Edinburgh Council needs to stop bashing motorists and create a proper tram/bus network – Iain Whyte

If you follow the debate on transport in the council and social media, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it is only about an evangelical zeal to get drivers out of vehicles and onto bicycles.

A tram and a bus pass by each other on Edinburgh's Princes Street (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA)
A tram and a bus pass by each other on Edinburgh's Princes Street (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA)

Other voices must be cancelled, and everything must be changed to work only for these unknown future converts to cycling.

For most, this seems unrealistic and unwanted. It drowns out all other debate and, worst of all, it has been bad for the needs of those who walk or use the bus. That means everyone, as even cyclists must walk the last few yards of every journey.

When constituents approach me about transport issues, it’s usually to do with buses. That is why I’ve lodged a motion at full council this week calling for action to replace the 69 service in Willowbrae/Lady Nairne that was axed in 2020.

This caused huge problems for older and less mobile people. Likewise, my Conservative colleague, Councillor Joanna Mowat, has a similar motion calling for a permanent bus service for Dumbiedykes which lost the number 6.

The last SNP-led council did nothing about the loss of the 69 despite an SNP councillor winning a by-election in the ward with a pledge to return it. That’s probably no surprise when their long-term plan was to stop buses entering the city centre and cause huge disruption and commercial damage to the excellent Lothian Buses network.

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If we want to sort the transport debate, we need to listen to Edinburgh people and consider public transport properly.

Ask anyone living with the disruption of tramworks in Leith whether it will be finished in the autumn and you may get a rude reply. Yet that is the claim that the council is making when they say the tram line to Newhaven is “on time”.

The tram completion brings lots of questions about the future of bus services and how they integrate with trams. There are different commercial realities for Lothian Buses and Edinburgh Trams at a difficult time for passenger revenue, post-pandemic.

Strangely, the council and its transport companies have been silent on what all this will mean. The only sign is the unwelcome early removal of the service 22 from Leith Walk with no explanation.

Rather than bash motorists with big sticks, there is an opportunity for a public transport carrot if we are open with people.

The council must use its parent transport company, Transport for Edinburgh, to bash heads together in the bus and tram companies so that they set out a plan for a network. If the public are to be involved that must happen now as Leith Walk is allegedly to be open in the autumn and trams accepting passengers to Newhaven in the spring.

There are plenty of opportunities for buses, like a new service to connect planned housing areas to the tram along the seafront from Leith, through Seafield in my ward, and on to Portobello. And we must include vital social bus services in areas like Willowbrae and the Dumbiedykes.

Edinburgh needs a public vision for the bus and tram network, not the silence of the recent past. That’s what I will push to be at the heart of the council’s future transport vision for the city.

Iain Whyte is Conservative group leader on Edinburgh Council