TRAMS have been branded an “overpriced downgrade” after it was revealed the airport bus service can make the vital dash to the terminal a full eight minutes quicker.
Travel times along the full route of the new £776 million tram line have been estimated at around 33 minutes – while the city’s Airlink bus shuttle is considerably quicker, with an advertised journey time of just 25 minutes. The eight-minute difference between the rival services has been seized upon by critics, who have derided it as further evidence the city has been lumped with a near-£1 billion white elephant.
It comes as the News revealed ticket prices for the trams will match Lothian Buses’ £1.50 single-journey fare but with a premium added to airport trips which has not yet been disclosed. Today, tram critic Marco Biagi MSP who represents Central Edinburgh, said that the beleaguered tram system was an “overpriced downgrade” from the reliable airport bus service and reinforced why the project should never have got off the ground in the first place.
But experts claim journey times are an irrelevance to airport passengers who will flock to tram routes ahead of express buses the majority of the time, while Lothian Buses said each service provided its “own particular advantages”.
Speaking to the News, Mr Biagi said: “An ideal tram route runs from a place where a lot of people live to a place where a lot of them work. When the south-east route was rejected, and the Leith to airport route was cut back, tram supporters tried to reassure that the airport link was the saving grace.
“The average airport visitor wants to get into the city as quickly as possible and they’re not going to choose the tram if it’s slower.
“How will the trams break even financially if they don’t even have the airport market?
He added: “People used to think the tram line was just an overpriced upgrade for the airport bus. Now we all know it’s just an overpriced downgrade.”
One Airlink bus will continue to run every ten minutes even when the trams are launched and will serve a stretch between the airport and the Corstorphine corridor – an area outwith the tram route.
But transport and planning consultant Robert Drysdale expressed doubts that passengers would fork out a premium fare to travel to the airport, saying authorities had no hope of achieving their estimated patronage figures.
The business plan indicates that 73 per cent of passengers in the first year are expected to use the trams at the expense of other forms of public transport, in particular Lothian Buses’ services.
Transport convener Lesley Hinds defended the tramway, saying both options would complement each other and weren’t competing.
She said: “The tram provides a different route and another travel option with no interruptions, especially during peak period congestion as the tram will have priority at junctions within the city.
“However, this isn’t a competition. The introduction of the tram will offer a choice and it’s our intention that the bus and tram services will complement each other.”
Tram expert Professor Lewis Lesley, technical director of light rail company Trampower, said: “The geography of Edinburgh dictates that the bus travels on a direct road from the airport while the tram will take a rather more circuitous route. This could account for the difference in journey time.”
Ian Craig, chief executive of Lothian Buses, said: “Both trams and Airlink will provide different options for our customers, each with its own particular advantages, to the benefit of all.”