Welcome back and thanks to everyone who commented on yesterday’s post, which tried to highlight some ‘inconvenient truths’ about light rail (LRT).  In today’s post I will try to synthesize and respond to those comments, before moving on to what I think are greener pastures.  Taken together I hope that these two posts inject some excitement into conversations about the future of public transport in Auckland.

First let’s consider some of the important general comments from yesterday post:

  • Context of the debate – BrisUrban highlighted the importance of context.  Let’s be clear: We are discussing transport technologies that will be used in Auckland in the future.  And let’s be even more specific, we are talking about post-2020 transport scenarios.  Why?  Well for the next 10 years all available public transport funding in Auckland is already committed.  Unless I’m pleasantly surprised and the Nats get rolled in November.
  • Redundant arguments – In another comment, George D suggested that those who support light rail in Auckland are already aware of its weaknesses.  This does not match my experiences.  From where I’m sitting it seems like  LRT is often thrown out there as the default transport technology Auckland aspires to (e.g. by Len Brown), without much awareness of a) its limitations and b) other potential transport technologies.

And now let’s respond to some of the technical comments:

  • CapacityPatrick R (and others) argued that the Bogota BRT does not show that bus rapid transit (BRT) can match LRT’s capacity because it has two lanes in each direction, rather than one.   But do the math – if you divide Bogota’s total throughput (40,000 pax/hour) by two lanes then you are left with 20,000 pax/hour/lane, i.e. about the same as LRT.  So it is a fair ‘apples and apples’ comparison: LRT and BRT have similar capacities.  It’s true!
  • Resilience – Matt L suggests that observations of the fragility of LRT focus on “worst case scenarios.”  But any discussion of technological resilience is an exercise in risk management, i.e. we must consider unlikely yet high-impact events.  I don’t think it’s silly to consider how light rail would function in an earthquake, or in situations where cars get in the way – they are real risks involved in operating public transport in New Zealand, and they are risks that do not seem to affect buses as much as LRT.

Other commentators put forward advantages of LRT that were not discussed in yesterday’s post:

  • Corridor width – Josh suggested that the narrower width of LRT was advantageous in constrained road corridors, such as Dominion and Mt Eden.  But if this was really important we could simply build narrower buses.  Also, I suspect that the emerging transport technologies (discussed below) will neutralize this problem because of the advanced guidance systems that they use.
  • Market image – Nick R suggested that buses have an image problem.  I’m skeptical of how important this is for three reasons: 1) the Northern Express has successfully got the suits out of the closet in Auckland; 2) bus systems overseas are well-used by people on high-incomes  (e.g. Brisbane, Edinburgh); and 3) 15 year olds who start catching buses in 2020 will have a completely different image of buses from us oldies.  We remember the bad old days of Auckland in the late 1990s, while the youngsters hopefully benefit from all our hard work over the next 10 years :).  Finally, “image” is highly malleable, especially for new users coming from younger demographics. 
  • Mix of technologies – A number of commentators suggested Auckland’s future public transport system should involve a mix of transport technologies.  This was never in question.  What was in question is whether that mix includes light rail.  I think not, or at least not in its current form.  Even on “sensitive” corridors such as Dominion and Mt Eden, I suspect that existing transport technologies will work fine until better transport technologies (which are discussed below) become available.

Let’s now step back a second to consider what an ideal public transport technology (let’s call it a “BAM!” i.e. a Bus trAM) might look like.  Ideally, a BAM would combine the advantages of buses, such as low capital costs, with the advantages of LRT, such as ride quality, while avoiding the disadvantages of both.  That means we want to have higher vehicle capacities than can be accommodated on buses, while avoiding the need to run tracks and overhead wires.  Even so BAM must be mainly electrically powered.  We are really talking about some form of “technological convergence.”

But is the BAM a figment of my sore right knee or is it a realistic transport technology?  Well, it actually already exists – sort of.  A BAM (called the “Phileas”) was up and running in Eindhoven (those crafty Dutch) in 2004, as illustrated below (photo source).

That’s not to say that the Phileas ran smoothly straight up: There were problems with drive-trains and engines, which required a fairly substantial re-design from the manufacturer.  But the Phileas seems to be developing nicely, and has since been tested by Douai (France) and Korea.

The Phileas website mentions some impressive headline technical specifications: The 26m hybrid diesel-electric version carries a maximum of 141 passengers and has a turning radius of only 12.5m (thanks to all wheel steering).  This largely neutralizes concerns expressed by several commentators about buses leading to frequency overkill, or large buses failing to navigate through K’ Road.  One of the most exciting developments included in the Phileas is its electrical guidance systems, which basically means it can steer itself – removing the need for drivers and potentially saving heaps in operational costs.  BAM BAM!

But my faith in future, rather than past or present, transport technologies rests not on one product.  Yesterday’s post also linked to Siemen’s BAM offering, which they are promoting as eBRT.

In contrast to the electric-diesel set-up used by Phileas, Siemen’s eBRT offering uses a fully electric power system based on super-capacitors (electricity buckets) that empty between stops.  The super-capacitors are then re-charged (in 20 seconds) via overhead wires at the next stop (NB: Super-capacitors have been in development for several years as a cheaper and greener alternative to electric batteries).  As with the Phileas, optical guidance systems are used to keep eBRT ontrack – so again it’s potentially driverless.

One final example of an unrelated but cool emerging technology is Avego, a real-time car-pooling (“ride-sharing” in U.S. parlance) software that runs through your SmartPhone.  I know car-pooling has been talked about as a transport solution ‘fa-eva’ (in NZ parlance), but I get the feeling that the growth in GPS enabled smart phones will greatly reduce the transaction costs involved in finding someone to car-pool with.  It may be at a stage where it takes off; although these initiatives are all about critical mass. If it does, then this may re-shape the transport landscape.  Watch this space.

Some commentators (like KarlHansen) point out that these technologies are as yet unproven and it’s a very valid point. But I’d just like to point out that most of the technology underlying BAM is not new, even if the application is relatively novel.  Moreover, time is on Auckland’s side, we have ten years before we need to chose the transport technology that will ply our major urban public transport corridors.  Time is on our side, especially while the “Colossus of Roads” Steven Joyce is steering NZ’s transport agenda.

In conclusion, I suspect the future of Auckland’s (surface) public transport system will not include light rail as we know it, but it may well make use of new transport technologies that combine the advantages of light rail with buses.

To finish, I want to ask whether Auckland should be passive receivers of transport technology, or an active driver of technological change?  We basically know what we want from the BAM, and we more or less know when we will need it.

Should we be making eyes at potential industry partners?  Or if we’re too small to gain their attention should we be working together with Wellington, Christchurch, or other cities with similar technological demands.

Does anyone know why don’t cities collaborate with each other and then engage with relevant industry players to set a research agenda that delivers the type of transport system that we want?  The EU tends to play this role in Europe and I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on whether we should be doing the same.

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  1. With regards to ‘market image’ i think it’s a tad deluded to state the Northern Express has ‘got the suits out of the closet’ As a regular user I would suggest that most other users do not fit your suggested profile the majority tend to be younger (a lot of students) and/or immigrants.

    There is still very much a stigma with buses, that’s just a fact there is a large number of people who would not been seen dead on a bus but would use LRT. I’ve had people laugh at me when I say I’ve caught the bus i’ve never had that reaction when i’ve said I’me getting a train.

    Regardless of all the other pluses they may have Buses are just not as attractive to potential users as other rail based forms of PT and I can’t see that they ever will be. That’s not to say I’m saying you should build one over the other because of this but to suggest that buses have now somehow become more sexy is way off the mark.

    That’s kind of the inconvenient truth about buses.

    1. Look, I’ve acknowledged there’s a stigma. I’m suggesting we look at LRT and learn what people like about it. Do the same with buses. Then deliver a technology that combines the best of both. Is it a bus? Is it a tram? Ah, who cares?

      You know Siemens are deep in the business of making LRT vehicles right? So they actually have a vested interested in LRT. Yet they’re pushing ahead with “eBRT” – how strange, they must see some potential in it.

      Maybe they’re wrong. Maybe you should let them know how deluded they are. I’m sure they would like that.

    2. My DINKy brother-in-law and his wife use the NE, because of the 20 minute time saving. All of my IT colleagues who live on the Shore bus into the CBD (but not on the NE).

      EMU designers have been giving their vehicles a sexy futuristic appearance, for the same reason that car/clothing/gadget designers do – because looks sell. Bus designers have started following suit – Designline gave their hybrid a funky futuristic look, and NZ Bus gained exclusive access to the curved sided design because it looked more desirable than the previous slab side.

      Siemens are smart enough to know that many cities baulk at the initial cost of installing LRT, so they need something to broaden their market offering. Maybe eBRT will merge the benefits of both modes, but there’s no escaping the fact that they need a very smooth road surface to compete with the ride quality of steel rails, which will push up the road maintenance costs significantly.

      1. Yeah I agree – road surface maintenance is very important for these types of solutions. In saying that, I see no reason why it could not be high quality concrete straight up, with grass in between where the wheels run – much like LRT solutions. The optical guidance will keep it on track, so no need to pave the whole carriageway.

  2. I’m not against trying out new technologies when they fit the cicumstances they get applied in. A BAM could work well in Auckland. The only problems I see are:
    – bendy buses are not popular (the few ones in Auckland notwithstanding). London is phasing them out in favour of new double deckers.
    – BAMs could, like trams, only work if they have their separate road real estate to run on and that is something which I haven’t seen anyone (especially politicians) embrace enthusiastically. Nikki Kaye came out in favour of a tram service doing College Hill – Ponsonby Rd – K Rd – Queen St, but didn’t mention it would cut 2 lanes off the car road space. Which would be A Good Thing, but may be, as with capital gains tax, a contentious issue with car driving voters.

    1. “bendy buses are not popular (the few ones in Auckland notwithstanding). London is phasing them out in favour of new double deckers”

      Why? I think they look very ungainly and it is weird being seated near to the bend. But there must be better reasons against articulated buses.

      1. The debendification is a political decision by Boris, the London Mayor (http://diamondgeezer.blogspot.com/2011/06/bendy-bye-bye.html). “Estimates for London’s articulated buses put their involvement in accidents involving pedestrians at over five times the rate of all other buses, and over twice as high for accidents involving cyclists. In a period when articulated buses made up approximately 5% of the London bus fleet, they were involved in 20% of all bus-related deaths, statistics which eventually led to their replacement.” (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/johnson-ditches-londons-bendy-buses-1054433.html)

          1. Interesting to see that the Dijon tram project is “a 26-year PPP agreement with a subsidiary of GDF Suez worth €176m to design, supply, maintain and finance the electrical and control equipment for the city’s tram network. The 20km of tram lines will cost €400m to build. Dijon has already ordered 32 Alstom Citadis vehicles to carry a projected 90 000 passengers/day when the lines open in early 2013. The project is being financed by national and regional government grants totalling €112m, €188m from the EIB and €100m in borrowing from Caisse des Dépôts.” (http://www.railwaygazette.com/news/single-view/view/pioneering-ppp-energises-dijon-tram.html) Dijon has 336,000 inhabitants in its agglomeration zone.

          2. They are also using it as an opportunity to pedestrianise their main street (currently bus only), and taking the trams slightly further away from the city centre. I did some back of the envelope comparisons, and it sprawls a bit less than Christchurch, but is in a number of ways quite similar. The tram will service a suburban university (cf. Riccarton), and a number of big box retail areas distant from the CBD. Cycleways and greenscaping are also part of the cost.

    2. Yes those old bendy buses are big horrible lumbering things. But it’s important to recognise that the BAM is not a bendy bus any more than LRT is, i.e. both are made up of multiple sections connected by a swivelling pivot joint.

      The key difference between BAM and old bendy buses is that the latter runs on tracks (albeit magnetically guided), while also having all-wheel steering – which makes it that much more smooth and nimble.

      The next post will include a video of the Phileas in operation, it’s honestly quite amazing how the guidance systems and all-wheel steering work together.

  3. Great postings Stu D. I find myself in total agreement. And thanks for the links to the really forward thinking solutions happening elsewhere – go the Dutch! If only there was a better debate happening here in Auckland.

  4. Great blogs thanks Stu – good to hear from you on this topic! I really have no strong feelings on this issue either way. But just with regardes to this – you said:
    “# Corridor width – Josh suggested that the narrower width of LRT was advantageous in constrained road corridors, such as Dominion and Mt Eden. But if this was really important we could simply build narrower buses. Also, I suspect that the emerging transport technologies (discussed below) will neutralize this problem because of the advanced guidance systems that they use. ”

    I don'[t think it would be that easy to get narrower buses – I mean, as I understand our buses are made overseas to a standard size or, at the leats, designed to a standard sort of bus format. Wouldn’t we have to get custom made ones which would be a lot more expensive?

    1. Hi Lucy and thanks! I think you will find that bus manufacturers (and applications) are sufficiently diverse and flexible to accommodate the need for narrower buses, if that need arose. I remember there was a proposal to drill a tunnel from Q’town to Milford Sound a few years ago that talked about using narrow buses so they could reduce the size of the tunnel.

      So while there is a standard size for buses, it would not be too difficult to get something slightly different. More expensive of course, but there’s a big gap between buses and LRT in CAPEX/OPEX that means there is sufficient financial room to do these things.

  5. While I did say corridor width, others in the comments on yesterday’s post made the point that what’s probably more important is level of grade separation. LRT seems to have a capacity without grade separation that cannot be matched by BRT. This is an important consideration along routes like Dominion Rd where there is no prospect (I hope) of grade separation.

    I like the new technologies though I am always sceptical of flash new things when it comes to public transport. I guess you could call it monorail/PRT/O-Bahn fatigue.

    1. Yes I would not suggest grade separation on Dom Road, but these BAMs could hand those demands just fine. I’m also a technological sceptic – to a degree.

      I remember Todd Litman once saying that when he was growing up the “big” transport innovation of the future was supposedly going to be super-sonic space flights. Fast forward to the “future” and actually the single largest innovative transport development (in his opinion) had been wheeled luggage. Basically just wheels on bags.

      The deeper moral of the story is that incremental developments in technologies are more likely to succeed, because they can build of previous experiences (reducing risks) while also delivering major efficiency gains.

      So I’m optimistic that eBRT and the Phileas are on a good metaphorical track.

      1. Still I think you have a problem on a narrow corridor: LRTs cannot stray and have a head-on, it’s those pesky expensive tracks again, so, lovin’ your technophilia but it is still hard to see how BAMs can squeeze down say Dom rd, or other tight existing streetscapes, as well as they do in say Bordeaux…. Less of an issue on Gt North Rd.

        1. BAM type solutions also run on tracks, but they are magnetic rather than metal. And if you’re doubting the ability for it to “stay on track” then you should stay tuned, I have a video of the Phileas in operation and it’s rather impressive. So no, I don’t think the squeezing is a problem.

      2. Aircraft use about 1/3 the fuel per seat-passenger-mile than they did 50 years ago, and run at about 1/3 the cost (although the capital expenditure is massively higher), and there are literally tens of thousands of technical improvements utilised, so there has been a lot of progress. But no huge leap. I think if PT was as focused on improvement as the airline industry, we’d see more change.

  6. Nice blog. Im sure some of these technologies could be used in Auckland.

    Question Once you build a high tech long BAM wont the cost of the vehicle be similar or more expensive than a tram/Light Rail vehicle? Also bleeding edge tends to cost more. PLus if your running on rubber and roads the maintenance will be more than steel wheels on steel tracks. So by moving to this technology it looks like you could be losing any cost advantage BRT might currently have over LRT.

    Still not convinced about capacity though.. Im sure I read a few year ago that Manilla Light Rail got up to 40,000 people per hour per direction by connecting light rail vehicles togther to increase capacity. Manilla would be a better comparison to Bogota.

    1. However in the Auckland context there probably is no need for these max capacity limits on any potential BRT/LRT routes.

      So if you can plan something that comfortably takes 3,000 pphpd and can grow to 10,000 pphpd you should be on a good track. The discussion would then be left to how does this fit in with existing technolgies, what is the cost, how many vehicles do we want down this road every hour and otehr place making issues.

    2. Hi PBY, those are some v. good questions. I suspect that the cost of building/operating a BAM type system will still be cheaper than LRT for the following reasons:
      1. Running steel rails is very expensive because it requires a whole lot of precision engineering/metalwork. In contrast, magnetic tags are (apparently) quite easy to plonk down – just like a little cats eye device basically.
      2. In both these BAM examples you also save on overhead catenaries/switches etc, which are not only expensive to build but also relatively expensive to maintain – because they are in tension and exposed to the elements.
      3. BAM vehicles are also likely to be cheaper to construct because they do not require steel wheels and bogies etc.+
      4. Yes the Manilla “LRT” has a capacity of 40,000 pax/hour but I think this is more heavy rail than LRT. Have a look at:

  7. check out the FTR project in York, UK, sort of a BAM. I worked in the infrastructure installation for this. Basically a bus that looks like a tram, and the track is basically a marked section of the road. IMplemented in 2005/2006 they are constantly being upgraded and have the flexibility of normal buses, however they have a much bigger turning radius.


    1. Thanks for the link Bob! That looks like BRT, but with LRT styling. Which is an easy and important step, although I do think it’s also important to focus on trying to imitate LRT outcomes using technology as well, ride quality, electric power etc.

  8. Stu – I think you misread my point from your last post, my issue is not that we shouldn’t consider how different options will work in different types of events but that you have used pictures of one mode in the worst case scenario vs another mode in the best case scenario.

    You could also argue that by using some of the technologies you list we would be equally constrained i.e. if the system was driverless like you suggest it could be then what happens when something gets in its way (this would be especially important if it was on a section where it was separated from general traffic like at a bus stop, if it is relying on something like a painted line, what happens if that line is damaged, if it had a tyre blowout or a mechanical problem how does it get recovered and how is that communicated to passengers etc.

    1. Hi Matt – no, I think that’s unfair. The earthquake photo is a strong image of an issue with LRT that many people do not even consider. It’s an issue that is particularly relevant in NZ. I think it’s worth highlighting, because in my many discussions with people on LRT (where they talk about “resilience” to fuel price shocks), never ever has anyone mentioned the geotechnical costs/risks associated with embedded tracks and overhead wires.

      I did not consciously set out to provide pictures of buses in the “best case scenario.” The examples of BRT in France were in a completely different part of the post, which considered ride quality, negative externalities, and NZ’s underinvestment in high quality bus solutions.

      So you definitely should not be viewing the two sets of photos as being linked in any way – I put them in there to highlight completely different points. The fact that they show LRT in a bad light and BRT in a good light is coincidence, not design.

  9. Without occasional grade separation and dedicated right of way for at least most of the route, all of Stu’s proposals are just fancier buses stuck in traffic (or in John Banks’s T2 lanes).

    And WITH grade separation and dedicated right of way, the cost difference to LRT, I imagine, shrinks markedly. The remaining cost advantage to schemes like eBRT may then well be gobbled up by the costs and difficulties involved in using untested technologies (like the eBRT charger methods) compared to a very mature technology (LRT). I’d be very, very scared of Auckland being the test-bed for that.

    Maybe I should be more courageous to advocate trying such new things – but history is littered with failed transport schemes, and PT is so fragile still in Auckland that I’d rather go with more tried-and-true things, especially as I cannot see the massive advantages over LRT. Similar capacity, similar speed, [claimed] lower prices. More earthquake proof. Not a list that impresses me that enough – though I do find Stu’s posts interesting.

    1. No, BAMs use the same right of way as LRT, i.e. BAM does not need any more grade seperation than LRT (remember that the vehicles have much higher capacities than normal buses, so you need fewer of them). Actually now that I think about it BAMs probably needs less grade-separation, because tyres provide much greater traction on hills. So less need to cut and tunnel, which is important in a hilly city like Auckland.

      So the cost advantage is preserved, if not enhanced by the reduced need for grade separation. And as mention in an earlier reply, avoiding the need to run overhead wires and highly engineered tracks HAS to save money. The magnetic guidance system is simply a cats eye on the right-of-way (remembering of course that this has it’s own ROW so these cats eyes will not be smashed by other traffic).

  10. “You know Siemens are deep in the business of making LRT vehicles right? So they actually have a vested interested in LRT. Yet they’re pushing ahead with “eBRT” – how strange, they must see some potential in it”

    Don’t think you’re talking about the same issue here I would suggest maybe they see potential in it because for many cities BRT is the cheaper option and therfore there is potential for Siemens to do something that is incremental to the the LRT vehicles they construct. Are you suggesting they are looking as phasing out the LRT construction work they do and focusing soley on BRT? If so what makes you say that?

    What I said was that BRT still remains less attractive to potential users that rail based rapid transit. I’ve not read anything you have written that convincingly rebuts that.

    1. No, the rebuttal is that you’re looking at these vehicles as if they are buses, when they’re quite clearly not. If you showed people photos of the Phileas then I bet you (a beer) that most of them would be unable to say whether it was BRT or LRT. Most would probably say “neither” or a “bit of both.” So the (old) distinction about BRT and LRT is not longer relevant and the stigma which you cling to has evaporated.

  11. Energy consumption of steel wheels on steel rails, is much lower than energy consumption of rubber tyres on concrete or tar seal. That reason, combined with the presence of rails clearly defining the route in people’s minds, makes a rail-based system the better option in my opinion. If the trams have bogies (not rigid axles), and good air-bag suspension, they can give a smooth ride. Personally I don’t find buses smooth at all, as suburban buses are usually built to “no frills” designs and you really feel every little bump.

    1. No, energy consumption is a much more complex indicator than what you have suggested. It’s useless measuring energy consumption based on vehicle distance travelled, because that does not measure utilization. An often quoted catch-line is “it’s not good for the environment to run empty trains.”

      LRT may well use more energy than a BAM because the latter are much lighter, so outside of peak times (when LRT and probably more energy efficient) the BAM has lower energy consumption. But the basic message is that it’s a complex indicator into which general observations of vehicle technology provide little insight.

  12. You get what you pay for. All the bus proposals have their limitations – and the limitation is usually the money-saving. If it shares traffic with cars, it will be slow and unreliable. Nothing is for free.

    If it’s diesel, it pollutes. Nothing is for free.

    If each vehicle requires its own driver, then 100 vehicles require 100 drivers. Nothing is for free.

    If it looks ugly, then fashion conscious riders will ignore it. Nothing is for free.

    If it is built on truck suspension or has a truck geabox, it will be uncomfortable. Nothing is for free.

    If you want clean, smooth, efficient, fashionable, get a bus that looks like this.


    {credit photographer}

    This bus runs at over 160km/h, is comfortable, clean, and even somewhat fashionable when it was introduced. It really turned heads. It can probably even run over your side of the ditch, if Auckland wanted it.

    1. Crazy talk! Some quick and easy responses:
      1. It’s not a bus it’s a BAM! And the average Joe would have no idea whether this was BRT or LRT; they’re not like us!
      2. BAM’s ROW is identical to LRT, but with less grade separation because BAM has better traction on hills.
      3. eBRT runs on electricity, as do trolley buses. Phileas has hybrid diesel-electric motor.
      4. It is driverless.
      5. Looks? BAM = LRT.
      6. BAM = electric gearbox.
      7. Brilliant! Let’s run the QR tilt train down Dominion Road ….

  13. optical drive like phileas at the moment doesn’t work, much easier to follow a steel rail that some white lines on the floor. In case of heavy rain? Fog? Leaves? A car in front? Road works… Requires a lot of care. And the driver (needed anyway) has to be careful all the time that the system doesn’t lose the track. Search for Civis Bologna (IT) on google, maybe you get something in English for sure there are some videos on youtube. In Bologna it’s been a big loss of money.
    It’s untrue that the problem in the phileas case are the engines, the problem is the optical system. The powertrain is the same since 100 years.

    1. My mistake – I wrote optical but I think it’s actually magnetic. Or at least the eBRT is – so maybe they have learnt from the Phileas?

      I think we’re both right, check out: http://www.sre.nl/web/show/id=70588 (it’s in Dutch but if you’re using Chrome then Google Translate works its magic quite well).

      Apparently Eindhoven did not continue with the technology because of problems with “the energy storage (battery pack with battery management system), the drive shafts and transmissions; and the climate.”

  14. Hey Stu, excellent post…but just a question. How resilient are these BAMS (even the hybrid ones) to increasing oil prices, as opposed to LRT?

    1. Hey Xavier! Hard to say because resilience to higher energy prices depends on tree main components:
      1. Energy consumed in constructing the vehicles;
      2. Energy consumed in constructing the right of way; and
      3. Energy consumed in operating the vehicles (per work done – i.e. passenger-kms carried)

      In terms of [1] I think BAM wins (but by how much I don’t know) because constructing the vehicles requires consumes less steel than LRT and producing steel is very energy intensive.

      In terms of [2] I think BAM wins by a considerable margin as it avoids the need to run tracks and overhead wires (again mainly steel, coppper etc). Where BAMs better traction helps you avoid cuttings/tunnels etc then margin would increase.

      In terms of [3] I think BAM wins at low to medium utilisation, whereas LRT wins at medium to high utilisation. Basically, BAMs are lighter but LRT has lower rolling friction. Not sure where the balance lies!

    1. Some existing rail systems are driverless, e.g. Vancouver’s Sky Train and Copenhagen’s metro.

      Although these systems are grade separated and the benefits of a driver would have to increase in situations where vehicles are running at surface. If you’re in mixed traffic then I suspect a driver is essential.

      Personally I suspect the driverless aspect is something that will develop over time – the initial Phileas could operate without a driver, but one was placed onboard anyway.

      Plus you would have to get over objections from rail and bus unions – easier said than done!

      1. The great thing about driverless is that you can split the trains up so they’re small but incredibly frequent without adding to operating costs.

  15. Have any of these schemes been costed yet? I guess that’s the interesting thing as what they seem to be trying to do is deliver light-rail at a lower cost. A valiant and very necessary goal – but can it be achieved?

    1. I agree that needs to be the driver. I imagine the Phileas systems have been costed (because they have been built already!), but not over their lifetimes, which is important to do when dealing with new technologies. I can’t seem to track down any business cases for either the Phileas or eBRT but will try to get a response from Siemens …

  16. I, for one, welcome our new driverless overlords.

    I do like the idea of driverless transport, and obviously it’s feasible on exclusive right of ways. It’s one way to bring down the cost of transport, and it’s something we should be looking into. Add up 100 drivers wages and other associated costs, and then times that by 20 years and I imagine you’d be looking at a figure in the order of $100 million. That’s hardly inconsequential.

    Obviously we want fairly proven systems because without a track-record of implementation, the potential to soak up those gains is huge.

  17. The other thing I worry about is the ability of these buses to avoid collisions. Obviously, they’re able to follow their tracks and avoid other buses. But people do stupid things, like stepping in front of buses or letting go of a pram (the latter being the nightmare scenario). While human drivers don’t have a perfect record, I’d like to know that the collision avoidance systems in use were up to it. Volvo and Mercedes Benz are developing such systems for cars, but it seems that it’s at least a decade before you could see such a system available for widespread use. Technology moves quickly, so we should be thinking about it, but I don’t think we’re there just yet.

    1. But then if there’s an accident who would you blame if there’s no low paid driver to crucify?
      I sound like pro drivers, but I’m not at all.

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