Lyon: Urban Planning Designed Around Public Transport

Nov. 23, 2014
In Lyon, urban planning is designed around public transport, led by SYTRAL, leading to lower traffic and less pollution.

At the foot of two hills and crossed by two rivers, the Saône and the Rhône, Lyon is the capital of the Rhône-Alpes region in east-central France. It is about 292 miles from Paris and 199 miles from Marseille. The city is divided into 9 municipal arrondissements, each with its own council.

The city is known for historical and architectural landmarks and has 1,235 acres listed on the UNESCO’s World Heritage list since 1998.

There is an international airport to the east of Lyon, with connections to the TGV network and the Rhônexpress tram which connects to the business quarter of Lyon. In Lyon there are two major rail stations, Lyon Part-Dieu and Lyon Perrache, which have regional services, including TGV. The city also has a dense road network with connections to Paris, Marseille, Geneva and Grenoble.

The Transports en Commun Lyonnais (TCL) is the public transit system, including a metro, tram, trolleybuses, buses and funicular rail. Being located at the foot of two hills led the city to early adoption of funicular railway technology with five lines being built in the 19th century; two are still in operation today. Since 2005, bike share has also been a part of Lyon’s transportation network.

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Organizational Structure

Syndicat mixtedes Transports pour le Rhône et l’Agglomération Lyonnaise (SYTRAL) is a public institution that was founded in 1985 and serves as the organizing authority for urban transport operated under the TCL and Optibus brands. The operating area covers about 237 square miles and includes 58 municipalities and 7 peripheral towns. Population for the area is approximately 1,300,000 people.

SYTRAL President Bernard Rivalta said it is run by two counciles — greater Lyon and Rhône County and that it comprises elected representatives from great Lyon, the county council and also from two groups of municipalities on the edge of the metropolitan area. He also said SYTRAL has reorganized to provide urban services in the rest of the county to adapt the operating model to provide the most efficient system.

SYTRAL is a decision-making body composed of elected representatives from the Greater Lyon and the Rhône department. Decisions are made in a Trade Union Committee composed of 28 elected members. They define policy for public transport in the city and monitor the implementation.

Rivalta said he sees public transportation as a major public service which elected representatives must be responsible for in terms of decision-making, funding and ownership but when it comes to the day-to-day operations, it is for a business to run with its capabilities, knowledge and skills. The system was reorganized and every 6 years they go out to bid for a private contractor.

SYTRAL has a contract with Keolis Lyon to operate the TCL system, as well as the Optibus for mobility-impaired passengers. SYTRAL defines fare policy and adapts transit offerings in agreement with the operating company. It owns the infrastructure, facilities and equipment and monitors service quality standards, including regularity, availability, cleanliness, safety and fare evasion. It also defines price policy to ensure access for all.

Keolis received $2.42B for the 6-year contract (2011-2016) and commits to achieve targets in terms of income from transport, fare evasion rates, quality of service, production goals, punctuality, passenger information and environmental care. Keolis Lyon manages SYTRAL’s $4.45B in assets: 8 sites for bus operations, 8 sites for bus maintenances, 4 sites for metro operations; 4 sites for metro maintenance, including funicular; 2 sites for tram operations and maintenance; and 3 sites for specialized maintenance. There are 4,500 employees, 2,500 of which are operators.

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Transport and Urban Development

Rivalta said public transportation and urban development are inseparable and that transport must always adapt to — or precede — the city’s evolution. “When you build a metro, tram or trolleybus line, you must think about each aspect of the city’s development.”  

The city is being rebuilt on what existed to avoid urban sprawl and problems with public transport provisions, he explained. Now there is a Greater Lyon policy so they build lines around which the city can be constructed. “It’s a completely different philosophy,” he said. “Urban planning is designed around public transport; previously it was the other way around.

“This is an important strategic decision because it stops commuters from traveling into the city by car, producing lots of pollution.”

When Rivalta was elected president, one of the core principles he introduced was that public transport should be a social glue and as such, SYTRAL provides a one-price ticket across the system. With single-ticket pricing for the entire area and all modes, people living in any area are able to travel the entire system with one ticket. There are about 40 percent of the passengers that have a concessionary price, including students, income support recipients, large families, the elderly and non-tax payers.

In France there is a transport tax which contributes more than a third of SYTRAL’s budget and is paid for by public and private sector companies. In Lyon, everyone thinks that the tax is a great development driver, Rivalta said. When they have a development plan with more than a billion dollars’ worth of work, money is spent in the metropolitan area providing work for hundreds of people and dozens of companies. “Today, no one contests the transport tax because local companies realize that development based on public transport is in their interst.

“This tax is a big part of a virtuous cycle; money is taken from companies, but returned to them through works and through the quality of public transport provision in the metropolitan area,” Rivalta said.

An example of the of the relationship between the economy and public transportation is their work on the Eurexpo Exposition Center, extending the T5 tramway, Rivalta cited. It’s a major metropolitan business venue and they carry many people during each congress and show. “Without this extension, we would probably have lost Politeck, a European, or even world-class show, which other cities were competing for.”

The TCL Network

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Public transportation is more than its rolling stock, Rivalta said. It’s ongoing research and it’s advanced technologies and he said he wants to remain as advanced as possible.

TCL is the largest system in France, outside of Paris, in terms of service and multimodal connections. There are 4 metro lines, 2 funicular lines, 4 tram lines, 9 trolleybus lines, 121 bus lines and they also operate 141 school bus lines.

The Funiculars have 5-minute frequency and a slope of up to 31 percent. Saint Just line is a half-mile long and Fouvière is a quarter-mile route. They operate at a speed of about 70 mph.

Abandoned in favor of the bus after the Second World War, trams made their return in Lyon in 2001 with two lines, T1 and T2. There are now 5 lines  with 84 stations.

SYTRAL ordered the first Citadis trams in March 1998 and in January, 2001, 33 trams entered into service. Ten years later, 73 were circulating on four lines.

In 2012, the first of 12 high-capacity Citadis trams from Alstom were delivered and went into service that November on the T3 Line. The trams are about 138 feet long and carry up to about 400 passengers. They are all 100 percent low-floor and have dedicated areas for people with reduced mobility.

Lyon is known historically as an important area for the production and weaving of silk so the front end of the tram was designed to be reminiscent of the form or a silkworm. The Citadis frontend, backend and interiors are adaptable; they can be designed to reflect the image of the city.

In 2013 the T4 tram line extended to the university campus, becoming the longest tram line at 16 miles. Rivalta said the T4 makes him very proud as it lets young people from low-income neighborhoods travel to university to give them a way out and a way up.

He said T4 is also a good example of upgrades in the urban space. “In these cases we really are restructuring the city,” he explained. “New lines don’t always run through the center. T4 is one of the first lines around the outskirts and that’s also an important part of public transport.”

TCL has also been busy on its extension of the subway Line B, the Oullins extension. The new terminal Oullins is part of the urban renewal project planned by the Urban Community of Lyon.

The main feature of the extension that's just over a mile long, was crossing the Rhône. SYTRAL chose to use a tunnel boring machine for the tunnel that runs more than 15 below the riverbed. In September 2010 the tunnel boring machine began the .9-mile tunnel. The rails were laid in the tunnel between teh summer of 2011 and spring 2012. The extension to Oullins station began operation in 2013.

Redesigning the Bus Network

The TCL bus system consists of 1,000 buses, including 131 electric trolleybuses and 5 electric buses. In 2007 SYTRAL and Keolis Lyon began a survey of the complete network, looking at service quality and the potential of the system. The 2-year project, the Atoubus Project, had a goal of generating 8 percent more bus trips by the end of 2012 so that 1 in 3 urban trips was made by public transportation.

The system had been first created before the Second World War with gradual changes over time, creating a make-shift network that was complex and difficult. The initial survey involved identifying strengths and weaknesses of the network and compared that against demographic, economic, urban and social developments. There was a large outreach campaign to communicate with the general public and politicians in the service area.

The results of the survey and outreach revealed an efficient network with room for improvement – to adapt to new lifestyles and to a changing conurbation. Lyon no longer had a city center, but two central hubs, the Presqu’ile and Part-Dieu districts.

Stage 2 of the projects was to define the plans of the reorganization and development of service re-deployment scenarios. They organized the network hierarchy, simplified the lines and improved the bus connections with the other public transportation modes.

Between October 2009 and July 2010 the plan was presented to the mayors in the service area and they were given six months in which to submit comments about the proposed plan. The final plan was approved December 2010.

The project was implemented between spring and August of 2011. Part of the project involved purchasing 79 new articulated vehicles to run on the new network. It was about $38M for the 79 articulated buses purchased in 2011 and about $8M was spend for 16 buses in 2009.

The reorganization included 230 additional stops and nearly an extra 2 million miles per year. The frequency was increased on the 26 major lines to a bus every 10 minutes between 5 a.m. and Midnight, including on holidays. The new network includes more cross links to shorten distances between neighborhoods and more intermodal links.

SYTRAL recently launched its Urban Mobility Plan, which it intends to be adopted in 2017. The plan will set the priorities for future infrastructure and 95 percent of the actions recommended by the PDU 2005 have been completed or are in the process of being completed. Between 2005 and 2012, road traffic within the downtown decreased 13 percent.

Nearly 20 years ago, Lyon chose electrical power with its metros, trams and trolleybuses. Rivalta said the system is the biggest electricity consumer in the metropolitan area with 70 percent of the service being operated by electric power.

To deter cars from entering the metropolitan area, SYTRAL built park-and-ride facilities and now owns more than 7,000 parking spaces which lets people leave their cars if they have public transport passes or tickets. “This encourages them to use our system in the dense part of the metropolitan area.

“Where the car was king, there is now public transport, bike lanes, pavements and pedestrians.”

“All over the world, public transport is being asked to create the new face of cities,” Rivalta said. “We are visited by more than 100 delegations a year and I think this is because we have succeeded in establishing a new model or urban development and of public transport management, which is why we are now definitely one of the top performing systems in France and Europe.”

Conversions: 1 hectare = 2.47105 acres, 1 km2 = .386102 mile2, 1€ = $1.27, 1 km = .621371 mile, 1 Km/hour = .621371 miles/hour, 1 meter = 3.28084 feet