The Tram system of Bordeaux, France

Ten years after putting the tram network into service and completely reworking the bus system, the results are discouraging. In Grand Bordeaux, two-thirds of transportation is still done in individual automobiles. Here are the reasons for this situation and a few suggestions for improvement.

1. The car has remained king in the urban area

Every ten years, the greater urban area conducts an in-depth study on modes of transportation in Grand Bordeaux, an area of ninety-six communes including about 881,000 residents (figures from 2009). If we compare the two last studies (from 1998 and 2009), the assessment is not very good for public transportation. We thought that putting three tram lines into service between 2003 and 2005, and then reworking of the bus system was going to curb the supremacy of the automobile. That is not the case. Ten years ago, 9% of transportation was done by public transportation. Today, it is only one percent better (10%). Despite the millions of euros invested, public transportation has only gained 1 percent in its modal share. The decline of the car took place, but only negligibly. In Grand Bordeaux, 63% of transportation is done by car. And the traffic jams are only getting worse.

2. An explosion in movement

The figures that show a relative failure for public transportation in the competition against the car can be explained easily. In ten years, the amount of movement has exploded in Grand Bordeaux. Every day, there are more than 3.6 million instances of travel, 10% more than in 1998. In this way, the modest increase made by public transportation still represents a 25% increase in the volume of transportation. This explosion is linked to the demographic growth observed in Grand Bordeaux (+12% of residents since 1998). More people, more transportation, and also even more cars: there are more than 500,000 of them in the greater urban area. And for 90% of the time, they are parked. Despite this, the automobile remains dominant.

A view of Bordeaux, France

3. The buses and trams are too slow

The disadvantage of the trams and buses is that they’re too slow. Even bikes are faster. Only walking is slower. Public transport by bus or tram has an average speed of 12.1 km/h. It’s impossible to match a car (26.5 km/h) or motorized scooters (26.6 km/h). Bordeaux made the choice to mix the tram in with traffic, forced to do so by the many curved pathways. A metro system would have been much more efficient (it carries more people and goes faster). The greater urban area decided to make the system star-shaped, rather than making the connections end-to-end. This design centered around the downtown of Bordeaux is not the most efficient.

4. Behaviors are key

According to Jean-Christophe Chadanson, research director at the Agency of Urban Planning of the metro area, “It is necessary to move ahead from a model where we invested a lot of money into infrastructure and towards one where we also put money into encouraging walking, bicycling, and changing behaviors. Everyone should get around in several ways, taking a car one day, taking a bike, walking, or taking public transportation on other days. We have to help this kind of behavior emerge, it is another form of investment.” It’s clear that adding more transportation infrastructure won’t suffice.

Do you think it is common for individuals to alternate their modes of transportation, or does it seem more likely that people consistently use the same means of transportation?

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

Original article, originally published in French, here.