John McLellan: Bus lovers take against tram line

Lothian Buses are a popular aspect of Capital life.
Lothian Buses are a popular aspect of Capital life.
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Edinburgh by Numbers shows the city has the highest public transport satisfaction level of any Scottish city at 89 per cent, with 27 per cent of people using Lothian Buses every day compared to 18 per cent in Glasgow.

The subsequent success of, and fondness for, Lothian Buses lies at the heart of the debate about the completion of the tram line to Newhaven which will be played out at Edinburgh Council today. Tram supporters know that thousands of people don’t see the point when there is a perfectly good bus service and fear the financial burden will affect all passengers across the city.

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The financing of the £165 million project relies on a £20m payment over five years from Lothian Buses, but the full extent of the subsidy should also include the fare income switched from buses, especially as densely populated Leith Walk is also an area of relatively low car ownership.

Unlike the existing line, the Newhaven route will be virtually identical to existing bus services, in particular the 16 as far as Shandwick Place and the 22, so it’s fair to assume many people will just take whatever comes first. This is recognised but not quantified in the Business Case so we can only guess at the eventual true subsidy levels, and claims that Phase One shows the tram won’t affect bus numbers are not reliable because the circumstances are different.

There is the expected population growth on the Waterfront, but the current estimate of developer contribution is only around £7m.