Comment: Compelling logic for tram still exists

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After terrible delays and disruption, the first nine months of Edinburgh’s tram system have proved a success. It is moving large numbers of people round the city centre and the tram bell has become a welcome sound in the 
Capital.

Given this long-awaited result, it’s hardly surprising that the SNP administration has signalled an apparent U-turn on more tram projects.

Transport Minister Derek Mackay says new schemes could be supported and even funded by the Scottish Government.

That’s a big change from the hard-line attitude of his predecessor Keith Brown. He described an Edinburgh tram displayed in Princes Street as “incongruous” and has often repeated his “not a penny more” funding mantra over the project.

But Mackay’s conversion comes with a caveat. While he now insists the administration is not anti-tram, he stressed that the SNP would not fund the Edinburgh project.

Possible lines elsewhere include a link between Glasgow Airport and the city centre. The Fastlink segregated busway, due to open this summer between Glasgow city centre and the South Glasgow University hospitals site in Govan, could be a future candidate.

Iain Docherty, professor of public policy and governance at Glasgow University, reminds us that for all the mismanagement of the project at the start, trams have proven themselves to be a high-quality form of public transport, contributing to urban regeneration.

Extension of the Edinburgh system and the re-introduction of trams in other Scottish cities should, he declares, “be positively embraced.”

Of course it is right that tram schemes elsewhere in Scotland should be considered on their merits. Our transport infrastructure is in need of constant improvement and extension if we are to sustain a competitive and successful economy.

But Edinburgh should not be ruled out on partisan or ideological grounds.

The tram project the SNP backed with financial support is barely half completed. This is Scotland’s capital city. It is a growing city, with rising numbers of people working at its heart. And there is a powerful case for the city council to press ahead with its original vision – extending the line from the city centre to Leith and 
Newhaven.

There was compelling logic behind this initial plan. And it is no less compelling now.