Melbourne to buy Mulhouse ‘Bumblebee’ trams

It’s already Wednesday in Melbourne, where The Age newspaper is reporting that the state government of Victoria plans to buy five French trams that have been rented since 2008.

"Bumblebee 4" is seen on Melbourne's 96 St Kilda-East Brunswick service on Nov. 29, 2008. Photo by Flickr user avlxyz and used via Creative Commons license. Click image for photostream.

The distinctive yellow Alstom cars have been well received in Melbourne, so this would seem to be good news for the busy tramway, given that vehicles are in short supply and new trams are not due to start arriving until 2012 (see my previous post on that news).  

Except that this being politically-charged Melbourne, The Age already has noted a fiscal fly in the ointment: Victorian state Premier John Brumby refuses to say how much the government will pay for the cars. At a press conference to announce the upcoming purchase and new services, he sniped: “I know (how much they’ll cost), but you don’t need to know because it’s an amount that will be disclosed when the deal is concluded.”

Wow. Arrogant much, Mr. Brumby? We are talking about taxpayers’ money, right?

Fear not, the opposition got its licks in. According to The Age, opposition transport spokesman Terry Mulder replied: “We will have been ripped off by the owners of these trams because they know full well we can’t afford to send them back.”

Without knowing the purchase price I suppose it’s hard to know whether they will be ripped off or not. Terry Mulder calls the Bumblebee deal “appalling planning.”

Do you know what I call appalling planning? Bemoaning a lack of vehicles while vintage trams are rotting away in storage yards. Moreover, newer Z-class cars from the 1970s have already passed into retirement, such as this one serving as an antique shop in Queensland.

I know 1940s W-class cars are a much different animal than a modern low-floor LRV, but they are also readily familiar to Melbourne as well as being a cultural symbol of the city. I wonder, would the riders rather have better service levels with old trams for a few more years or continue to endure inadequate service?

Using W-class trams to supplement low-floor cars in order to provide enhanced service seems like a reasonable compromise until new vehicles can be purchased.  Retiring old trams before you have enough replacements on hand? That sounds like appalling planning to me, putting the government in an extraordinarily week bargaining position with Mulhouse over the Bumblebees.

Bonne chance, Monsieur Brumby.

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