Edinburgh trams: Ticket inspectors ‘excessive’

Trams lined up at the depot.  Picture: Ian Georgeson
Trams lined up at the depot. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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THE council’s decision to employ a small army of tram ticket inspectors as part of a zero tolerance approach to fare dodging has been described as overboard.

Edinburgh City Council has revealed 52 ticket inspectors will be employed to catch fare skippers when the £776 million tram route goes live next year.

The inspectors, dubbed “revenue protection officers”, will police the 17 trams running at any one time along the eight-mile route from York Place to Edinburgh Airport.

However the decision to have three ticket inspectors for every tram in active service has been labelled excessive by one of the world’s leading engineering consultants.

Highly-rated consultancy firm Atkins said in a council-requested operations review that more staff were being employed than normal for Edinburgh’s trams, particularly when it came to ticket inspectors.

The company said: “Atkins considers the annual tram operating costs in general to be high in terms of staffing.”

The council is targeting a record low fare evasion rate of just three per cent – an unprecedented mark when it comes to tram systems across Britain.

Seven drivers are also being paid to only move trams within the Gogar depot – the site where all vehicle maintenance will take place.

Almost a third of the £7.4m-a-year operating costs needed to run the trams is being taken up by paying drivers and inspectors.

Transport and planning consultant Robert Drysdale said: “I would have preferred to see fewer ticket inspectors and more drivers driving more trams.

“If part of the reason why we can’t have a higher frequency tram service is because of the cost of staffing those trams, surely it would make more sense?

“It’s not as though tram drivers are being paid a huge amount. I don’t think they’ll be paid any more than inspectors, in which case it would make more sense to train more drivers.”

Not all 52 inspectors will be on duty at once, with shifts to be spread across tram operations running 19 hours a day, seven days a week.

Each stop will be served by a tram every seven-and-a-half minutes from Monday to Friday during peak hours.

That frequency falls to every ten minutes during non-peak times and at weekends.

Special timetables for events such as Six Nations rugby matches have not yet been finalised.

The report from Atkins said: “It is understandable that a strong message should be transmitted at the start of operations to avoid any habitual evasion, considering that this type of open system is new to Edinburgh. Atkins is of the opinion, however, that the inspection regime will evolve during the first few years of operations, enabling the cost of this activity to be reduced to be more in line with the revenue lost.”

Atkins said the council also aspired to achieve a zero-tolerance policy when it came to graffiti. An allowance of £1000 a week is being set aside to pay for cleaning vandalism along the tram line.

Ruth McKay, Edinburgh chairwoman of the Federation of Small Businesses, applauded the council for trying to come down hard on fare dodgers. She said: “It’s probably necessary when you’re launching something that you set off with that in mind. I do applaud them for that.

“Everybody would want to see the trams bringing in money for the city, so that would certainly be a part of it.

“I’m not a transport expert, so I don’t know how excessive 52 inspectors is or isn’t. But the other way to look at it is if it’s providing employment for people, then I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”

Atkins has also been critical of long layover times for trams of up to 18 minutes at the airport and eight minutes at York Place.

The report said: “There will be some inefficiency in the use of drivers as the layover periods when the vehicles are stationary at the two termini is generous – particularly at the airport, where it is intended that there should always be a tram waiting to accept passengers as they arrive at the stop.”

The detailed assessment by the consultant also revealed:

• Existing contractors Bilfinger Berger and Siemens will remain responsible for infrastructure maintenance on the trams line under a ten-year contract;

• Each tram in active service will cover an average 65,000km a year;

• Vehicle maintenance will be carried out on a cumulative basis, meaning repair works will gradually take longer as the trams clock up more miles.

Only holders of Scottish National Entitlement Cards issued in Edinburgh to those aged over 60 or who are disabled will get free travel, with the council footing the bill.

We revealed yesterday how the move will cost an estimated £200,000 in the line’s first year of operation. Elderly passengers from outside the city boundaries will be forced to pay the full fare on the trams network.

Age Scotland has urged the Scottish Government to come to the party and subsidise free travel on the trams for OAPs outside of Edinburgh residents.

A spokeswoman said: “One rule for City of Edinburgh residents and another for those living outside these boundaries appears to be unnecessarily complicated as well as being unfair, especially when you add in that the bus services will be reduced and that the trams offer much better accessibility which is important for concessionary bus pass users.”

However, Transport Scotland yesterday reiterated that the Government’s position had not changed when it came to subsidising free travel on trams.

A spokesman said: “As stated earlier this year when an agreement was announced, securing the future of the national concessionary bus scheme is a key commitment for the Scottish Government, and we are pleased City of Edinburgh Council has agreed to fund the local concessionary scheme for the trams to help promote integration between the tram and local bus services in the city.

“As we’ve repeatedly said, the Scottish Parliament voted for the Scottish Government to provide £500m in financial support for the construction of the Edinburgh trams project – and not a penny more.

“Local authorities have received a fair three-year settlement from national government for 2012-15 and as part of that settlement, Edinburgh council is receiving an extra £68m over the three years to disburse as they see fit.”

City transport convener Councillor Lesley Hinds said discussions had been held with existing train operator ScotRail about ultimately including rail travel in the integrated network.

Council officials want to emulate London, which offers an Oyster card that can be used for trips on buses, the Underground and suburban trains.

Drivers must wait till Gogar for toilet break

IT’S been a hugely expensive transport project costing the taxpayer at least £776 million to complete . . . but it seems little thought has been given to tram drivers needing to spend a penny.

A report into the business case for the tram system has revealed drivers might be crossing their legs along the eight-mile route as they wait up to an hour to go to the toilet.

It has emerged that there will be no staff toilets at stops outside of Gogar so tram drivers will have to hold on until they hit that loo-laden depot. But expert Robert Drysdale said this problem was not uncommon for drivers working in public transport services.

Speaking about Lothian Buses drivers, he said: “On the number 16 route, the bus driver goes all the way from Silverknowes to Colinton and he doesn’t get a break at any point throughout that.”

At least seven drivers will always have a bathroom handy because their job is to steer trams round and round the circuit at Gogar to prevent the vehicles seizing up.

Edinburgh tram drivers, who will be paid around £24,000 a year, must complete a four-week intensive training course with around one day manning a city bus in heavy traffic and scrutinising conditions on foot, according to the city transport department. A total of 32 tram drivers are being employed after transport chiefs were inundated with more than 600 applications.

The Atkins report on the lack of toilets said there is a “lack of provision of facilities for drivers’ physical necessities at York Place – breaks for physical necessities are only envisaged at the depot and this may not be acceptable”.