MORE than 130,000 passengers have climbed aboard an Edinburgh tram since last Saturday – with the first week of service today being hailed as a success.
City centre traders said they hoped the feelgood factor sparked by the appearance of the trams, following all the delays surrounding the project, would lead to a sales boom.
And taxi firms said they had not seen any loss of business despite the trams’ success.
Edinburgh Trams general manager Tom Norris said: “We’ve carried a lot of passengers this week but what pleases me most is that feedback about our service has been overwhelmingly positive.
“There have been challenging moments but I’m happy with the way things have been handled and we can be very confident going forward.
“Passenger numbers will fluctuate but as we head into summer and to the festival season there’s no reason not to be positive. The team have enjoyed the first week, things are bedding in well and we’re delighted that Edinburgh Trams is now starting to become part of Edinburgh life.”
It is understood only about ten fines – or “standard fares” – have so far been issued to passengers who failed to buy or validate a ticket.
A trams spokesman said: “Staff have been helping people to get used to using Edinburgh Trams ticketing arrangements and they’ve issued relatively few standard fares. It’s vital that we protect revenue so it’s important that passengers buy a ticket or validate their cards.”
Josh Miller, chair of the George Street Association, said there were no figures yet to show the effect of the trams on trade.
But he said: “The feedback seems to be so far so positive.
“It looks as if people are enjoying the trams. Everyone is delighted to see them actually up and running.
“It feels like the trams are working, the tourists are starting to come in and we’ve got our beautiful city back. In the past few years, it’s been embarrassing for tourists, but now we can show it off again.
“Hopefully that will feed into an increase in trade as well.”
Andy Neal, chief executive of Essential Edinburgh, which oversees the city centre business improvement district, also pointed to a significant feelgood factor.
He said: “Regardless of the history of the project, there is a general sense people are delighted the trams are now running and there is this new form of transport for getting into the city centre.
“It has been a reasonably good trading week and hopefully the trams have made a contribution to that.”
Mr Neal said he expected the trams’ primary role would initially be as a way of getting between the airport to the city centre, but over time they would be used more by people living and working in Edinburgh.
“People in offices out at the Gyle may want to entertain some guests to lunch and rather than go somewhere locally they can jump on a tram right into the city centre, have lunch and go back again.
“And people from the central belt will realise it’s very convenient to drive to the park and ride at Ingliston and get into the centre quickly from there. That’s what we will be encouraging people to do when it comes to Christmas.”
Gordon Henderson, of the Federation of Small Businesses, said he was pleased the reaction to the trams had been so positive and he hoped they would lead to a boost in trade.
“That’s the business case we’ve been sold,” he said. “If it just brings people into the city centre who previously came by bus then it’s not doing its job.”
Tony Kenmuir, director of Central Taxis, said the trams’ test period, when they were running on the route without passengers, had allowed taxis to get used to where they went and how the signals worked.
“There were certain pressure points at Haymarket and the east end of Princes Street,” he said. “But since they started carrying passengers it has not made the slightest difference.”
And Mr Kenmuir said taxis were not losing passengers to the trams. “We have been looking at the figures and there has been no impact on business whatsoever.
“I think in these early days a lot of people are jumping on out of curiosity. It’s hard to tell whether people are seriously using it as a means of commuting or getting around.
Grant McKeeman, of Copymade printshop in West Maitland Street, said he had not seen any extra business from the trams.
“Absolutely none,” he said. “I’ve not met anyone who said ‘I got off a tram to come here’. It’s a wonderful bus service here, always has been.”
But he said the removal of loading bays outside the shop was causing problems. “We take delivery of large pallets of paper. The other day, as the guy was having to pull the trolley along the pavement he hit a bumpy bit and one of the pallets fell off, which is obviously a safety issue.”
Mr McKeeman is sceptical about the value of the trams, which pass right outside his door. He said: “You can see a lot of people riding on them for the novelty factor. If they are not busy now they’re never going to be. People say ‘I just wanted to see what they’re like, but I don’t think I will ever use one’.”