I was sitting on an Edinburgh bus the other day, and a scene developed which will be all too familiar to regular users of our city’s normally excellent public transport. A family, obviously tourists, got on the bus and tried to buy tickets. They clearly did not have a good command of English, and had difficulty understanding the need to have “exact fare only”. Eventually, after a few minutes, the bus driver asked them to leave the bus, with the tourist group still not really understanding the ticketing system.
That made me wonder about the ease, or otherwise, with which our city’s buses and trams provide information for travellers – tourists or otherwise – in any language other than English. And the answer, is not a lot. A handful have information in other languages at bus stops. There is nothing on the buses or trams themselves. The bus and tram websites are in English only, as is the app. And even though the trams and many buses now have display monitors, their contents are all in English too.
Contrast this with what you can find in many other European cities. You can find multilingual information at bus stops. Websites and journey planners in numerous languages. Automatic ticket machines which work in a number of different languages. Display screens on trams and buses which give travel information in at least one other foreign language.
And what both visitors and residents might also appreciate would be an end to the “£10 ticket rip-off” on the city’s tram system. That is the way in which customers who don’t realise they have to, or know how, to buy a tram ticket before getting on, are hit with a £10 flat charge. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have been on trams to see passengers, normally visitors to our city, end up having to pay this charge, or having to get off to buy tickets from the machine.
Would it not be sensible to at least improve the chances of foreign visitors understanding the system if there was multi-lingual ticket information available at tram stops? Visitors, and passengers from Edinburgh as well, would also have more options available to them if they could actually buy tickets on board trams.
If for some reason they can’t be sold by the on-board staff, perhaps at a slightly higher fare, then why couldn’t Edinburgh trams adopt the system you see in many other European tram systems, with automatic ticket machines actually on board the trams?
Some may say that as most visitors to our city probably understand at least some English, there’s no need to put in such facilities. I disagree. I want visitors to our city to enjoy their experience as much as they can. Many readers will know how frustrating it can be if we are in a foreign country and the public transport system isn’t easy for visitors to understand.
And, at the end of the day, as well as improving the experience of visitors to our city, it would also make life on buses and trams a little bit more convenient for us residents as well. The less time bus drivers have to explain to foreign visitors how the ticket system works, the quicker our journeys will be – and a little less stress will be placed on our hard-working bus and tram staff!
Mark Lazarowicz (@marklazarowicz) is the former MP for Edinburgh North & Leith