Richard Wellings, head of transport at the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) think tank, said research shows trams provide “horrendous” value for money in places such as Edinburgh, where an inquiry was launched after the cost of building the network rose to more than £1bn.
The West Yorkshire Combined Authority has set out provisional plans to open a mass rapid transit scheme in the county by 2040, but the organisation has not decided whether to introduce light-rail, tram-trains or prioritised routes for electric buses.
It is exploring plans for a network, consisting of nine lines, that would link towns and cities across the region, including Leeds, Bradford, Halifax, Huddersfield and Wakefield.
“The problem is, it will only serve people on certain routes. You just don’t have a high enough population density to support those kinds of public transport networks and make them viable,” said Mr Wellings.
“The Tube works in London because you’ve got a much higher population density than in other UK cities. You’ve got a massive amount of people that can use a highly concentrated mode of transport.
“But once you get into less densely populated cities and conurbations with lots of different centres, like West Yorkshire, then these sort of rail schemes that just go from city centre to city centre aren’t really suitable for the vast majority of people.”
He added: “You shouldn’t launch a war on the motorist. I think they need to at least maintain existing road capacity and then focus on improving things like bus services – that’s much better value for money.
“Trams are stuck to the fixed rails, obviously. But buses are far more flexible and far cheaper. Improvements can also be implemented far more quickly as well.”
The West Yorkshire Combined Authority has not revealed a price tag for the mass rapid transit scheme, but said it will submit a business case for funding in 2022.
The Government agreed to provide West Yorkshire with £830m last month, to help it develop a mass rapid transport system and other projects.
Plans for Leeds Supertram were abandoned by the Government in 2005 before a controversial bid to bring a £250m trolley bus network to the city was scrapped in 2016.
The organisation preparing plans for a mass rapid transit system in West Yorkshire said it will “create a cleaner and better-connected region”.
The West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) defended the project after it was criticised by the Institute of Economic Affairs.
A WYCA spokeswoman said: “A new mass transit system for West Yorkshire will be a key element, linking communities with a quick and reliable service and integrated with cycling, walking, bus and rail.
“We have developed plans which link communities in a way which will benefit as many people as possible.”