EDINBURGH’S trams will start carrying fare-paying passengers at the end of the month. Hooray for that – at least the hapless thing can start doing what it is supposed to do and everybody can roam the city centre free of tram works. But an end to tram controversy it may not be.
It is about two and a half years later than intended which, quite apart from the greater disruption to the city centre and its traders this delay has caused, has also postponed the collection of fares needed to repay the loans the City of Edinburgh Council has taken out to build it. It is also just under three miles shorter than originally planned and about £250 million more expensive, raising doubts about whether it will actually raise the money needed to clear the debts.
The original vision, let’s recall, was that about 15,000 houses were going to be built at the planned Leith end of the line and the same number of jobs were going to be created at Edinburgh Park near the other end. Then came recession, and neither the houses nor the jobs have largely materialised.
So passenger numbers are now largely dependent on air passengers, South Gyle shoppers and Royal Bank of Scotland employees.
For air travellers living outside the city, particularly those coming by train, the airport bus is likely to be a more convenient (especially at Waverley) option.
For foreign arrivals, a functioning tram service may well be a symbol that Edinburgh is a front-rank, modern, European city, which is no bad thing. But the city’s council taxpayers will be more concerned that it isn’t a European-style debt millstone. Here’s hoping it isn’t.