Tram costs are in the news again, shortly to be followed by an inquiry to apportion blame.
But these news events should not distract Edinburgh from addressing the hard and painful question: are the trams useful?
Costs already incurred are not relevant to this, nor is the future cost of servicing the loan: these are not altered whatever we do with the trams.
No, the big question is: are the trams useful?
Trams were intended to improve transport in Edinburgh; to enable more people to travel where they want to go more quickly.
The improvements expected were set out in the business case for the trams. Whether this case was right or wrong matters not; but now we can measure the actual effect, and this does matter, because we still have choices to make.
To bus passengers in the city centre (the majority of travellers) it appears that trams cause congestion. Overall, they seem to slow down travel in and out of the city.
Of course, this is a subjective opinion; but now the trams have bedded in, it can be measured much more accurately than the projections and modelling used in the business case.
This needs to be done now, before we decide whether to continue running the tram line, or to extend it, or perhaps to scrap the trams and use the route to speed buses and taxis to and from the airport.
I’ll just say that again, in case you missed it: the trams should be scrapped if it turns out that they increase congestion.
It would be painful and embarrassing, but this should not blind us from doing what is right.
Tram supporters should not be allowed to assume that trams reduce congestion: it should be proven before we choose to even keep them running, let alone extend them.
I returned from Edinburgh Airport recently and as I was not in a particular hurry I decided to take the tram.
When we reached Shandwick Place, a number of overseas visitors looked out and saw the sign: “Princes Street, West End”, and panicked, grabbing their bags and trying to make it to the exit before the doors closed.
One yelled at me: “Is this Princes Street?”
“No,” I replied, as I’m a fairly honest fellow. “That’s the next stop.”
“But it says Princes Street!” they responded, dropping their bags, but looking sceptical and confused.
I didn’t have the heart to launch into an explanation of the whole history of the tram project, but I did enjoy a wry smile.
Just when we thought that nothing else could possibly go wrong, they’ve created a whole new way to deter travellers. I wonder how many visitors have cursed as they lugged their bags along Shandwick Place to the start of the real Princes Street.