500,000 Edinburgh tram journeys in first month

The One Direction concert at Murrayfield provided a boost to the tram usage numbers. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
The One Direction concert at Murrayfield provided a boost to the tram usage numbers. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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Almost half a million journeys have been taken on Edinburgh’s trams in the first month of service, the Evening News can reveal.

The Capital’s newest – and most controversial – transport system has completed an average of 90,000 passenger trips per week since launching on May 31.

The total has been calculated for the three weeks since 130,000 passengers boarded carriages in the first seven days of operation.

More than 40,000 people rode the tram on its first weekend and a further 24,000 were carried on the day of the Murrayfield One Direction concert.

Tram chiefs said the weekly passenger numbers were “in line with forecasts” made prior to the launch of the service, which predicted 4.5 million passengers would be carried in the first year.

Within the operating agreement document submitted to the city council last August, tram revenues of £7.9 million are forecast for the period 2014-15.

However, tram chiefs refused to be drawn on how many of the stated half million passengers paid a premium fare.

Tram critic John Carson, a former transport civil engineer, said: “The tram is a novelty still and used by daytrippers and large numbers of pensioners going for a trip to the airport. You cannot judge it without knowing how many concessionary fares are being taken.

“A full picture of the tram’s viability and its uptake will not become clear until a full year’s service has been passed.

“The average of 90,000 a week is quite sizeable, but I expect that to depreciate and tail off somewhat.”

Tram expert Professor Lewis Lesley, technical director of Lancashire-based light rail company Trampower, said a 90,000 average weekly figure is similar to that enjoyed by other tram systems such as Sheffield and Manchester in their opening weeks.

He added that the “benchmark of success” must be how it compares with bus usage.

“Reliability will be key. If it’s slower than or second to the bus then it will not grow as those behind the scheme need it to.

“I call it the Marks & Spencer effect – if a product is reliable then the best form of recommendation is from happy shoppers or users.”

A further update on 
patronage and the amount of concessionary fares being carried will be provided to the city council in September following the first 100 days of the line’s operation.

Tom Norris, director and general manager of Edinburgh Trams, said his focus was now on the busy Festival season.

He added: “These early figures are a positive sign and very much in line with forecasts for this stage but we’ll have a clearer view of how things are going much further down the line.”

City transport convener Councillor Lesley Hinds said: “These are encouraging figures and I’m pleased to note that they are in line with 
expectations.

“It’s been great to see how quickly people have embraced tram travel.”

‘SYSTEM WILL RUN AT LOSS UNTIL 2029’

EDINBURGH’S tram system will run at an operating loss until 2029, financial projections estimate.

The project needed a start-up loan of £3 million but the city expects to receive £51m in payments and dividends over 15 years. However, it will pay out £85m in maintenance and refurbishment costs.

By contrast, Lothian Buses – the trams bedfellow in Transport for Edinburgh – is set to generate a £33m dividend for the council over the same period. But when the costs of the tram scheme are included, profits drop to £5m.

Any losses sustained will be absorbed by the council.

Transport chiefs stress there will be “no financial impact” on the city’s much-loved bus service.

david.oleary@edinburghnews.com