Trams on track to hit targets after 100 days

Bosses say the tram service has performed well over its first 100 days. Picture: Esme Allen
Bosses say the tram service has performed well over its first 100 days. Picture: Esme Allen
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MORE than 1.5 million tram journeys have been taken in the network’s first 100 days – setting it on course to hit its first year targets.

And despite fears the tram line would steal passengers from Lothian Buses, the firm has posted record-breaking ­figures – meaning more people than ever are using ­public transport in the Capital.

The passenger totals from Transport for Edinburgh – recorded in the year to August – reveal that both the tram and bus seem to be thriving.

Tram ticket sales have remained above a crucial threshold of 90,000 per week set out in the service’s business plan. At the end of its first 100 days, the tram line is on target to meet its goal of 4.5 million passengers in its first 12 months.

Around ten per cent of journeys are revealed to be concessionary fares for pensioners and diabled passengers. That means that transport chiefs should be able to cover the cost of concessionary fares within the £500,000 budget allocated for the purpose by the city, without having to dip into profits from Lothian Buses to fund a shortfall.

Ian Craig, chief executive of Transport for Edinburgh, welcomed the strong performance of the service.

“I’m very pleased with progress so far and with 100 days of the tram service under our belts, coupled with record- breaking patronage on Lothian Buses, we’re well placed to thrive as a modern integrated transport operator,” he said.

“What we’re seeing suggests a genuine increase in use of public transport across the piece, which is a priority for us but also a shared aspiration for many in the city.”

In the year to August, ­passengers choosing to ride on Lothian Buses increased by three per cent compared with the same period last year – a previous record high.

Buses also enjoyed their busiest-ever week during this year’s Edinburgh ­festival, carrying 2.59 million ­passengers in the seven days to August 23.

The overall trend points towards Lothian Buses enjoying its most successful year ever, however full figures for how the buses have performed since the tram launch in May have yet to be released.

Officials say the tram’s impressive early performance should dispel long-standing concerns that the city’s popular bus service would end up subsidising a failing light rail network.

Tom Norris, director and general manager of Edinburgh Trams, said he was “quietly confident” about their performance.

He said: “The headlines are positive, but I think it’s important to recognise that it’s still early days. Although we’re constantly ahead of our 90,000-a-week target, we have still got a big part of this year to go.

“The signs are good – the latter weeks of June were good, early in July was good. When the schools finished, the numbers continued to remain high.”

The tram chief insisted that despite budget overspends severely curtailing its route, the service was regularly being used by commuters. He said: “I think the sense of novelty has dropped off.

“Our staff are on shift at the same time each day for a period, and we’re finding that they’re saying they’re ­actually seeing commuters, they are seeing the same people that they’re getting to know.”

Tram experts welcomed the news but said more time and more detailed analysis were needed to confirm whether the tram line was hitting its ­financial targets.

Simon Johnston, editor of Tramways and Urban Transit magazine, said: “Given the figures, and my own experience, the new tramway in Edinburgh seems to be bedding in nicely and I hope the passenger numbers can be maintained during quieter times of the year.

“There were a few glitches in the opening weeks, but these are far from exceptional for any brand new service and thankfully any disruption has been well-managed. The stated reliability figures are also impressive. The general climate of acceptance of the tramway, especially given the project’s delays, is better than I expected and good to see.

He added: “Hopefully this shows the people of Edinburgh believe in the tram and that, in due course, more of the original network can be realised to bolster the service further and make it even more inclusive.”

However, transport consultant Robert Drysdale stressed a detailed breakdown of ticket receipts was essential before any firm conclusions could be drawn.

He said: “I would say those figures look quite encouraging. The business case was built on the expectation of having 4.5 million passengers per year, which works out to an average of 86,000 per week, including things like the festival and Christmas. Based on these figures of roughly 90,000 per week, they are on their way to bettering that.

“My one question would be ‘what is the split in revenue is between regular fares and premium fares to the airport?’”

Despite a number of high-profile disruption incidents – from balloons caught in the overhead cables to being hit by a bus less than two weeks ago – tram bosses said 98.7 per cent of journeys were ­completed successfully.

It has emerged some Transport for Edinburgh backroom staff worked 20-hour days during the tram launch period to ensure everything went to plan.

From the highs of launching the service, Mr Norris says the lowest point was when a pedestrian was struck by a tram on Princes Street just days into operation. “There are things you never, ever want to hear,” he said. “That was the one moment I’ve had so far where my heart did sink.”

Transport leader Lesley Hinds said: “These are still the early days of a new operation and there’s always going to be scope to refine things to make sure passengers get the best.

“We can count these 100 days as a very encouraging start and the fact we’ve carried 1.5 million passengers speaks volumes about how quickly people in the city have embraced their tram service.”

paris.gourtsoyannis@edinburghnews.com

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