Edinburgh trams: Infrequent timetable fears

Transport experts have called on tram bosses to provide a service every five minutes at peak hours. Picture: Neil Hanna
Transport experts have called on tram bosses to provide a service every five minutes at peak hours. Picture: Neil Hanna
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Long-suffering residents have already waited an extra four years for a high-cost tram service through the Capital’s streets.

Now critics are voicing fears that passengers could still be left waiting once the state-of-the-art trams arrive, with the city council yet to decide on how frequently the vehicles will run along the eight-mile route.

The council is still working on timetables for the launch of the £776 million line linking the airport to York Place.

But the Evening News can reveal that under a proposal in place as of last year, trams would be passing stops on the route every seven-and-a-half minutes – a wait that has been described as too long by transport specialists.

Edinburgh planning and transport expert Robert Drysdale, a former committee member of the Cockburn Association, said having one tram go by every seven or eight minutes in the city centre would not be attractive enough to provide an “appealing alternative” to bus services.

He said frequencies of up to six minutes were needed along the likes of Princes Street.

Other UK cities such as Manchester and Nottingham and international locations including Amsterdam and Melbourne all have trams running every six minutes during peak hours.

Mr Drysdale has proposed a five-minute frequency between York Place and South Gyle, with only every second tram running as far as the airport to meet the council’s budget targets.

“My view is that we should aim for a five-minute daytime frequency from the start of service to make a real impact,” he said.

“Otherwise people are going to look at empty tram tracks and wonder why we went through such disruption and spent such a lot of money in return for a mediocre service.”

The council intends to rotate its fleet, using only 17 of the 27 available trams at any one time.

Alan Howie, departmental adviser to transport convener Lesley Hinds, said in an e-mail sent earlier this month that tram frequencies could be dictated by maintenance and operating costs.

He said: “The operator is currently looking into frequency options, bearing in mind of course that the higher the frequency, the more trams and the greater the mileage – all of which has a cost to maintain, operate and staff.

“There is therefore a balance to be struck and this is presently being reviewed.”

The council is setting aside up to £3.2m a year from the city budget to cover initial start-up costs and operational losses.

West End Association chairman Michael Apter, whose Paper Tiger business has a shop on the tram route, said tram frequencies still needed to be high outside of working hours.

He said: “One important aspect of it is the frequency outwith 9am till 6pm. [Trams operator] Lothian Buses need to look at how the trams function in the city, how they help businesses stay open later, how they help customers get to and from the suburbs when they want to shop or have a drink after work.”

Essential Edinburgh chief executive Andy Neal said: “Obviously the more people it brings in the better, so the more frequent the trams, the better it is.”

World of difference

Frequency of tram services in other major cities:

Manchester: Every six minutes throughout city centre, every 12 minutes for outlying lines.

Nottingham: Every six minutes during peak hours [7.30am-9.30am, 4.30pm-6.30pm], every 12 minutes outside peak.

Amsterdam: Every five minutes during peak hours, every six to eight minutes outside peak.

Melbourne: Every five to six minutes during peak hours, every ten to 12 minutes outside peak. Free city circle tram every 12 minutes from 10am to 9pm.