Just like the last post about public transport, we’ll try to develop a public transport system for Malé, but this time, it will based on trams and not buses.
Trams, also known as streetcars or light rail, are like small trains, or buses on tracks. They are typically used on longer, straighter routes and are mainly for urban areas, unlike buses which are more suburban (at least that’s how I perceive them).
Trams were a favoured form of public transport before buses became more popular. Nowadays, the world is undergoing something of a tram resurgence, with many cities either expanding their networks, or building a new one from scratch. Lots of European cities have old tram networks. Newer ones can be found in Sydney (which replaced its old network with buses – bet it regrets that now), Detroit, Milwaukee, Shanghai, Izmir, and Addis Ababa, amongst many others.
Here are some videos which give you the basic idea of how trams work, and how they fit into a city.
This is Detroit, one of the newer networks:
This is Melbourne, which has the largest tram network in the world:
This is Kolkata, the only city in India with a tram network (clearly they haven’t been keeping it up to date):
That last one in particular gives us some idea of how a tram network might look in Malé, with narrow and crowded streets. The view at 4:35 especially could be a street in Malé, apart from the rickshaws.
I know Maldivians aren’t going to start looking to an Indian city as an exemplar for development, so here are the trams of Lisbon. You can see that despite the very narrow streets, the tram works just fine. Also notice that the trams seem to be very popular. Clearly they’re doing something right.
I see no reason why a similar system can’t be developed in Malé. Which is why we’re going to do exactly that. With regards to issues like frequency and fare collection, trams are almost the same as buses, so I won’t go into detail about those again. But there are some things specific to trams which need to be considered.
Trams are pretty much always electric. And most of the time, they are powered through overhead wires, since that’s the simplest way of doing it. The only problem which some people may have with this is that overhead wires look kind of ugly.
And because the sky above Malé is already crowded with buildings, it might not be the best idea to add wires to the mess.
So what can we do?
Ground Level Power Supply
In this system, there is an electrified rail below the tram in addition to the two rails for the tram’s wheels. For this reason, this method of powering a tram is also known as “third rail”.
The rail is only powered when the tram is above it, meaning that no one is going to be electrocuted if this system is used. Here’s a video which explains it:
And here is the Rio De Janeiro Light Rail, which uses ground level power supply. The video also shows how smart cards can be used on trams, as well as how trams can be made to be wheelchair accessible.
A possible downside to ground level supply is that it makes the system harder to build, and therefore more expensive.
Battery powered trams are a relatively new thing. As far as I know, only Nanjing in China and some cities in Germany have battery powered trams. The trams are charged at stops and terminals. But because Malé is such a small city, I don’t think it would be necessary to have charging at tram stops; the terminals would suffice. One benefit of this system is that trams can continue running in the event of a power outage (which aren’t common in Malé, but not rare either).
I think any of these methods for powering the trams would work fine in Malé. And I actually wouldn’t really mind overhead wires.
Just like with buses, trams would have to be small enough for the streets but with a decent capacity. They would also have to be wheelchair accessible.
The easiest solution would be use a shorter, narrower version of the trams used in Rio or Melbourne. This type of modern, smooth-looking design is what most cities around the world are using, and it meets all of the criteria.
But I have a different idea. Instead of importing these modern trams, Maldivians could design and build their own, more in the style of old fashioned trams – sure, they look kind of rickety, but Malé itself is a rickety city. The country is filled with skilled artisans and craftsmen who have plenty of experience designing and building boats. Building trams would provide opportunities for employment (particularly on outer islands), and would give the builders a chance to show off the artistic flair of Maldivians. This would give the trams a character that matches the city and the country. And by adding artistic value to its functional value, it’s value as a tourist attraction increases as well.
The reason I think this would work with Trams is because you’re basically building a box that will go on top of a chassis. I don’t think a bus would be as simple.
What I have in mind is something like this:
Or perhaps something more open, like the cable cars of San Francisco:
You could even go double-decker, like Hong Kong:
And if you were to do this, you could make the upper deck uncovered, which would appeal to both tourists and locals. This next one is in Dubai, a city that doesn’t typically do things the old fashioned way:
Of course, with something like this you’d have to add weather protection and make it accessible, but it’s not like that’s impossible.
The interior is where Maldivian craftsmanship could truly shine. Picture this, but with the intricate wood carving and lacquer work like in the old Friday Mosque:
Now that we’ve covered how the trams move and what they will look like, we can look at where exactly they will go.
One of the big disadvantages of trams is that they can only go where tracks are. This is why many tram networks were replaced with buses which could just use existing roads. While it is not impossible to cover all of Malé’s streets with tram tracks, our hypothetical Malé tram network would have to provide maximum coverage with minimal track laying. In addition, routes would have to be two-way, where possible.
With that in mind, here is a potential tram network for Malé:
I tried to cover all the major streets. You might notice that the green line combines two routes of the bus map to make a continuous loop that covers Majeedhee and Ameenee Magu. In hindsight, I should have done that with the buses as well.
I also realised that a small part of Boduthakurufaanu Magu is one way, but that was easily fixed. I would have preferred more north-south lines but that couldn’t be done with all the one way streets. If Chaandhanee Magu was two-way, I think it would have been easier. The whole idea of having two-way routes is that if you take a tram to a destination, returning to your starting point is simply a matter of taking another tram in the opposite direction.
But despite these limitations, I think that this tram network for Malé is still pretty good.
In the next post, we will look at yet another type of public transport.