Sydney light rail at Central Station

Skimming the Herald a few days ago, I flicked past an article stating that Sydney would be ripping up their streets for trams.

Having lived in Singapore with its MRT (and to a lesser extent Kuala Lumpur with its LRT), I've come to think of Australian trams as a symbol of short term thinking. When Sydney desperately needs a high capacity metro system that even cities half its size have, we're apparently getting more low capacity, light rail. It's a missed opportunity.

For an otherwise staunch supporter of public transport, my newfound opposition to trams may seem strange. Surely a cleaner, smoother, higher capacity version of smelly buses would be great?

See, here's the thing

Trams marry the weaknesses of rail and bus transport, with few of their benefits. Like trains, they require dedicated infrastructure, such as tracks and ugly street wiring. Like buses, they have to stop for lights and share already congested streets. Ask any long suffering Melbournite; when a tram breaks down the entire street grinds to a halt.

For smaller cities such as Adelaide, I'd argue trams make more sense. Sydney, on the other hand, needs nothing short of a complete rethink of its entire public transport system. Otherwise comfortable rolling stock and generally friendly staff are let down by unreliability, poor frequencies and a thorough lack of long term planning.

I still maintain we should disconnect and expand the neglected City Circle into a proper rapid transit metro line, then form the others into proper suburban lines. Dozens of cities around the world long figured this out, and its time Sydney did.

I really, truly believe high quality public transport is the answer to so many problems, from health to economics, sociological to environmental. If I weren't in IT, I would dedicate my life to it. As Australia's largest city, Sydney really needs better.

Photo by Hpeterswald on Wikimedia Commons.