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Sheffield's controversial Supertram
Member Name: micksheff
Advantages: Cheaper and faster than buses, clean
Disadvantages: Doesn't cover a lot of the city, choas during its construction
Historically the city of Sheffield had an extensive tram system that served the city from the late 1880's until 1960 when it was abolished. It had been perceived by the late 1950's that the future of travel in the city would be with cars.
Twenty five years later and there were so many cars on the roads that the city's transport infrastructure was on the verge of complete collapse. Clearly something radical had to be done and a Government funded study concluded that the future of travel in Sheffield would once again lie in the hands of the trams.
These new trams would however be a far cry from the old Victorian trams that had once graced our streets, they would be fast, clean and environmentally friendly. Lessons would be learned from similar schemes in other UK cities like Manchester and the latest technology available would make these modern trams cutting edge. And so the Supertrams as they were to be called were born…..
The early days of the Supertram were not however without controversy. The major construction work on the city's streets between 1991 and 1995 that was required to create the city's new state of the art transport system created chaos on the already congested roads and by the time this work was completed hundreds of small businesses had been forced to close as the blocked off roads had made their premises virtually inaccessible to the public. On top of this the cost of Supertram soared way beyond its original budget and scaremongering within the local press warned us that it would be the residents of the city that would be picking up the bill.
On the 21st March 1994 the first Supertrams began to run in the city, initially on a route between the city centre and Meadowhall Interchange. By the 23rd October 1995 all work had been completed and the Supertrams began to run on three different routes consisting of 29 kilometres of rail track. These routes ran from Malin Bridge near Hillsborough to Halfway via the city centre and the Crystal Peaks Shopping Complex, from Middlewood to the Meadowhall Interchange via the city centre, and from Herdings Park to the Meadowhall Interchange.
Approximately 50% of the electric driven light railway track system is at the side or in the middle of public roads but Supertram always has priority over the other traffic.
The Supertram network links five different park and ride sites with the city centre and gives easy access to the railway station, shopping areas, both of Sheffield's prestigious universities, the Cathedral, sports arenas and many other popular entertainment venues.
Each Supertram vehicle looks like a modern aerodynamic train and is capable of carrying over 250 Passengers. They are quiet, comfortable and very clean with every vehicle being washed at the end of each days service and fully valeted every month.
In the early days of the Supertram tickets were purchased from machines at the tram stops prior to boarding and shown to the driver for verification but this system did not really work. Many people found the fare structure confusing and bought incorrect tickets whilst others used this flaw to deliberately abuse the system. Within a few months these automatic ticket machines were abandoned and all Supertrams now have conductors on board from whom the tickets are bought from.
All of Sheffield's Supertrams are operated by Stagecoach who also operate local buses in the city alongside First Mainline and other smaller local bus companies. All of the Stagecoach staff are fully trained in customer care, conflict avoidance and disability awareness.
I travel on the Sheffield Supertram quite regularly since I own a shop at Hillsborough and there is a tram stop directly outside it. From the city centre to Hillsborough the journey by tram is far quicker than by bus or car and also a lot cheaper than by the bus.
The prices are quite simple and there is a maximum one way fare of just £1.80 or you can buy a daysaver ticket for £2.70 which you can use as many times as you want during a day.
My fare to Hillsborough costs £1.80 each way so I always buy a daysaver ticket for £2.70. This compares with a comparative bus fare on First Mainline of £2.10 for a single journey or £3.50 for a day ticket. There are also concessionary rates available on the tram for children, OAP's and students. For regular travellers there are weekly and monthly tickets available. Weekly tickets currently cost £9.50 and Monthly ones £35.
Hillsborough is an area of the city that is notoriously bad for traffic congestion. It is also the location of Sheffield Wednesday's football ground and when they are playing at home the traffic is horrendous. The beauty of Supertram is that it has priority over all other traffic and therefore does not have to wait in any traffic queues.
All of the trams that I have been on have been very clean and the staff have always been polite. The main problem that I find is that they get very crowded at busy times and sometimes I have to stand for my full journey.
The other criticism would have to be that the Supertram does not serve a lot of the city so it is only any good if you live on the route. Since I don't live on the route when I visit my shop (only usually a couple of times a week) I have to catch a bus from my house to the city centre before I can jump on a tram.
A journey on the Sheffield Supertram bears very little resemblance to a journey by bus. Back in the days when this transport system was still a dream I always imagined that it would have been more akin to a journey by train but the reality is that there are not even too many similarities there either.
A Supertram ride is a much more comfortable, relaxed affair. Since even the oldest vehicles are still only a few years old the upholstery on the seats is very clean, almost as new on most of the vehicles and I have never seen any graffiti. I understand that all of the original vehicles are now also in a refurbishment programme and will be completely updated within the next couple of years and on top of this there are brand new vehicles on order. It would seem that Stagecoach have no intentions of running this flagship system into the ground as they have done with the buses that they operate in the city. Many of their buses are now well over ten years old with torn upholstery and are quite literally falling to bits.
The Supertrams are very quiet. In the early days this caused a few problems as they knocked several people down because unlike the other traffic you cannot hear them coming until they are very close to you. When a tram pulls up at one of its designated stops the doors slide open automatically. They usually have three or four carriages on them although there are currently plans to add a fifth carriage onto vehicles at peak times to try and reduce congestion. This would seem to be the logical thing to do since increasing the frequency of the trams would be difficult because there are a limited number of vehicles and during the rush hour they already run every 8 minutes. Adding another carriage however will not be quite as simple as it sounds as many of the stations are not long enough to cope with a vehicle of this length. One such compromise that is currently being discussed is to have people get off the trams only from the middle three carriages at shorter stations, something that currently happens on some of the London Underground tube stations.
Inside the trams each vehicle is equipped with rows of seats set out in pairs with an aisle in between. Although it has be said that the space between each row of seats and the width of the aisle is a lot wider than those found on our local buses and many of the trains that I have travelled on. The seats that are closest to each set of doors have a lot more space in front of them are these are reserved especially for the disabled, elderly and people with pushchairs.
The rows of seats face different directions so you have a choice whether you wish to face forwards or backwards on your journey. In each carriage there is a LCD display advising you of the next stop that are approaching. Trams do not automatically stop at every stop so you do have to press the bell when you reach your destination, although once this has been pressed a message above the station name on the LCD display will say "Stopping at……."
Getting on and off the trams for people in wheelchairs or with pushchairs is also a lot less hassle than getting onto a bus, or so I am told. Although to be fair many of the newer buses do now have low floors and can tilt downwards to almost ground level. The Supertram however does not have this problem since the station platforms are completely level with the doors and there is virtually no gap between the platform and the door, a problem that still occurs with many trains.
Overall I think that the Sheffield Supertram is excellent but there are still many people in the city who have not forgotten the chaos and the misery that its construction caused. So opinion is still very much divided between those that were largely unaffected by its creation and love it and those that will never forgive it and loathe it.
Summary: Launched in 1994 this is Sheffield's state of the art transport system
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