As I See It

Trams up for an award. Do they deserve it?

Terry MurdenEdinburgh Trams have been the butt of so many expletives that a few more won’t go amiss. The company behind them has been shortlisted in the Rail Operator of the Year category at The National Transport Awards in October. Yes, really.

The trams will be judged on performance, reliability, passenger growth, customer satisfaction and initiatives to improve service. So, do the trams deserve the accolade?

Performance hasn’t been bad, though there have been a few shortened journeys that won’t have gone down well with residents or visitors.

Reliability is a related issue. They’re pretty well timetabled to run like clockwork, though they can’t swerve around obstacles or take alternative routes like the buses.

Passenger growth: Ah, there are lots of claims about this, but after one year it is difficult to assess because there are no year-on-year comparatives.

Customer satisfaction: Transport for Edinburgh says they have achieved 95% customer satisfaction. I’m not sure what customers were asked, but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt.

Initiatives to improve service: No one seems to complain about the service and they’re now allowing bicycles. The big one is the plan to extend the route. My view is that having half a system is pointless so we might as well go further and build a proper tram network so that we can see some real benefit. The council seems minded to take it to Leith, not least because it already has a stock of trams at the depot ready to do just that, so the added cost won’t be so great. What’s more it will take the tram into one of the most densely populated areas in Scotland.

A big plus is the benefits they bring to the Gyle business park and the prestige the system carries. If it is to have a positive effect on the city then it may just encourage some investment.

Edinburgh TramsWhat are the negatives?

The building work created enough outrage to make the average banker feel loved. Since they began operating at the end of May last year they have won a lot of people over, though it has to be said many in the city continue to regard the trams as a waste of public money.

Ian Craig, chief executive of Transport for Edinburgh said that since the launch trams’ popularity “has continued to grow, and the people of Edinburgh have really taken trams into their hearts.”

Well, of course, he would say that. The only data we have is that almost five million passengers travelled on the system as well as that 95% customer satisfaction rating.

But there remains huge cynicism from those who not only resent the money that was spent, the disruption caused and the businesses they jeopardised. Perhaps most damning is that they do not displace other transport, so they potentially ADD to congestion rather than relieve it which means it has to reach other parts where it will do this, or be seen as a pointless exercise.

Added to these criticisms is a lingering view that the route chosen was the wrong one.

If the intention was to persuade people to leave their cars at home they should have been routed through the more prosperous parts of the city. The journey to and from the airport should have been via either Corstorphine and Murrayfield or Queensferry Road into Blackhall. As it is, they pass through acres of desolate land and grim parts of the city that give a poor impression to visitors where the locals are already well served by the buses.

So there is much for the judges to think about when the gongs are handed out – and when city councillors consider a possible extension.

What do you think? Leave a comment below


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