Rorschach Test

The Zurich tram system.

Overview: The tram network serves most city neighbourhoods, and is the backbone of public transport within the city.

Open: 1882

Cauge: Metre

Number of routes: 15

Route length: 118.7 km (73.8 mi)

Owner: Zürich

Propulsion system(s): Electric

Track length (total): 171.9 km (106.8 mi)

Track length (double): 72.9 km (45.3 mi)

Stock: 258

Passengers carried: Over 210 million annually.

Now, back to the article.

American transportation planners just cannot accept the fact that a tram line offers a capacity of in excess of 20,000 pphpd peak and capacity can be further increased  in cases of special events!

What most American transportation planners fail to see (especially in BC), is that light rail transit (light meaning light in costs), has been proven in revenue operation for over 40 years. It was light rail that made light-metro obsolete.

This is what the Europeans understand with a tram, it offers a high capacity and user friendly service giving an almost door to door service. Cheaper to ,operate than buses on heavily used routes and yet able to carry passenger loads that in North America would demand a subway. A tram’s inherent flexibility means it can do most jobs asked of it at a reasonable cost to build.

Trams are given priority on the streets, not cars.

In Vancouver, we are spending $4.6 billion to build 12.8 km. of light-metro while in Caen France, they spent $373 million to build 16 km of tramway and that sums up Metro Vancouver’s big problem with transit planning.


What Does This Street In Zürich Mean?

If you see how cars, streetcars, bikes, and pedestrians use this Swiss street, you can better understand what’s wrong with so many other urban thoroughfares.

Norman Garrick
Civil engineering professor and transportation planner
Above is a picture of a pretty typical city street in Zürich, Switzerland.What do you see?In some ways, this scene represents a kind of Rorschach Test for transportation and urban planning. If you are a passenger on a tram riding on one of the two sets of rails that take up most of the street, this scene represents freedom of movement and a sense that transit is privileged in Zürich. If you’re a pedestrian, this is a relatively comfortable street to be on, with useful services, restaurants, and a few interesting stores (check out the model train store at the corner with Haldenbachstrasse). If you’re on a bike, this, like most other streets in Zürich, is OK, but not great.
But if you’re an American tourist, your first thought might be that these Europeans are real strange: Look at that long line of car traffic on the right, and look at all that road space going to waste. And an engineer or planner trained in the conventional mode will probably agree with you, and see a picture of abject failure. In the parlance of the traffic planner, this is a street operating at Level of Service F.
(Norman Garrick/CityLab)

In the Rorschach Test, you get to rotate and analyze the image, so let us do that. This is a typical main thoroughfare in Zürich where, since at least 1980, space has been carved out to give transit its own right of way and in addition, transit has priority at all signalized intersections. This particular street, Universitätstrasse in the University District of Zürich, carries two tramlines—streetcars, for North Americans—and so it has trams passing on average every three to four minutes in each direction. This is also one of just four major roads carrying vehicular car traffic from the downtown to the freeway that runs out of the city to the north (the others also carry trams, with the exception of one, which is more highway-like).

Let us first deal with the American tourist who sees inefficiency. During the peak hour, the vehicle lanes carry about 400 cars and perhaps 500 people. (I counted!) The two tramlines carry about 3,500 people per hour. So, notwithstanding the fact that at first glance the tram lanes seem empty and remarkably inefficient, the numbers tell a different story—the tram lanes are doing yeoman’s work, carrying 7 times more people than the car lanes, and they could easily carry many more. And this is before we even start to consider the environmental and economic advantages of transit over cars. (People in Zürich have unlimited access to all transit in the city for just $1,000 per year, yet the subsidy from the city, state and the nation is modest, since the fare box returns, and other revenues, pay about two-thirds of the cost of operating the system.)

(Norman Garrick/CityLab)

Now let’s get to the conventional engineer whose rule book would say that something must be done to alleviate this atrocious situation for the people in those cars. So what can be done? Well for one, we could remove the priority given to the trams in terms of travel space and at the traffic signals. That would give us one more lane of travel in each direction. With the addition of turning lanes at the intersections, that would help a great deal: Now we have the room to move 700 to 800 cars per hour. (“Voila! The model shows that we are at Level of Service C or D,” reports the engineer. “Not great, but better than before”).

For the rest of the article, please click



11 Responses to “Rorschach Test”
  1. Rico says:

    I love the Zurich trams….but some points: in Zurich the Sbahn does the heavy lifting, the trams are local transit close to old Zurich. Zurich does traffic priority very well, good luck implementing and keeping that in BC. The above example has a pphpd of 3,500, conflicts = less capacity….

    Zwei replies: Again Rico, you don’t have a clue. The capacity quoted in the article is wrong and upon advice from a European transit type, Zurich tram line offer a nominal capacity of around 5,000 pphd per line but…..that is at the outer ends of the line, as the tram lines approach the downtown they join, the capacity increases to 10,000 pphpd and if another line joins the trunk, then capacity is increased to 15,000 pphpd. Excess capacity at the outer ends of transit lines costs money and is why our SkyTrain light metro has added operational costs, unlike a tram. Conflict? No, sorry, that is a myth.

    Also note, the Zurich tramways, during special events can increase capacity in the urban core to over 20,000 pphpd, something that SkyTrain cannot do. This is called flexibility.

  2. Haveacow says:

    Having been in Zurich yes, the rapid transit does carry a larger portion of the public transit passengers in the central and commercial areas but just like North American cities the heavier lines that the rapid transit system uses, can’t be expanded easily or cheaply and lately the transit systems have been expanding trams and tram-trains instead of the rapid transit system.

  3. Rico says:

    Wiki will tell you their are 289 tram vehicles in the Zurich fleet of which the largest has a capacity of 113….so the entire NETWORK cannot have a pphpd of greater than 16,000. Obviously individual lines have less.

    Zwei replies: The VBZ operates five different tram models, of various sizes and capacities and included are 88 Cobras, each cobra tram has a sitting capacity of 90 people sitting and a standing capacity of 113; total capacity 203 people.

    You do not read Wiki very well, sunshine.

    Also, please remember, the Zurich tramways are metre gauge.

    Bombardier Will Supply Additional Cobra Trams To Zurich

    October 1, 2003 Montréal Transportation, Press Release

    Bombardier Transportation and its consortium partner Alstom will supply a further 68 Cobra trams to Verkehrsbetriebe Zürich, the transport authority of the city of Zurich. Following the thorough testing of six preproduction trial vehicles delivered in 2001, the Zurich Cobra fleet will thus encompass 74 vehicles. The new order for 68 trams is valued at approximately $239 million Cdn (233 million Swiss Francs), and Bombardier’s share of the contract amounts to some $194 million Cdn (190 million Swiss Francs). The vehicles are scheduled for delivery as of mid-2005.

    As the leading partner in the consortium, Bombardier Transportation is responsible for the carbody, propulsion system, assembly and commissioning of the vehicles, with Alstom supplying the running gear and brake system.

    Commenting on the new order, Thomas Portmann, Director of Verkehrsbetriebe Zürich, stated: “The Cobra is and will remain our first choice. It is technically and visually attractive, and the passengers are delighted.”

    “The Cobra vehicles are further proof of the strengths of Bombardier,” said Walter Grawenhoff, President, Light Rail Vehicles, Bombardier Transportation. “We once again meet our customer’s challenges with creative technical concepts and tailor-made solutions, as we recently did for the city of Geneva. This is clearly the best way to broaden our position as one of the world’s leading tram suppliers.”

    The five-car articulated, end-to-end low-floor tram has been developed to comply with the requirements specified by the customer for the city of Zurich. Due to the specific local circumstances, the length of the vehicles may not exceed 37 meters. In order to provide a high passenger carrying capacity despite this limitation, the carbody width has been extended 20 centimetres compared with the trams currently operating in Zurich. Seven wide doors with a passenger boarding height of just 35 centimetres allow rapid boarding and alighting.

    Large-area windows, modern passenger information systems and the spacious interior of the vehicles will turn tram travel in Zurich in future into an exciting experience. The pioneering crash concept with absorbers at the front end will increase passive safety for both passengers and other road users.

    Running gear with wheel pairs radially steered via the car articulation units significantly reduces rail and wheel wear. The trams are also equipped with state-of-the-art IGBT power converter technology from the Bombardier MITRAC product family, which, like the traction motors, incorporates environment-friendly water cooling.

  4. Rico says:

    Edit to my last post the newest vehicles ordered should have a capacity of 225 per vehicle. Should be order of 70. Not sure if they are in service yet. The general point stands.

    Zwei replies: Reread Wiki about the Cobra tram, due to local constraints, the trams are limited to 37 metres in length.

    Hint: the 90/113 is seated/standing = 203.

    There is a lot more you do not take into account, like journey times, etc., but that is for a later discussion.

  5. Rico says:

    It is not difficult. If you take the current fleet of 289 vehicles (new ones coming 2020) assume EVERY vehicle is running, assume EVERY vehicle has a capacity of 225 (the capacity of the vehicles in the new order, largest of the fleet) divide it by 2 that gives a pphpd of 32,500 for the ENTIRE NETWORK. We can be very generous and say there are several very short segments with 5 lines using them and this is about 1/3 of the network (17 lines), that means on these short segments you get 10,800pphpd…remember this is using very very generous assumptions and the ability to run 10,000pphpd on a one block segment does not mean you can run 10,000pphpd on longer segments with more conflicts without grade separation. Do not get me wrong 10,000pphpd is impressive and worthy…stop saying its 20,000 in Zurich. In Zurich it is 10,000pphpd on short segments. PS you probably should read both posts including my edit before replying to the first one since they were both in before your reply.

    Zwei replies: you know Rico, if you spent your time actually studying how transit works, etc., instead of inventing man of straw arguments, you wouldn’t make such a prat out of yourself.

    Two track tram route has the capacity to carry 20,000 pphpd or more. simple.

  6. Rico says:

    Here, I’ll fix that for you…A two track tram route has the capacity to carry MORE than 20,000pphpd WHEN THERE ARE NO CONFLICTS AND ENOUGH SUITABLE ROLLING STOCK. The more conflicts the lower the capacity. As we see in the Zurich example in that configuration actual capacity is less than 10,000pphpd. Unlike the busy Karlsruhe section the Zurich example has conflicts with cross streets, other transit, pedestrians, constraints on vehicle length and has aggressive signal priority. This means it’s more difficult to run more vehicles and if you do the network becomes less reliable….and so the theoretical 20,000 becomes less than 10,000 on the ground. Note most Vancouver routes we have talked about are a lot more like Zurich than Karlsruhe although Vancouver routes could run longer vehicles.

    Zwei replies: Rico, there is no conflicts on cross streets. Your inventions are staggering and logic has escaped you.

  7. zweisystem says:

    This is for the benefit of the uninformed.

    Say you have a tram with a capacity of 250 persons. Now if you operate the tram at:

    1 trip per hour, you are offering a capacity of 250 pphpd.
    2 trips per hour, 500 pphpd.
    4 trips per hour, 1000 pphpd.
    20 trips per hour (peak hour B-Line offered capacity of 2,200 pphpd)), 5,000 pphpd.
    30 trips per hour (2 minute headway’s) 7500 pphpd.

    Now, if a portion of the route is shared, then capacity is doubled on that portion of route.

    Now if your demand on a transit route is a peak hour of 5,000 pphpd, you will offer a 3 minute heady or 20 trips per hour, operating more service increases operational and maintenance costs.

    Here is the problem with SkyTrain; SkyTrain operates full consists at the same headway’s throughout the system which increases maintenance and operational costs on the lightly used outer ends of the service.

  8. Rico says:

    There are no conflicts on cross streets? Wow, just wow. Wow.

    Also you are aware that Skytrain can short turn and the Millenium line branching acts to reduce frequency at the end right?

    Zwei replies: I would be most surprised if it couldn’t.

  9. Haveacow says:

    Guys you are all forgetting one really important thing here about capacity of transit vehicles. This is the one thing everyone seems to forget about capacity, simply calculating the capacity of each vehicle multiplied by the service frequency is wrong because it assumes mathematically that, no one leaves the vehicle for an hour. To get the true capacity you also have to calculate over the period of an hour, the turnover in seats and standing space inside the vehicle. Simply calculating vehicle capacity, times the frequency of service can massively underestimate the capacity of any transportation infrastructure. Yes, doing it your way is easy but it is usually inaccurate, sometimes, comically inaccurate.

    You have to also consider that when a vehicle gets to over 90% capacity, many first world passengers will avoid getting on the vehicle, unless they absolutely have to get on. Thus the Skytrain Expo Line might have a theoretical capacity of 15000 passengers per hour per direction (pphpd), however according to Translink data, 12500-13800 pphpd is the usual operating peak hour range of the Expo Line. There have been individual days with passenger levels of 14100 pphpd but that’s because of special one time events.

    Zwei replies: Thank you. Trying meet the argument on their level is frustrating, but that is how Translink and the SkyTrain lobby work. In fact the capacity debate is rather silly because the SkyTrain lobby would have us think that the capacity of smaller trains is more than larger trams.

  10. Haveacow says:

    As coincidence would have it a planner who worked in Switzerland explained something to me, yes there are some surface interactions between the Trams in Zurich and normal private vehicular traffic. Transit does take precedence over private cars in Canadian and Swiss cities, unlike Canada, Switzerland actually enforces those rules! The slow transit experience in Zurich Rico is talking about is because they have to be slower for pedestrian and cyclists safety, another thing the Swiss actually bother to enforce, that we really don’t. Fast transit is nice but not necessarily what you want in all cases. They can have slower trams but they have a whole network effect created by many overlapping tramlines that makes single line, fast rapid transit, something we here in North America crave constantly, not all that necessary. I checked this when this thread began, in Zurich tram lines mostly on private r.o.w. carry the lion share of the passenger load, compared to busses and their near rapid transit like, commuter or regional rail system.

  11. Rico says:

    Hi Haveacow, just a couple of things: at no point did I complain the Zurich trams are slow, with the signal priority and rights of ways they have they are pretty fast and comfortable. I also did not even mention cars in the context of conflicts. In Zurich much of the conflicts are other transit, pedestrians and bikes. While they lack the sexiness of a car villain they still impact capacity.
    Interesting about the trams having more users than the Sbahn, this seems weird so I went on Wiki…sure enough…still seemed weird so I clicked the reference for the s bahn numbers and it only shows 11 lines and there are 26 lines. I don’t have time to look into if those 11 lines are still accounting for the ridership on all 26 lines or not. Maybe when I get more time.
    If you go to the 2018 service report you can see the average daily pphpd for Skytrain by segment. The am peak is 14,800pphpd. I imagine with the new trains and ridership growth that its quite a bit higher now.