Passengers ‘very satisfied with trams’

Tram chiefs have welcomed the findings. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Tram chiefs have welcomed the findings. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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Edinburgh’s tram line has been given a glowing report by its users in the first few months since its launch, with passengers giving it the best rating of any UK tram service.

The UK’s passenger watchdog has revealed more tram users are “very satisfied” with the service in Edinburgh than for trams in Blackpool, Sheffield, Manchester, Nottingham and Birmingham.

With similarly high levels of customer satisfaction for Lothian Buses, we are clearly on our way to achieving a seamlessly integrated transport offering for the city.”

Lesley Hinds

And in total, 95 per cent of tram users reported that they were satisfied with the service, with light rail experts hailing a “very good report card” that they claimed makes an “overwhelming case” for the extension of the line.

The survey by Passenger Focus’ is the first look at how residents have responded to the service since it launched on May 31 last year.

It gives a revealing inside look at how the tram is being used, and by what kinds of people. Even though elderly residents will remember the last time trams rumbled along the streets of the Capital, it is young people who are embracing the service, with almost a third of users aged between 16 and 25.

Despite the limited reach of the line that was cut to just 14km due to spiralling costs, commuters have also taken to the tram in large numbers, with 45 per cent of users going back and forth to work every day on the service.

And the survey also offers a glimpse into the tram’s finances, following months of speculation about the number of free concessionary fares, which are paid for from council coffers.

According to the study, just 11 per cent of users are travelling for free, which bosses say backs up their claims that ticket sales are within budget expectations. However, the number of lucrative £5 airport fares sold remains a closely guarded secret.

Edinburgh’s trams have been ranked above the UK’s five other light rail systems on a number of key measures, including punctuality and whether the service is value for money.

The survey found 94 per cent of passengers said they were satisfied with the way trams kept to their schedule, ahead of all five other UK tram services in the Passenger Focus survey.

Edinburgh was just two per cent behind Blackpool on total satisfaction with ticket prices, but more passengers in the Capital said they were “very satisfied” than anywhere else in the UK.

Tom Norris, general manager of Edinburgh Trams, credited the hard work of tram staff for delivering top marks for the service.

He said: “This feedback is a great reward for all the staff who have put in so much effort to make the trams an excellent way of getting around the city.

“We always listen to our passengers and try to learn what we can do better, and this first large-scale independent study will help us to do that even more.

“While I’m obviously delighted, we’ll continue to work hard to make every journey as safe, reliable and enjoyable as possible. We’ll look very closely at all aspects of this report as there’s always room to improve.

“We’re still a new service and I’m confident, that with a focus on continuous improvement, that we can be even better.”

City transport convener Lesley Hinds, who chairs public transport umbrella body Transport for Edinburgh, said: “This is an excellent response and demonstrates just what Edinburgh Trams means to the public as a safe and efficient method of transport.

“Providing the best possible service for passengers is central for Transport for Edinburgh, and since launching in May the trams have clearly made a positive impact on customers.

“With similarly high levels of customer satisfaction for Lothian Buses, we are clearly on our way to achieving a seamlessly integrated transport offering for the city.”

In all, 549 passengers were quizzed for the survey in Edinburgh, with a total of 4641 people taking part around the UK through face-to-face interviews or an online questionnaire. Surveys were carried out from September to November last year – a period which tram bosses say was particularly challenging in terms of breakdowns and service interruptions, making the tram’s performance even more positive.

Professor Louis Lesley, technical director of light rail firm Trampower, said the figures should make the decision in June over whether to take the tram to Leith an easy one for councillors.

He said: “Tram users are obviously very satisfied with it. In terms of passenger numbers, I think the year in total is going to end up at four million, or four-and-a-half million. That’s in line with expectations before the service launched.

“The age profile for Edinburgh is pretty consistent with all the UK’s other tramways. Young people, who aren’t primarily car-oriented, wouldn’t consider using the bus, and that’s converted the younger generation to trams.

“Given the number of commuters using the tram, I’m sure it’s reducing the number of cars coming into the city centre. Car parking operators will be annoyed. I’ve been told that at the Ingliston Park and Ride there is often very little space.

“If you look at buses, 28 per cent are on concessionary free passes. You might think concessionary pass holders don’t like trams, but actually, what it means is that about twice as many people are willing to buy a tram fare rather than a bus fare. They’re prepared to pay for the quality of service and comfort you don’t get on buses.

“Overall, it’s a very good report card for the trams. This makes an overwhelming case for extending the network. I think the issue is going to be how much it costs, but in terms of satisfying the transport needs of Edinburgh, it makes an overwhelming case.”

Transport consultant Robert Drysdale said: “These results are encouraging. I think they are great trams. When I travel on them, everyone appears to be enjoying themselves.

However, Mr Drysdale added: “We still don’t know the split between airport and non-airport trips. Now, when you come out of the airport arrivals lounge, the buses are back beside the front door of the terminal, whereas the trams are way, way up out of sight.”

Rugby fans impressed

TRAMS carried 20,000 extra passengers on Super Saturday, the decisive last day of the Six Nations rugby tournament – a massive boost compared to the average weekly figure of 90,000.

Tram boss Tom Norris says the line came into its own ferrying Welsh, Irish and Italian visitors directly from Edinburgh Airport to Murrayfield Stadium, and then into the city centre after this year’s matches.

He said that despite claims of fare-dodging on packed trams, systems for handling huge rugby crowds were “just about right” after tram staff instituted a “gate line” at the tram stop opposite the stadium to ensure everyone had the chance to buy a ticket.

And Mr Norris revealed that the tram officials had to think on their feet after Murrayfield bosses allowed 10,000 Irish fans back into the arena to watch their team collect the Six Nations trophy.

Transport consultant Robert Drysdale praised the matchday operation at Murrayfield, and said the city’s visitors will have been impressed, too. Mr Drysdale said: “I saw the way staff handled the crowds leaving the rugby after the Welsh match, and it was fantastic how well organised it all was, and how impressed the Welsh were at how quickly everyone was moved out of the stadium and into the city centre.”

He added: “What we need now is a bigger network. I really hope this helps to make the case.”