When BYD (the world's largest maker of electric cars and busses) announced its new monorail product SkyRail, I was very interested in it as a partial solution to Melbourne's transportation problems. It seems odd that a city in a developed country should have major transportation problems, but in fact Melbourne shares some of the problems of rapidly growing cities in the third world. Melbourne's population is growing by 2.2% per annum, faster than Mexico City's, and much faster than New York's or Berlin's.
Instead of expanding the rail and tram networks bit by bit over the last 3 decades, a string of inept governments has flubbed the expansion of public transport in the metro area. Trains, trams and freeways are jam-packed, making daily commuting slower and slower and more and more unpleasant. Melbourne is one of the few big cities in the world without a railway line to its airport. A monorail to the airport would make travelling to and from Melbourne a far pleasanter experience, and in fact a wider monorail network would nicely complement the existing tram and the rail systems. A monorail can be situated down freeway medians, along arterial routes, and through densely built up areas, whereas trains would have to routed underground (v. expensive) and new tram routes would require closing the roads where they are to be located for up to 3 years, temporarily worsening congestion. What's true for us would be true for many cities round the world.
When it launched, BYD said this about its monorail:
As a mass transit alternative with relatively smaller passenger capacity, BYD’s “SkyRail” delivers numerous benefits, including: capital expenditure 80% lower than metro, construction period two-thirds shorter than metro, excellent topographic adaptability due to higher climbing ability and smaller turning radius, reduced noise to allow travel through architectural complexes, visual integration into the cityscape thanks to transparent bridges and independent right of way, flexible management to allow for capacity between 10,000 to 30,000 passengers an hour (each way) and a high speed of up to 80km/h. It is very applicable to small and medium sized cities, heavy traffic routes, CBD’s and routes connecting tourist attractions in large cities.
[Read more here]
At the time, I wondered how many systems BYD would sell. I admit to being skeptical. I was wrong. The first has just opened in the Chinese city of Yinchuan, there are 10 systems under construction and another 30 systems starting construction next year, all in China. And my guess is that if mayors of other cities see it working in China it will be widely installed across the world.
Reducing traffic congestion in large cities and metropolises will need the expansion of mass transit. London's Crossrail project is a good example of a high density--but very costly-- metro rail project. For smaller cities BYD's SkyRail looks attractive. We might even get one in Victoria.