TRANSPORT leaders will commit to running a bus service out to Edinburgh Airport alongside the trams for at least five years.
The city council will sign a new agreement next week for a dedicated bus stance to be kept at the airport until November 2018.
The Lothian Buses pick-up and drop-off point is used by the 24-hour Airlink express service, as well as the number 35 bus.
The move will help reassure interest groups who predicted the introduction of the trams would spell the death of bus services running along a similar route to the airport.
However, Edinburgh Pentlands MSP Gordon MacDonald predicted passenger numbers would drop substantially on the Airlink bus in the short term as travellers embraced the “novelty value” of the trams when they start running from May.
Buses currently serve the Airlink route every ten minutes for almost all of the day.
Mr MacDonald said: “If this turns out to be a long-term reduction in bus passengers on this route then this could result in the service frequency of ten minutes being reviewed on service 100.
“A reduction in the airport service – a key service for supporting the network – could result in an increased share of overheads being borne by less profitable routes.
“This concern is not new and is one of the reasons why the SNP was opposed to the introduction of trams. We have a tram route that is not expected to break even for the first ten years, attracting revenue from the bus company that in turn will have to meet its costs from that reduced income.
“[It’s] a difficult balancing act for the new body, Transport for Edinburgh, to deal with and one that could only be resolved in the long term by either increasing the passenger numbers or increasing fares or cutting the service.”
Timetables for joint tram and bus services to the airport are still to be announced by Lothian Buses for 2014.
Passengers will have the option of taking either a tram or bus into Edinburgh’s city centre from the airport’s new transport interchange.
City transport convener Lesley Hinds said bus and tram services had been developed to “complement each other”, adding: “The Airlink bus service and the tram will give choice to passengers travelling to and from Edinburgh Airport.”
The Airlink route runs close to the eight-mile tram line, passing through Haymarket, Murrayfield and Corstorphine.
Former Murrayfield Community Council chairman Walter Spence said it was inevitable the bus service would be affected. “What would be the point in having tram cars and buses running to the same area?” he said.
Green transport spokesman Councillor Nigel Bagshaw pointed out the bus served different pick-up points to the £776 million tram line. However, he said city chiefs would be keen to get as many people on the trams as possible to recoup revenue.
The council is setting aside up to £3.2 million a year to cover initial start-up costs and operational losses.
Edinburgh Airport chief executive Gordon Dewar said: “We’re committed to providing our passengers with choice, whether through route development, our retail offerings or surface access options.”
Tram fares to terminal more expensive than bus tickets
PASSENGERS travelling to Edinburgh Airport by tram will pay a premium fare of £4.50 – £1 more than a bus ticket.
The cost of a £7.50 return ticket to the terminal from the city centre will also cost £1.50 more than the Airlink bus service.
However, tram and bus tickets for journeys within the city both come in at £1.50.
City chiefs have said those paying the premium tram fare to reach the airport from York Place will be guaranteed a far more reliable journey time of about 33 minutes, whereas travel times by bus will vary depending on traffic and congestion levels.