenient for many with the added bonus of having a seat.

Back in the days when the tram was first mooted I argued for a trolleybus network instead (for the same money we could have had a network four times as large), but the then Leader of the City Council, who was a great tram champion said 'Bob, trams are sexy' adding that all surveys showed that more motorists would give up their car to ride on a tram than a bus.

In the event, as much as I love trolleybuses, I was wrong. Trolleybuses are history. They have been overtaken by modern bus technology, not just electric battery buses, but induction systems and 'hybrid' buses using a mix of advanced power technologies.

On street trams in Nottingham will eventually go the same way as trolleybuses and earlier tram systems. Maintenance and replacement costs will be the reason why, along with changing transport technology. Add to this how the tram system is brought to a standstill every time there is an accident or a technical problem and the fact that it is the bus which comes to the rescue and you do not have to be clever to see what fate has in store for the tram. It might be twenty years away, but it will happen!

10-15 years from now we will have driverless cars and buses which can compete with the tram for smoothness of ride and comfort. In Poland, this is beginning to happen (see Buses magazine, March 2015) and the tram may actually make it easier to bring back 'bendy-buses' (remember them). Add to this improved road surfaces and we will soon have streets along which buses will glide as easily as any tram.

The tram and bus in Beeston will soon be at war because they are in commercial competition with one another. Of course the tram will take passengers and money away from the buses, at first, but there will be new opportunities. For the moment Nottingham City Transport and Your Bus are holding their fire and as for Trent-Barton we will have to see what strategy their parent company, Wellglade, have because they also own a stake in the tram.

For my part, I will continue to catch a little L10 on Wollaton Road to the Victoria Centre. It takes 8 minutes longer than a bus from Beeston Bus Station, but it is just a minute from my front door whilst it takes me 10 minutes to walk to the Bus Station.

Many other Beeston residents will be doing the same as me and, perhaps, just perhaps, we will soon have a bus along Wollaton Road and Dennis Avenue which goes along Derby Road to the QMC and city centre, just like the old NCT No.11 (which used to run onto St Anns). The increasing number of students living in the area may help (see my last post).

As for Beeston town centre, I think there has been a lot of hype to date and in a future post I will explain why.

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