Since being built, the tram extension has convincingly proved that it was a good idea. During daylight hours, every tram you see is full. The ones from Glenelg are fuller but even the shuttle trams that only run between South and West Terrace are pretty full. It cannot be said that there is no demand for it. Indeed, demand often outstrips capacity.
The unexpected success led to a further extension soon after. The suggestions at the time were for a loop around the CBD or what was ultimately built, an extension along Port Road to the Entertainment Centre. The idea was that in time, the intermediate suburbs would be regenerated with higher density living.
I will always prefer a tram extension, railway extension, station reopening, busway; in fact anything public transport related over yet another road. But this time, I can't help feeling that we could have spent that $100m a little better elsewhere. These are the reasons:
1. The purpose, as I understand it, of the tram extension was to serve the Entertainment Centre. That really only needs to be served when there is a show on. At its fullest, it can hold 12,000 people. By contrast, the yellow trams have capacity for 70 seated passengers and another perhaps 100 standing. The red ones have a capacity of 180. Given that they run about every 15 minutes, that is not a lot of capacity and it would take some time to clear the Entertainment Centre. Unsurprisingly, it is not the most used form of transport after a Taylor Swift concert;
2. This is the weird bit. As the tram travels along Port Road, just a couple of hundred metres to the east is a perfectly decent railway line. It starts at Adelaide Railway Station (where the tram also goes) and stops (on its way to Outer Harbor) at Bowden station - just across the road from the Entertainment Centre tram stop. Here's a view of the entrance to the Entertainment Centre from Bowden station:
Here's my question: if the idea is to serve the Entertainment Centre and offer an alternative was of getting to and from concerts, why not upgrade and build a walkway to Bowden station? From there, you have the entire train network at your disposal. With a little tweaking, you could have direct trains running north and south. You can also get as much capacity as you want by linking railcars together.
3. When the extension was completed, a park and ride system was introduced whereby motorists could park their car at the Entertainment Centre for $2 and take the tram into the city. It is so popular that further parking is being built. Park and Ride systems are used around the world. What is often found is that rather than using the facility closest to their home, motorists actually more often use the facility closest to their destination. That is more than likely the case with this one. So all of those motorists coming from Port Adelaide, Woodville and Croydon now have this facility at their disposal. All of those places are served by the pre-existing railway line. It does make you wonder what the long-term plans for the railway are.
4. I don't know if you have taken the tram but to get from the Entertainment Centre to Victoria Square takes a long time. I timed it once. It took close to 30 minutes! According to the timetables, it can take between 17 and 23 minutes (still too long I think) but in reality it often takes longer.
I cannot help thinking that the money would have been better spent inside the CBD where the people are and where the demand is. Still, we are stuck with it. It would be a silly idea to rip it up now that it is there. Two things could make it more useful. The first is to extend it to serve the western suburbs. Rather than having it be blocked by traffic, it could follow Linear Park the way the o-bahn does and serve say the Brickworks Market, Underdale High School, Kidman Park, Ikea (potentially), the airport and a number of places in between. The older idea of having 'tram-trains' share the Port Adelaide railway line is pretty pointless.
And speed it up so passengers get into the city at least as quickly as driving. Allow the trams to go faster, synchronise traffic lights with sensors and get rid of that stupid single track section outside the Convention Centre.
PS: Here's the latest about trains: The plan is for a tunnel under the parklands. Why? Tunnels aren't cheap. Why not under the CBD? I can't help thinking this will be one of those plans that ultimately does not come to fruition.