Trams in Oxford

A letter in response to an Oxford Times article on "Driverless Pods".

8 January 2017

This letter from Chairman Peter Thompson was printed in the Oxford Times on 5 January 2017 in response to an article “Driverless Pods are ‘the Future for Oxford’” by Jeremy Long.

Dear Sir

Jeremy Long is absolutely right in suggesting (OT last week) that shared autonomous vehicles could well transform the way we use cars for urban transport, and sooner than we might think. After all, what is the logic in making a £20,000 investment in machinery which spends 90% of its life standing idle? Or putting one’s life on hold to guide a car which can actually do a better job by itself? So autonomous vehicles might improve our experience and our productivity (although taxis have been doing this for years).

What they cannot do is provide mass transportation, so comparing them to trams is to miss the point; it is comparing prawn cocktail with meat-and-two-veg. Oxford is facing an influx of 16m visitors a year, we are told, and they are not all going to be arriving in driverless pods! Yes, trams are expensive, but tram technology is advancing as fast as that of ‘pods’. Half the cost of trams is in constructing the tracks but Oxford’s roads are already in a state of collapse (has Mr Long tried biking or bussing down Woodstock Road?), so much of the cost is going to be incurred anyway.

Modern tram in Nottingham
Modern tram in Nottingham

Continental cities like Freiburg or Grenoble (one of our twins) regard tram systems as the essential skeleton which supports the life and civilisation of the community. They are thus valued very differently than by simply considering the cash return on the investment. We made the point at the ‘Trams in Oxford’ seminar at UCL in 2015 (see: Can Oxford afford not to invest in efficient mass transport?

Peter Thompson

Chairman, Oxford Civic Society