City chief says council must answer for tram farce

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City council chief executive Sue Bruce has stated that the council has to be “held to account” over the tram project as the service finally began accepting paying passengers.

As city folk flocked to the tram stops to venture on to the £776 million tram for the first time, Ms Bruce revealed that “It’s not a day for jubilation.”

The 198b Edinburgh Guides get on board ' with six members taking their Guide promises. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

The 198b Edinburgh Guides get on board ' with six members taking their Guide promises. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

She said: “I think the whole of Edinburgh is relieved that the programme is now in place and the city can move on.”

And hinting at a future public inquiry, she added: “There are big questions to be asked over the original due diligence of the programme.”

The much-maligned tram project threw open its doors to the paying public at the Gyle Centre tram stop at 5am on Saturday morning.

Officials had expected a handful of tram anoraks but what awaited them was a crowd of more than 200 people who joyously swarmed on board with whoops and wails.

The first passenger to set foot on board wielding her platinum souvenir ticket was Sheila Mason, 72, from Balerno, who was joined by her husband and committed tram fan, William.

Wearing party hats and wide smiles, the pair slid quickly into a seat as the city’s first tram was quickly designated standing room-only.

Upon being told of her historic honour, she said: “I think they’re wonderful. Everyone is in great spirit, it’s like a party.”

Up and down the aisles a carnival atmosphere erupted as beaming tram anoraks mixed with late-night revellers keen to take part in a little bit of history before retiring to sleep it off. Sam Barber, 22, from Leith, was on board with a large group of friends.

He said: “We were at a party and decided to get on a tram. It’s a once in a lifetime thing, a piece of history.”

Another eyewitness to history was George Broom, 63, from Blackhall, who wore a tram driver’s cap and an original tram sign reading “Cars to town, stop here.”

He said: “It’s a real special occasion. I’m a big fan of the trams, have been all my life. My friends and I thought there would be a large crowd but nothing like this.”

In fact, so large was the crowd that after the Saughton stop no more were allowed to board the 250 capacity tram.

Up front the city’s first tram driver in 57 years, Craig Scotland, manned the controls, smoothly navigating his way through Murrayfield, Haymarket and the city centre.

The word “smooth” it seems was on everybody’s lips, “Very smooth isn’t it?” was the stock phrase, other overheard snippets included a man asking, “Is it really worth the £800 million though?” to which a nearby woman softly replied: “Today it is.”

On-tram selfies were also de rigueur, with hundreds being posted to social media as people recorded their own little part in the city’s transport history, leading to the phenomenon trending on Twitter.

Upon arrival at York Place, passengers piled on to the platform and a mini street party broke out.

Louise McLellan and Jamie Cockburn, from London Road, jigged about with placards proclaiming “Trams R Gr8” and “Ding Ding”.

She said: “We’ve been up all night. Trams are quiet, clean and all the great cities in Europe have them.”

Tourist Andrew McCracken, 60, from the Highlands, also drew glances in his Edinburgh Trams t-shirt emblazoned with “Bus replacement rail service.”

He said: “I think trams are the best type of transport. I came down especially to see them launched. There’s a great atmosphere, it’s like a big party.”

At just after 6am, the early on rush of sightseers and committed tram fans began to dissipate to be replaced by early morning workers keen to test this new mode of getting to work.

Tour guide Dave Stalker, 68, from Craigentinny, jumped on at St Andrew Square heading to Haymarket.

He said: “I wanted to get on and see what all the fuss was about, it’s quite impressive. I travel all over the city to meet with tour groups in various hotels and when I’m heading out west I’ll definitely use it.”

Overall it was a day of firsts: first tram, first driver, first on-tram selfie, first mooning of a tram in St Andrew Square and first fare dodger to be thrown off – incredibly all within the first two hours.

Reports of a cheeky homebound reveller bearing his buttocks at a tram went unconfirmed, but the honour of first man to be ejected went to a Glaswegian.

William Ward, 67, from the East End, had jumped on board using his Scottish Entitlement Card, however only Edinburgh OAPs travel free – all else must pay the £1.50 fee.

Outright refusing to pay the £10 standard fine for fare dodging, airport bound William was politely asked to leave at Saughton.

This wasn’t the only blot on a landmark day after a pair of ticket machines broke down at the York Place stop mid-morning, leaving queues forming at the terminus. One machine broke down completely, while the other stopped accepting cash. Staff also reported issues with their hand-held ticketing devices, and were forced to improvise by accepting cash payments by hand.

Two trams also had to be taken out of operation at Haymarket on Saturday morning due to “internal electrical issues” which affected the CCTV and PA system. Passengers were asked to get off the trams and on to replacements while the problems were rectified.

Travellers later in the day also complained about air conditioning as they baked on board packed trams.

Such was the demand to get on board, tram bosses were forced to draft in three additional trams from the depot as the nine in service struggled to cope with the hordes of expectant travellers. The busiest times were between 11.30am and 2.30pm.

However, in amongst this sudden outpouring of tram love there was also sober indifference and apathy in the form of Daniel Donaldson, 38, who took to Princes Street with a large anti-tram poster to rally supporters for his campaign to hold a public inquiry into the project’s massive cost overruns.

“We’re out today to advertise the fact that £776 million was spent on the trams project, and where did all the money go? There needs to be a public inquiry,” he said. “When I found out the published costs for the trams, I thought enough is enough, I had to do something about it.”

Tom Norris, director of Edinburgh Trams, praised the efforts made by all those working on launch day.

“I’m pleased with how the team handled things behind the scenes, on the trams and on the streets. There was a point today when demand for tickets reached extremely high levels and this meant we could not sell tickets fast enough. A teething issue with two ticket machines compounded things.

“So we sent in reinforcements in the form of three extra trams and 25 staff with handheld ticket machines to get people through quicker and onto trams and away. This worked well and it was a great opportunity for the team to interact with our passengers and experience high demand first hand.”

Fears for first rush hour

WHILE Edinburgh residents queued up to take a leisurely weekend tram ride in the sun, other road users were looking ahead and wondering what the first rush hour would be like. Tony Kenmuir, director of cab firm Central Taxis, said that despite the full trams, the popularity of the service would only be confirmed during the week. “From what we’ve seen today, the trams have been full all day, but they mostly seem like local residents out for a joyride,” he said. “We haven’t seen a great deal of evidence of people actually making a journey to or from the airport.”

Cyclists were more concerned about their safety. Bruntsfield-based cat sitter Anna Coyle, 39, cycles up to 40 miles a day, but after a near miss crossing the rails without looking, said trams are a new danger to think about. “Awareness is an issue, just not being aware that they’re here now,” she said, adding grimly: “I’ve spoken to a few people, and they’re guessing to see whether it’s a pedestrian or a cyclist first.”

Proving her point, while the Evening News was canvassing opinion, a cyclist caught her wheel on a tram rail and was sent sprawling. Thankfully, 32 year-old Clare Quincy from Roseburn wasn’t hurt. “It’s just bruises.” That was her first tumble on the rails despite cycling “everywhere”, but once could be enough. “If a tram had been coming by just then, that would have been it.”