All a tram has to do is travel faster than 6mph - London's rush- hour traffic speed - and the tortoise is ahead of the hare

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The Independent Culture
Sleek, snub-nosed, silvery and silent, the handsome wide-bellied tram looks as comforting as a Hovis ad but it's as 21st-century as you can get. When 40 tons of steel shudder to a stop every five minutes, the way that trams do, and then start again, this tram does not eat electricity. At every stop, it feeds back power into the grid through overhead cables. State-of-the-art exhaust-free travel it is.

The tram is the work of the English designer Jasper Morrison, but don't expect to find it in England. Try Hanover.

This summer, the ustra Transport Corporation in Hanover got 14 of the Morrison trams up and gliding. One hundred and forty-four will be on-line by the time Expo pulls the rest of the world into their city in the year 2000. The Hanoverians, with some help from the Bundesbank, have invested DM500m in their transport infrastructure. First stop on their agenda was a bus-shelter programme called Art in the Public Sphere, which replaced boring billboarded bus shelters, where inhabitants regularly got hosed down by lorries, with nine designer-label ones, each different and immediately identifiable. The American architect Frank Gehry designed one like an armadillo. But it was Jasper Morrison's cantilevered roof on a back-lit bus stop which so pleased Peter Ruthenberg of ustra that three years ago he commissioned a tram from him. Now Ruthenberg has ordered a new bus, which uses hydrogen fuel cells that convert water into energy, from another British designer, James Irvine, who is based in Milan.

But trams are becoming conventional urban travel wisdom. On 9 July Crown Estates announced proposals to reduce traffic congestion in Regent Street, London, by widening pavements and introducing traffic-calming measures, and suggested introducing trams to the West End.

All a tram has to do is travel faster than six miles an hour - the estimated rush-hour traffic-flow figure for London - and the tortoise is ahead of the hare. No wonder transport chiefs in Manchester admitted, after 50 years, that they had been wrong to scrap city trams, when they kick-started Metrolink in 1992 by laying tram-lines over an old heavy-duty rail track. Now the trams carry twice the number of passengers as the trains. Travellers will be able to take a tram shuttle to the new airport, and by 2000 it is anticipated that a million cars in the Greater Manchester area will be replaced by trams operated by Altram (a consortium of the Laing engineering group, the Serco group and Ansaldo Transporti of Italy) between Bury and Altrincham and to Eccles via the regenerated docklands at Salford Quays.

As for the Hanover tram, Morrison had to curb his natural inclination to stretch the lines to give the tram the speedy thrust of the Eurostar or the streamlined poise of Concorde. The lines of a tram should be vertical, he believes. His tram stops short, blunted, with a wide wraparound window at the right height for sightlines to spot a toddler below. He shortened the length and widened the width to seat 108 and offer more standing room by freeing the exit-doors areas of claustrophobic back-to back seating. Trams carry more people than buses because they're bigger and the pull is much stronger.

"My desire to humanise public transport came from my experience of the Routemaster, the old-fashioned, characterful London buses." Jasper Morrison recalls those years when every adolescent, too young to drive but old enough to travel unaccompanied, networks the public transport system. Humanising the experience means making it more user-friendly rather than a design statement. "When you walk into a room you know at once if it's nice or horrible. Light, space, colours and materials all contribute to the atmosphere."

On his tram, low-energy compact fluorescents are diffused behind opalescent ceilings. All the technology - wiring, electricity boxes and air treatment equipment - is housed in roof arches, hidden by back-lit advertisements. With doors opening so often there is no conventional air-conditioning - air-conditioning is one of the worst CFC emission pollutants. Welcome back to the age of the tramn