Net Impacts of Streetcar Operations on Traffic Congestion in Melbourne, Australia

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

infrastructure - bus/tram lane, infrastructure - bus/tram priority, land use - impacts, mode - tram/light rail, place - australasia, place - urban, policy - congestion


Streetcar, congestion, priority tram lanes


Public transit is widely recognized to reduce urban traffic congestion, as it encourages automobile travelers off the road. However, streetcars have been criticized for causing traffic congestion because large trams must operate in mixed traffic on narrow, congested streets. At the same time, streetcars reduce congestion by encouraging automobile drivers to use trams. So what is the net effect of streetcars on congestion? This paper presents a new method for assessing the net traffic congestion effects associated with streetcar operations in Melbourne, Australia, which has the largest streetcar network in the world. Impacts were determined with the use of a traffic network model to compare congestion with trams and without trams. The positive impacts of trams were estimated by using mode shift from tram to automobile when tram services were removed. Negative impacts were explored by considering streetcar traffic operations, the impact of curbside tram stops, and the effect of exclusive priority tram lanes on traffic flow. Findings show that the streetcar network in inner Melbourne results in a net congestion benefit to traffic; a 3.4% decrease in vehicle time traveled and total delay on the road network was established. The streetcar network also contributes to reducing the number of moderately congested links by 16%. Areas for future research are suggested, such as exploring the spatial distribution of the mode shift to automobile and the long-term effect of trams on traffic.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by Transportation Research Board, Washington, copyright remains with them.