TRAM fares to Edinburgh Airport are being increased even before the first fee-paying passenger has set foot on board.
New price lists reveal a return journey to the airport has risen to £8 – a 50p increase on fares announced last September and £1 more expensive than the Airlink bus service.
Single journeys to the airport will cost £5.
The price rises contrast sharply with the £1.50 flat fare across the rest of the tram network raising questions about whether a stealth “tourist tax” is being heaped on visitors to Edinburgh.
The Evening News exclusively revealed draft tram prices last year following a Freedom of Information request to City Chambers but transport chiefs appear to have moved to bank a greater return from the airport route.
Tram expert Professor Lewis Lesley, technical director of Lancashire-based light rail company Trampower, said the price increase may be designed to help the network remain viable.
He said: “I would have thought the tram promoters will have done their arithmetic on the maximisation of revenue but given the amount the tramway has cost there is no way this can be recovered from fares, so it’s just a matter of covering operating costs at this point.
“I’m sure they would have come to the conclusion that the tramway being a smoother ride would attract people who might otherwise go by taxi and therefore their competitor may not be the bus but the taxi.”
Mr Lesley said that compared to taxi prices to the city centre – which could soar above £20 – that £5 or £8 tram fares seemed a “good bargain”. But he warned that Edinburgh residents would have to embrace the beleaguered tram for the finances to add up.
Tory transport spokeswoman Councillor Joanna Mowat, meanwhile, said airport travel fares were comparable with other major European cities.
She said: “I think this pricing structure is in line with other fast dedicated transit links across Europe.
“I wouldn’t think twice about paying it if I was getting on a tram at any European airport right into the centre of city in around half an hour.”
Transport and planning consultant Robert Drysdale said he expected the airport stretch of the tram line to be “crucial to its economic success”.
He added: “Presumably they are banking on being able to get a good number of people playing that £5 fare.”
Mr Drysdale said he was surprised there was a “striking two-tier” pricing system.
“It will be interesting to see whether Manchester will follow suit when it opens its line to the airport next year.”
The pricing news comes as fresh details emerged about ticketing and wi-fi access on Edinburgh trams.
Passengers can scan a pre-paid card – dubbed Citysmart – for single journeys within the city fare zone that will mean journeys can be stockpiled and used when required without resorting to a ticket vending machine.
Tickets can also be purchased via mobile phone but the lowest prices are available using the Ridacard which offers unlimited travel on trams and buses.
Despite reports in January of free wi-fi across the tram fleet, only three trams are likely to be internet-equipped before the £776 million project officially launches on May 31.
It is understood remaining carriages will be installed in the weeks and months following the launch date.
Transport convener Councillor Lesley Hinds said segueing journeys between bus and tram will be “straightforward” using a smartcard or day ticket.
She said: “Having unveiled the launch date, the publication of this ticket and timetable information is an important step in the final preparations for commencing Edinburgh Trams passenger services later this month.
“We’re pleased as a council to have been able to fund the use of Concessionary Travel cards for Edinburgh residents, too.”
Tom Norris, director and general manager of Edinburgh Trams, said: “The closer we get to passenger service, the more people are eager to find out how they’ll use the trams once we go live.
“We’ve produced clear, step-by-step leaflets explaining how to validate your smartcard or Concessionary Travel card as well as use the ticket vending machines on the platforms and mobile tickets.
“The information is also available at www.edinburghtrams.com.
“We’re delighted to be hosting two public roadshows on Saturday May 17 and 24, when members of the public can come along to St Andrew Square, have a look around a tram and familiarise themselves with its features as well as chat to our ticketing services assistants who’ll be on hand to answer any queries they might have about using trams come 31 May.”
A spokesman for Edinburgh Airport said: “The launch of the Edinburgh Trams will provide customers with a seamless efficient link between the airport and city centre. We’re confident that, with the new tram system in operation and the increased service from the Airlink 100 bus, our passengers will have even more choice about how they can travel and benefit from the excellent transport options available in and around Edinburgh.”
The tram project is nearing completion before its start date. Testing has seen tram workers taught how to recover a dead body from under a tram – and steep steps at Murrayfield subjected to crowd-condition testing.
RATHO BUS AXED
Once the trams start, Ratho residents will lose the direct bus link through Corstorphine to the city centre which they have enjoyed since 1930.
The existing No 12 service will be replaced by the No 20 which will only go as far as Chesser Avenue – but locals have been told they can always switch to a tram at Edinburgh Park.
Ratho community council chair Judy Wightman said: “It’s going to take people a lot longer.”