Relief as rush hour tram gridlock fears averted

On the tram's first weekday, passengers look comfortable with the new service. Picture: Ian Rutherford.
On the tram's first weekday, passengers look comfortable with the new service. Picture: Ian Rutherford.
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TRAM bosses have “breathed a sigh of relief” after the first weekday passenger service avoided doomsday predictions of city centre gridlock.

Teething problems in the form of roadworks and additional taxi traffic did arise as a result of Network Rail’s decision to close Waverley Station to vehicles. However, the tram stood up well to its role as a commuter service.

At Waverley Station a taxi rank springs up in Market Street. Picture: Ian Rutherford

At Waverley Station a taxi rank springs up in Market Street. Picture: Ian Rutherford

It had been feared that the city centre would “grind to a standstill” yesterday, but opening day hiccups on Saturday, which included a ticket machine at York Place breaking down, were rectified in time. That meant transport flowed through the city centre as normal after engineers spent last week ensuring traffic light sequencing performed smoothly.

Control room staff were primed to respond to incidents, however, and the only problems posed were as a result of roadworks on St Andrew Square reducing traffic to one lane and increased taxi traffic in the vicinity of Waverley Bridge.

A temporary taxi rank has been set up on Market Street to deal with the 100 displaced cabbies.

City transport convener Councillor Lesley Hinds declared herself satisfied with the trams’ first rush-hour outing.

She said: “Traffic conditions in Edinburgh’s city centre yesterday were much the same as would normally be expected on a Monday.

“Our traffic control centre will continue to monitor roads and junctions, liaising with Edinburgh Trams’ and Lothian Buses’ control rooms to ensure traffic runs as smoothly possible as the new tram service beds in. Trams have been running through the day on full timetable for several weeks in the lead in to commencement of passenger services.

“We are also aware that the closure of Waverley Station to road vehicles may have a knock-on effect on the build-up of taxis in the area, which is something we will also be keeping an eye on.”

An Edinburgh Trams spokesman added: “We were prepared to respond to any problems but overall it was relatively quiet. It’s a new service so you will expect some teething problems but for the first time carrying passengers on a weekday it went well.”

More than 40,000 tickets were sold over the opening weekend of the new tram route, with extra ticketing services assistants drafted in after passenger numbers exceeded expectations along the 8.7-mile Edinburgh Airport to city centre route.

Officials revealed that 25,000 tickets were bought on Saturday and 15,000 on Sunday. However, as the daytrippers depart and the novelty wears off, tram officials will be hopeful that commuters will turn to the £776 million service.

Edinburgh Park worker Glenn Robinson, 38, from McDonald Road, used the tram to get to and from his office yesterday.

He said: “It’s a bit of a novelty, but I will use it day-to-day. I’ll mix it up a bit, though – if it’s raining I’ll get the number 22 bus as it’s a lot nearer to my house.”

Fellow Edinburgh Park worker Jane Murphy, 30, from the New Town, said: “I plan to use it every day to get to and from work.

“It’s a lot nicer than the bus with more room. I had my first run on Saturday and you could see it was full of people just having a spin, but now you can see it’s being used by workers and commuters.”

Already some early passengers are trying to profit from being among the first to ride the system. Entrepreneurial travellers are attempting to sell used £1.50 tickets for up to £50 on eBay

They are being snapped up with eager souvenir hunters bidding up to 30 times their face value.

The first 100,000 passengers will receive a special commemorative platinum ticket.

The only blot on an otherwise largely incident-free copybook for relieved tram officials was a claim by one protester to have been assaulted by a staff member on Saturday.

Daniel Donaldson, a solicitor behind an online campaign for a public inquiry into the project, claims to have been manhandled by a steward who ripped down a sign calling for an inquest into the spending behind the project.

Tram chiefs have confirmed they were aware of the incident and are backing their staff member.

Mr Donaldson said: “It is extremely worrying that a public official, of whatever level, should take to assaulting a campaign organiser because they do not like the level of publicity or the message of the campaign.

“The City of Edinburgh Council and the Edinburgh Trams are both public authorities in terms of the human rights act and the equality act.”

A Police Scotland spokesman said: “We can confirm that it is investigating a report of a minor assault, which is alleged to have taken place on Princes Street at around 11.10am on Saturday. Inquiries are ongoing.”

A spokesman for Transport for Edinburgh said its employee had been left feeling “threatened” and was trying to protect himself after having “something thrust into his face”.

He said: “We feel this accusation is completely without foundation and we’re fully supporting our team member.”