I was pondering the speeds of trams on different parts of the network.
A key determinant is the type of route: separation from motor vehicles, and priority at intersections.
Route 109 has a good range of different sections, so here’s a quick comparison of two extremes: AM citybound at 8am vs late-evening (last tram).
|Section||Length||Type||Peak time/speed||Late evening time/speed|
|Light rail: Port Melbourne to Clarendon Street||2.8 km||Light rail, complete separation and priority||7 mins|
|Melbourne CBD: Clarendon Street to St Vincent’s Plaza||3.2 km||On-street, dedicated lanes, central city||20 mins|
|Victoria Parade: St Vincent’s Plaza to Hoddle Street||1.4 km||Median, separate from traffic, but no traffic light priority||6 mins|
|Street running: Hoddle Street to Elgar Road||11.3 km||Mixed traffic||43 mins|
|Elgar Road to Station Street||0.7 km||Median||2 mins||1 min|
The above numbers are based simply on the timetable, which may or may not be accurate!
It didn’t seem worth trying to compare the last short Elgar Road to Station Street section, given it’s so short. The timetable rounds everything to the nearest minute, making the speed calculation not very useful.
Some observations on the rest of the route:
The light rail section has barely any trip time variation between peak and evening. The trams have absolute priority here – a completely segregated track, with level crossings to get across roads, thanks to it being a former railway line. The only time differences would be from passenger loadings.
The Melbourne CBD section is very heavy going, despite dedicated tram lanes. Passenger loadings are heavy at most times of day, but especially in peak hours – Yarra Trams says stop dwell times increased by 7% to 14% on Collins Street in peak after introduction of the Free Tram Zone.
Congestion caused by other trams is also a factor, along with waits at traffic lights, especially King Street which for some crazy reason prioritises north-south motor vehicle traffic, meaning most Collins and Bourke Street trams stop there for the lights – there’s no tram stops.
Victoria Parade is a bit faster than the CBD, with the track in the median strip separated from the road, but traffic lights are still an issue. (This section is also quite short, so the numbers here may be misleading.)
The street section from Hoddle Street to Box Hill surprisingly is slightly faster still, even in peak, despite being in mixed traffic.
Late evening along the street section is particularly zippy, with virtually no traffic around and probably few passengers. It’s actually slightly faster than the light rail section, perhaps because there are fewer late night tram passengers compared to around Port Melbourne.
Plus it’s likely that many of the intersection traffic lights along Whitehorse/Cotham Road and Barkers Road/Victoria Street default to giving the tram a green.
But this section also has the highest variation in speeds, with peak hour being about half the speed of late evening – up to 43 minutes to cover just 11.3 km at 8am. In fact it’s slightly slower after 9am, perhaps due to clearways applying only in peak hour.
Room for improvement
These are only rough calculations, based on timetables rather than real performance, but tram speeds can clearly be improved.
CBD traffic lights could be better coordinated so trams don’t have a stop-start trip between tram stops.
Shorter traffic light cycle times are possible at places like King Street, which would also benefit pedestrians.
Edit: a Yarra Trams insider says another critical issue is the effectiveness of tram lanes along Collins Street. Better separation, such as recently added on sections of William Street, may be the key here.
Victoria Parade should be much better than it is. Unlike the CBD where it may be difficult due to so many pedestrians, pre-emptive traffic light priority (give the tram the green where possible) may be the key here.
Traffic light priority would also benefit the street section, though given the peak vs evening difference, peak hour tram lanes (even just in congestion hot spots) may provide more benefits there.
Accessible tram stops can also help speed things up, by making boarding easier – not just for those with mobility difficulties, but for everybody else too, including parents with prams, or travellers with luggage. There’s a severe lack of these on the street-based eastern section of the route between Hoddle Street and most of the way to Box Hill.
Ultimately, faster trams means faster trips, making the tram system more attractive. But it also means better fleet/driver utilisation so more services can be run, helping to cut crowding.
The solutions are available – what’s missing is government action to prioritise moving people through the inner-city instead of moving cars.