Sheffields's SUPERTRAM: An example of good/bad practice?. Sheffield. UK

By News Editor / Updated: 27 Aug 2015

Sheffield's Supertram provides an example of the introduction of a high quality public transport system as part of a wider urban regeneration plan.


Sheffield is a provincial city of 530,000 residents and 260,00 jobs, located in South Yorkshire, UK. Over the past 30 years there has been a slow but fairly substantial transition in the economic base of the area with light industry and services replacing steel and related industries.

Until the 1950's trams ran on street throughout the city, although, by the 1960's the tram had been taken out of service to ease the way for increasing car numbers. As early as 1976 a joint land use and transport study was completed and recommended the re-introduction of among other solutions, trams. This was initially rejected on the grounds of capital costs but by 1985 concrete proposals for an urban light rail system incorporating a cross-city route had been evaluated, laying the foundations for the introduction of the 'Supertram'.


The Supertram system commenced operation in 1994-95 and comprises two lines (configured as three branches) extending to 29kms in length. Line 1 crosses the city centre from Hillsborough (in northwest area of city) to the suburb of Mosborough (in southeast). Line 2 starts on the city-centre outskirts and runs to the Meadowhall Shopping Centre located on the north-east side of the city. In total there are 48 stops on the Sheffield Supertram network with an average spacing of 680 metres.


Stagecoach Supertram serves the city of Sheffield with three light rail routes covering 29km (50% of the system is on street running with mixed traffic).  The tram network links five park and ride sites with the busy city centre and gives easy access to the rail station, shopping areas, both of Sheffield’s prestigious universities, the Cathedral, sports arenas and many new popular entertainment venues.

Supertram vehicles are clean, quiet, spacious and reliable.  Each vehicle is washed externally and internally at the end of its working day and full valets take place on a monthly basis.

All trams have on board conductors for ticket sales and customer care.  Most ticket types can be purchased from the conductor although Monthly "megariders" are only available from Travel Information Centres and students can buy their discounted term time Unirider tickets on line.  Tramstops have up to date timetable, fare and general passenger information and many have customer help points.

Supertram vehicles, which can easily carry 250 passengers, are perceived as providing a high quality experience to the vast majority of passengers.  All new staff are trained in customer care, conflict avoidance and disability awareness.

Stagecoach Supertram also provides practical training, support and consultancy on safety issues to Britain’s other modern tramways.

It is the policy of Supertram’s management to operate a first class public transport system for South Yorkshire and our success is reflected in the fact that Supertram is now proudly exhibited in many of Sheffield’s promotional pages.


Various studies of the impact of the Supertram have been carried out, consisting of a mixture of surveys supported by analysis of planning registers, property data sources and labour market records. Key results obtained from these evaluations, suggest;

  • Little evidence overall of the positive regeneration impacts of Supertram in terms of changes in planning activity
  • >
    • Specifically in terms of attracting major developments
    • Little evidence to suggest that the introduction of the tram had attracted employees to live close to the tram route
    • However, surveys (1995) amongst employees living along the tram route indicated that 12% did use the tram to travel to/from work
    • 11% of job seeking living along the tram route indicted it had facilitated their search for jobs over a wider area (rising to 20% of LT unemployed)

    In retrospect, the ‘failure’ of the Supertram can be attributed to several key aspects, namely;

    • The degree of institutional coordination and cooperation between the various organisations in the planning and transport sectors was weak and no common policy objectives were in place
    • There was no effective planning policy to steer the location of major-trip generating land uses into the tram network or to discourage development/re-development form locating to sites dependent on road access or distant from the city centre
    • Complementary/feeder bus services were not provided to support the tram network, rather were allowed to compete with it


    As a case study of 'transport impacts' it is a rare example of an empirically well- researched scheme and provides insights into some of the lessons to be learn.


    Supertram also has a role to play in the economic re-development of the area. The construction of the Supertram system through the Lower Don Valley, for example, has assisted in improving the accessibility to commercial developments for both employees and customers. Developers feature the high tech Supertram system prominently in many site brochures as it is of benefit in attracting investors to the area. Good infrastructure facilities, such as improved highways and landscaping, help to create confidence in the private sector considering development and investment.

    This helps to bring employment and commerce to Sheffield and its surrounds.

    Improving the City
    Supertram and the City Council have worked together to create not only a high quality public transport system but a significantly upgraded street-scape through which it passes. The development of the route through the city centre has resulted in areas for pedestrians and trams only, with buses and service vehicles being constrained to limited parts of the street. Paving has been upgraded from concrete slabs to clay based materials which retain their colour over a much longer period and add colour and life to the streetscape. Even the tramway itself has been enhanced by the use of colour imprinted concrete to replicate the cobbled streets of the old style tramways. In particular, over 90% of the supports for the overhead electrical system were placed on buildings to avoid the need to plant a significant number of poles in the city centre streets.


    This case study data was collated as part of the European Commission funded HiTrans project. The full case study is available in the publication- HiTrans Best practice guide 1: Public transport and land use planning-(available to purchase, 30 euro plus postage) on the HiTrans website @


Collective passenger transport
Urban mobility planning
United Kingdom
Michael Carreno
planning - network design
planning - service integration
sustainable urban design
transport master plan
29 Jan 2007
27 Aug 2015