A few days before our "Tram Atlas France" will be published, I decided to take a spontaneous, but deserved break and escaped to Nice on the Côte d'Azur for a few days. So today (5 March 2014), I combined sightseeing with tram spotting, both easily manageable in one day as Nice only has a single tram line.
The overall impression of this system is pretty good. The trams are frequent, they run every 4-5 minutes, but are almost always rather busy. In fact, the system was so successful from the start that soon they had to order more trams and extend the original ones from 5 to 7 modules (although there are some 5-section trams left, which is annouced on next-tram indicators as 'tram court' as opposed to 'tram long' for the others, so people know they shouldn't wait in the rear area of the platform). The Citadis 302 trams appear comfortably wide, allowing 2+2 transveral seating, although some sections are have only a few longitudinal seats to allow for prams and wheelchairs and more standees. There are TV screens which annouce the next stop, which is also announced accoustically, with varying music and sometimes with an added 'next stop' in English.
All sections of the line are on some kind of reservation, sometimes only separated from the road by a curb, although the tram tracks are mostly on a slightly raised trackbed. This is also true for the pedestrianised Avenue Jean Medécin, but still many people cross the tracks at any point. The trams therefore almost continously ring their bell to alert distracted pedestrians.
The stops are all up to the level one would expect of a modern tramway, with proper platforms, small shelters, ticket machines, all sorts of information and even a neighbourhood map. What I also appreciate very much is the T-logo on a high pole. Some stops like the central Jean Medécin could actually be wider, because despite being in a pedestrianised street, the platform has a kind of railing that separates it from the rest of the street.
The overall travel speed is modest. Trams run fluidly, although at some intersections I observed that they actually had to wait while cars were moving first in the same direction. But due to the integration of the tram tracks in busy areas, there are hardly any sections where they can speed up a bit, and being Citadis, they have to go into curves quite slowly anyway.
Although the line goes pretty directly to where it has to go, it does not serve the railway station directly, which is certainly a major drawback. From the stop Gare Thiers, people need to walk some 400-500 m to get their trains. The same is true for the CP (Chemin de Fer de Provence) station from Liberation; next to that stop, in fact, the old station building of that line had nicely been restored, but the station itself had been moved west by a few hundred metres a while ago.
Similarly inconvenient interchanges will be provided once the second line is in service in a few years, as this line will run underground through the city centre, and at both future interchanges, people will need to walk a bit as the respective surface stops on the existing line will not be right outside the underground stations at Garibaldi and Jean Medécin. But the second line is also planned to serve both airport terminals, a good perspective after the overcrowded airport 98 bus yesterday, for which (just like bus 99) they charge 6 € (including one transfer to a normal urban line, such as the tram), whereas normal fares in Nice are rather low, 1.50 € for a single ticket (including transfer) or 5 € for one day or a mere 15 € for seven days! These are sold as magnetic cards from ticket vending machines (they accept normal European debit cards!) and you are supposed to put them into the validating machine at each boarding. Regular passengers use electronic contactless tickets they hold against the same machines.
The local transport authority 'Lignes d'Azur' has an information office, but it was hard to find, although it is shown on the transport maps. It is located between Garibaldi and Cathédrale-Vieille Ville tram stops, but you need to look carefully to identify it among many other colourful shops. They have those typical French maps which I find quite good, with all bus lines in different colours, all stops shown properly and named, and the tram clearly shown as something superior. What I don't like much in this case is the city centre inset, neither how it is shown (just stops but no lines) nor what is covered.
Nice at UrbanRail.Net