Perth commuters take fright at fake tram

By Paul Hemsley

If the sight of a tram trundling down a pedestrian mall is enough to frighten you off your shopping, then Perth is the place to be – even if you can’t catch a ride yet.

After months of berating the Western Australian state government over its proposed route for the new CBD light rail, City of Perth Mayor Lisa Scaffidi has taken dramatic steps in her local government’s push to banish trams from CBD pedestrian malls by erecting life-size replicas of the vehicles to show shoppers just how big they are in real life.

The big props are the shock latest tactic by the City of Perth in a bid to persuade the Western Australian state government not to put its controversial light rail corridor through the city’s shopping mall area amid fears that the machines will increase safety risks to pedestrians.

While the City of Perth has always welcomed the state government’s commitment to build a light rail path through the CBD to mitigate traffic congestion in the city’s inner north, there is sharp division between council and state over whether the Euro-style machines should ply their way through Hay Street Mall.

The state government did not provide details on a final pathway for the new light rail through Perth in its recent 2013-14 Budget despite committing to an outlay of $432 million over four years to begin construction on the 22km MAX light rail in 2016.

The new transport infrastructure is slated to be finished in 2019 and will connect the growing northern suburbs and the Perth CBD, east to Victoria Park and west to Queen Elizabeth II Medical Centre in Nedlands.

So far the City has aggressively campaigned to keep the light rail path outside the busy mall area because of the potential safety hazard a light rail path could pose in the bustling shopping district.

It points to Melbourne’s established track record of tram collisions with pedestrians and cites and Australasian College for Emergency Medicine study on tram bingles in Melbourne between 2001 and 2008 where “1769 people reported to emergency departments with trauma related to trams in Melbourne.”

Within those numbers the City of Perth says that “107 people were classified as major traumas” and that there were “nine fatalities resulting from pedestrians being hit by trams.”

“Light rail carriages are not the iconic streetcars and small trams people associate with those in Melbourne or San Francisco,” Ms Lisa Scaffidi said – rather conspicuously omitting Sydney where the existing light comingles with pedestrians with seemingly fewer incidents.

To keep the light rail’s path away from the mall, the City has proposed alternate routes such as William Street and St Georges Terrace where it is claimed greater street width will more easily accommodate city traffic and pedestrians.

However the City is keeping an open mind to public opinion potentially swinging either way on the Hay Street Mall route.

Ms Scaffidi conceded that the demonstration and mock light rail was meant to lay the controversy to rest by saying that if “no one is bothered and key businesses are satisfied then so be it”.

However according to the City, Ms Scaffidi’s strategy to physically demonstrate envisage how the light rail would look and feel in the narrow confines of the pedestrian city mall has overwhelmingly worked to persuade pedestrians it belongs elsewhere.

Ms Scaffidi’s office says Perth residents, business owners, retailers and the general public have bombarded her office with e-mails supporting the City’s position to keep the light rail out of the Hay Street Mall.

“In the last 48 hours the City of Perth has received numerous emails, with 93 per cent strongly supporting the City’s position,” Ms Scaffidi said.

Ms Scaffidi said that strong endorsement is indicated by many for the route along St Georges Terrace or even Wellington Street as the “more logical choice” for light rail.

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