Which transport solution to choose; bus rapid-transit service, trolley bus, articulated bus or tram? Unusually for a city of this size, the latter solution was chosen by the Greater Besançon metropolitan area. However, this tram is unlike any other tram system: the train sets are more compact (measuring 23.4 metres each, versus about 30 metres for conventional trams), and the cost is lower, coming in at €16 million per kilometre, a first for France where the price tag is usually €20 to €30 million per km.
The challenge for the project was to reduce the cost compared with other tram projects completed in France in recent years, based on a firm initial budget of €228 million (2008 prices). Each expenditure item was optimised to limit spending: simple urban developments for the system, standard train design and interior, space-saving maintenance building, electronic rail signalling system throughout the network, etc.
Besançon also set out to improve traffic in the city by developing interchanges between other modes of transport and the tram at several points and opening five 750-capacity park-and-ride facilities along the tram line, so that the project will leave Besançon with a substantially improved urban transport landscape. Veolia-Transdev plans to have the tram service up and running in the spring of 2015, and the city expects 50,000 to 55,000 passengers a day once the project opens. It runs east-west for 14.5 km (31 stations).
A number of European tram companies now offer compact train sets in the 18 to 24 metre range, along the lines of the Besançon project. This supply, combined with the example shown by Besançon has already encouraged other local authorities, including Avignon and Aubagne, to launch similar projects.
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