Comment: The case for completing tram line is compelling

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Powerful support for completing the tram line to Newhaven comes today with latest impressive figures on passenger numbers.

There’s no doubt that the service has proved a smash hit with the public. In its first full calendar year of operation it has carried more than five million passengers, up 12 per cent on its first 12 months.

From the hectic Festival season when 137,000 stepped on board to major events at Murrayfield Stadium, the trams have proved hugely popular.

Little wonder Councillor Lesley Hinds, the city’s transport leader, has lost no time in seeking to build on this success and press the case for completing the line to Newhaven as originally proposed.

The case is compelling. Edinburgh is a growing city. It must continue to face the challenge of congestion. Opening the line to Newhaven would bring tangible economic benefit both to the 
waterfront area and to the many businesses along Leith Walk.

The big issue is, of course, 
finance. Early estimates suggest completing the line would cost £145 million. Edinburgh residents could be forgiven for viewing any figure with scepticism.

Then there is the financial state of the council itself. Like all other Scottish local authorities it is facing a budget squeeze. And previous tram work costs have made a big impact on the council’s 
balance sheet.

All this begs searching questions as to where the extra money will be found – particularly if the Scottish Government sticks to previous statements of “not a penny 
more”.

The case for completion is powerful. But while councillors have voted down proposals for a referendum on the tram extension, this does not avoid the need to disclose key revenue facts and figures as well as journey numbers. The council will need to put forward a compelling financial case so that public support will rally for this ambitious transport project.