I came across a list of the world's largest tram systems. It rather depends how they are measured. If it is based on double track length, Melbourne wins. By other critera, other European places win. But one stat I had not seen before is number of passengers.
We Melburnians complain about our crowded trams, and they are crowded. In my memory, they were always crowded in peak times, but now they are crowded all the time, day and night, one reason why I favour our passing bus service over trams.
So by passenger numbers per year, St Petersburg, 879 million. Right down at tenth is Melbourne with 180 million, but we are still ahead of Amsterdam with 130 million (pokes tongue out at Peter).
The only other Commonwealth city in the running is Toronto with 105 million.
But get this. How many passenger trips per year were there on Sydney's tram system at its peak? No less than 400 million. If you consider the much smaller population sixty plus years ago, that is an impressive figure. Rhetorical, but how did it all go so wrong? Oh, you do want to know. Essentially the system was run down so much during the depression and the war years, it would have required massive expenditure to bring it up to an efficient standard. Ever so much cheaper and practical to introduce modern and flexible buses. Do I believe that? No, no one said everything had to be done at once to modernise Sydney's tram system in the fifties. Public transport should always be under renewal and improvement, an ongoing process. From my knowledge, while Sydney's tram system was run down, it was still a fast and efficient way to get about, right to the bitter end.
It is suggested by some that Sydney's narrow streets were a big problem for trams and cars to mix. Well, in my experience, Sydney's narrow streets are a big problem for buses and cars to mix.
Ah, ok, I know by now you are begging me to know what a Sydney tram looked like. Here is one that was prepared earlier some sixty years ago. For its time, it was very modern. It is last model tram made for Sydney, the R1 class. While clearly this one was saved, most were just burnt at Sydney's Randwick tram workshops. All that dry wood and they went up like the proverbial Hindu widow.
Oh dear, my photo taken at the Sydney Tram Museum is an R class. I will have to hunt on the net for an R1 class. They are not so different.
And this is an R1 class from a bus website. Don't ask. Look at that filthy diesel fume spewing beast next to the glorious Sydney tram.
But look, if you are in Auckland, you can go to the excellent tram museum there, Museum of Transport and Technology, MOTAT, and see a Sydney R1 class and a Melbourne perhaps W5 class. I knows me Sydney trams better than than me Melbourne ones. The Sydney tram looks like it will slice through an obstacle and proceed, whereas the Melbourne tram looks like it will just bash into an obstacle and maybe just push the obstacle along in front of it. As an often motorist, I find it best to stay out of the way of trams. Looking at one less than a metre behind me in my rear view mirror terrifies me. I know what they are capable of.