A while ago we had the opportunity to meet with Ms Florence Forzy-Raffard. At present she works in Public Affairs at Keolis in Paris, but she has a background from Yarra Trams in Melbourne and also as a councillor at the Mayors office in Bordeaux under Alain Juppé. We were able to ask this very experienced person a couple of questions on transportation and urban development.
1. How come Bordeaux decided to introduce trams? How would you describe the city center at that time?
Bordeaux had trams from the late 19th century until 1958, when they were discarded to favour car traffic. By the mid 1980’s congestion started becoming serious, and it became obvious that some kind of mass transit system was needed to free up the choked roads. The then Mayor and President of the Bordeaux metropolitan area, (called the CUB), Mr. Jacques Chaban Delmas, started doing surveys and planning for a metro. The project proved to be very expensive and complex, due to the nature of the sub-soil in Bordeaux, and the large river (the Garonne) flowing in the middle of the city.
In 1995, a new team was elected at the Bordeaux City Hall, and I was one of the newly elected councillors. Mayor Alain Juppé is a very powerful French political figure (he has had various high level portfolios, including Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs).
By that time, Bordeaux’s population was decreasing, with families moving out of the centre to the suburbs – creating therefore more need for driving, making congestion worse – a vicious circle. The historic centre, built in limestone, looked neglected and the golden stones had turned to black after decades of intense automobile traffic and pollution. This was reflected in the mood of the inhabitants…
The new Council started with a blank sheet of paper. It quickly became obvious that the metro project was not viable – too expensive, technically too difficult. Therefore we envisioned a tramway. The process started in 1996. Planning, public consultation (very time consuming), design, construction… Three lines were built at once, which meant that the city was chaos during more than two years, infuriating motorists, traders and citizens!
First line was launched in Dec 2003, and various extensions launched since. A fourth line is planned for 2018.
2. What kind of problems were you (and the society) hoping to solve with trams?
- First: congestion – 1 FULL TRAM =150 cars off the road!
- Pollution. Trams have no exhaust fumes, no particles and CO2 emissions, they make very little noise compared to buses or cars.
- Making the city centre more accessible and more attractive. The introduction of trams coincided with an extensive renovation of the historic part of the city, cleaning the facades, transforming the banks of the river (demolishing old warehouses and creating promenades, gardens, sports and recreations areas), a lot of busy arterial roads have been “pedestrianised”.
- Reducing car access to city centre. This was a dramatic change. Almost no more on street parking. More underground car parks but more expensive: in fact the first 2 hours are relatively cheap, then it becomes very expensive, this encourages shoppers to come, but discourages people who spend the whole day at work. Access to centre is facilitated for residents, taxis and deliveries, but commuters are discouraged to drive to work. It was highly unpopular in the beginning, but people got used to it.
- Bringing residents, including families, back to live in the city centre, by making the centre more beautiful and with excellent public transport. A virtuous circle.
3 . How would the city have developed without trams in your opinion?
- Business and residents would have left the city centre and moved to the periphery
- Traffic would have come to a complete block, affecting the economy – whereas there has been a significant modal shift towards public transport.
- Tourism numbers would be down
- Trams – and the urban renovation and redesign around it- really boosted the city’s economic attractiveness. Bordeaux was classified in 2007 as world heritage city by UNESCO. Not only a few monuments but over 1,800 hectares are classified. The tram’s integration in the fabric of the city is excellent – it coexists peacefully with bikes, pedestrians, cafés with outdoor terraces. It has become a familiar and much loved silhouette.
- Real estate along tram corridors has gone up tremendously
4. You told us that no city ever regretted introducing trams. How come do you think?
Trams really PACIFY a city; they reduce the noise levels and the stress induced by car traffic (road rage, safety issues). I sincerely think that generally it makes the citizens proud of their city, it promotes social cohesion and economic development. It is part of the reasons business leaders invoke when asked why they choose to create their business in such or such city.
Last but not least… Politicians generally get reelected after introducing the tram.
5. What are the hardest obstacles for a region or city when deciding to go for trams? Economy? Politics? Public opinion?
All of that. Money is an obstacle of course. It has to be done wisely and well thought through so that the city is not too burdened by debt. Politics and public opinion are linked. It is always difficult in a country that does not have many trams. Keolis is experiencing that with the Gold Coast Light Rail Project in Australia, the first tram to be built in Australia in decades. Politicians are hesitant and traders and media can be very vocal.
In France, Strasbourg and Nantes were amongst the first and politicians faced fierce opposition. It’s now getting easier and easier to bring stakeholders on board, as one only needs to go and see what a success trams have been in other cities. There is a real good benchmarking and exchange of best practices, cities learning from each other.
In fact, everyone wants a tram now.
I would say two ingredients are needed to make it a a success: first a good project, that is part of a comprehensive long term vision for the city’s development, and real political leadership.
6. When France, Germany and Switzerland kept their trams and/or developed their systems, the Scandinavian countries dumped theirs in the 1960:s and 70:s. How will that affect the process here?
Only Germany, Switzerland and Eastern Europe Countries kept their trams. France and lots of other countries discarded them as well. It’s a good and a bad thing in fact…
Of course it’s good to have kept the trams because the system is there, the tracks are in place and people are used to it. It costs hundreds of millions to build a network.
On the other hand, a lot of historic tram networks are in bad shape and not very efficient: St Petersburg, Melbourne. I am speaking from my own experience since after being part of the team that brought the trams back to Bordeaux, I then worked in Melbourne, Australia, during 5 years. Trams are everywhere and they are iconic, but they are awfully slow, because they share the roads with cars: it means people often do not want to give up their car and trams do not easy congestion as much as they should. Besides, in Melbourne, infrastructure is often in poor condition, and needs big investments.
In modern systems trams have full priority, have their own right of way and are much more efficient than driving. Recent networks are safer, faster, more reliable. Costly to build, but lest expensive to run and maintain.
Some short facts about French administration:
Unlike Sweden, France has not reduced the number of its municipalities, so many of them have decided to work together. Usually, large cities and the smaller communes around gather into what we call an urban community. Urban Communities manage water, sewage, garbage collection, economic development and public transport – sometimes other activities too. Each municipality designates a few of its councillors to sit on the Urban Community Council and each municipality contributes to a common budget, proportionate to its population.