TO thousands of residents in the east of Scotland he is known simply as "Mr Congestion Charge". Councillor Andrew Burns, Edinburgh's transport leader, is perhaps the most recognised politician in the city.
But nobody can argue with his staying power. He was humiliated in a referendum, forced into an embarrassing U-turn over the city centre traffic shake-up, and yet still he remains in the job.
Perhaps the reason he has laughed off so many resignation calls is, quite simply, because he is a nice guy. I have never found him to be anything other than honest, genuinely friendly and - most importantly for a journalist - prepared to answer a question.
That's why Cllr Burns was keen to tackle questions put to him directly by our readers. So, sitting in his office at the City Chambers, we trawled through dozens of e-mails and letters.
One thing is clear right from the start - transport is a controversial topic in Edinburgh. "The difference between transport and other major policy areas is that transport affects everybody," says Cllr Burns.
"If you don't have children, the council's education services don't affect you. But more or less everyone has to move from A to B in this city, whether it be by foot, bike, bus or car." Edinburgh has more than its fair share of major transport projects heading its way in the next few years - most notably the trams scheme.
"There are huge emotions on both sides of the transport debate," he admits. "But despite all the tension and pressure I really love this job."
Five years into his post as transport leader, what is his greatest achievement? "It's the level of investment for all things transport in Edinburgh," he says.
"In the last five years we've built three new railway stations and a new bus station; we've got two parliamentary Bills for trams approved; we've secured the youngest bus fleet in the UK and now have one of the best bus networks in the country."
Why, then, do we need trams? "We've got a massively expanding city, with up to 50,000 people moving to the Lothians in the next ten years, and we can't rely on buses to carry this volume of passengers."
So, surely his biggest regret is the failure of the road tolls scheme - kicked out by a huge majority in last year's referendum?
"No, I still think that was the right process to go through. But I do regret the well-documented problems we had with the [New Town] traffic management scheme."
So, what's next for the transport leader? "It's my intention to stay in the post until the next election in May," he says.
"I am a supporter of proportional representation, and I recognise that will lead to a coalition. I intend to stand again for my ward, but I first have to get selected, then elected."
Andrew answers your questions
You reported at a recent traffic forum that you had come through from the west, which suggests that you weren't aware of traffic problems relating to the City. Did you, without assistance from your officials, tour the city and surrounding area to make a fact-finding assessment of the situation, and if not why not? Furthermore, are you aware that most of our traffic problems were caused by interference from London?
Christopher Fentiman, Polwarth Gardens
It is indeed true that I don't originally hail from Edinburgh, having moved here in 1993. Over the past 13 years it has become very much my home. My current job, which I've now undertaken for the last five years, ensures that I do travel the city widely and am fully aware of the numerous local traffic issues across the capital. As for London, since devolution in 1999, it has had no responsibility for transport in Scottish local authorities and this is clearly evidenced when you look at the significant transport policy differences between England and Scotland.
This is my third attempt to get an answer from Cllr Burns on why since CETM the signalled turning into Queens Street Garden West from Queen Street only allows for a couple of cars at a time and why no buses travelling east along Princes Street can make a left into South St David Street. I saw Cllr Burns reply to Elaine C Smith through the Evening News letters page and hope the fact that he hasn't responded to me isn't bias against the Edinburgh council taxpayer in favour of celebrity.
Iris Jack, Mountcastle Drive North
While I do occasionally respond to articles or letters in the Evening News, I unfortunately cannot possibly respond to every letter on every transport topic raised through the letters pages. I do receive a very high volume of letters and emails to the City Chambers and with assistance from council officers all of these are responded to. As I'm sure you can appreciate this takes time. However, in answer to your questions: The limited turning opportunities into Queen Street Gardens West are part of the overall strategy to reduce through-traffic in the city centre by 30 per cent, acting as they do as a deterrent to north-south rat-running traffic. The closure of the junction of South St David Street serves the same purpose but it has the added benefit of improving facilities and safety for pedestrians on Princes Street, the busiest thoroughfare in the city, by removing a major pedestrian/vehicle conflict point.
Why not give residents free parking permits to park in their area, on proof of residency?
Charlie McGhee, Easter Road.
Parking permit charges pay for parking attendants to patrol residents' bays, ensuring they aren't used by those who are not entitled to a permit. It is a fair system, as only residents who receive the benefits of residents-only parking are required to make contributions. These contributions are then used to cover administrative and enforcement costs. Systems like the one in Edinburgh are used in cities UK-wide and our charges are similar or, in many cases, far less than those charged by other cities. For example, in the small city of York, permits range from 86 to 500. In Glasgow, city centre parking permits cost 250. In Edinburgh, our permits cost from 80 to 160 – just 22p or 44p a day, less than the cost of a newspaper for priority parking in central Edinburgh.
Can you tell me what good it's going to do for residents who work all day to extend the Controlled Parking Zone but only have it operate from 8.30am to 5.30pm when we're all at work?
Lisa McKay, Abbeyhill Crescent
Much of the parking pressures in areas outside the existing Controlled Parking Zone is as a result of commuters parking in front of peoples' homes, and then taking the bus or walking into work. Early evening is one of the most difficult times for residents in central areas to park, but this is because many commuters, who will no longer be able to park during the day, leave anytime from 5 to 7pm or later. I do recognise, though, that some residents, particularly those who live near entertainment venues, would prefer longer operating hours. We have considered this and may extend hours in the future, but there are two concerns: one, the additional cost of enforcement would likely drive up the price of parking permits; and two, many residents who work and don't need permits currently are opposed to longer controlled hours.
My suggestion is that for a single annual, or monthly payment I should be given a permit that allows me to park, for indefinite periods, in “pay and display” bays and maybe even permit holder spaces which are not in use. This scheme should only be offered to bona-fide traders with established businesses and restricted to registered vehicles.
Douglas McLaren, Kirkhill Terrace
The recently approved parking strategy will introduce business permits which allow holders to park in residents' bays in the peripheral or extended controlled parking zones. Demand from residents in the central CPZ is currently too high to facilitate similar permits there, but the situation will be closely monitored.
I live in Arthur Street in Edinburgh and over the past four years the parking has been very bad. People come from all over to go to work and they use what ever space they can get. As you know, after discussions with the council double lines were painted to prevent people from parking in front of residents driveways but the situation has actually got worse. Why can't anything be done. Please respond.
Eddie Reed, Arthur Street
I'm aware that Central Parking Services have visited this street regularly at Mr Reed's specific request, and have taken action against a number of illegally parked vehicles. However, it is simply not possible for them to visit every time a car parks illegally because they have to enforce the entire city and unscheduled visits to peripheral streets could mean that other areas do not receive the required level of attention. That said, we are working with our contractor to improve the situation and we will continue to monitor it closely.
Discussions about parking rarely mention the plight of the service engineer. Why are there no special provisions to help the service industry with their parking problems?
Surely we all want a plumber to be able to attend to a leaking pipe in our house without forcing him to break the parking laws to do so.
Manfred Lillig, Stanedykehead
I don't live in Edinburgh. I am fortunate enough to live in East Lothian where parking/congestion is less of an issue. No-one can deny that Edinburgh has a traffic/congestion issue that needs to be dealt with. Your measures to deal with it sometimes work, but often don't. The ones that don't get more than enough press so I will not repeat them. I am an electrician. I drive a van that contains the material and equipment I need to do my job. I do several jobs per day and therefore carry a wide range of stuff – it makes sense to do so. Less trips to suppliers leads to less pollution. The trips to the suppliers take up too much time as the roads are clogged with other motorists, most of which are vehicles with only one person in them. This group includes cars, taxis and sometimes buses! It is clear that a large amount of the cars that drive around the city are occupied by people who could have taken a bus, taxi, cycled or even walked. There will always be some people for which the car is the only option. However, us van drivers have no choice but to drive our vans. I'm sure Lothian Bus drivers would object to a tradesperson loading their day's material and equipment on during rush hour and a bike can only transport so much.
My biggest grievance with your traffic management measures is that you do not differentiate between us van drivers and the private motorist. We need our vans. We also need them to be close to the worksite. We are happy to pay for parking, we simply pass this on to the customer. But sometimes a job can take longer than we are allowed to stay in a parking bay. That causes a problem. Even if it's a quiet street with ample free spaces, we can't stay longer than the rules. Sometimes there is no pay and display spaces within a reasonable distance of the worksite. But you won't let us use a vacant resident's bay. You won't allow a sensible amount of time to unload. It's ten minutes no matter if the job is a ground floor flat or three or four levels up. It is not unknown for some tradespersons to refuse work in certain areas of town due to these problems. Competition for work is stiff and margins are so small that a 30 parking ticket can make a severe dent in any profits.
I recently responded to an emergency call on George Street. I parked outside the business as there were no spaces available. The fusebox in the premises was billowing smoke. While dealing with this, preventing a fire, a member of staff told me that my van was being ticketed and the warden was not interested in their explanation for my van being parked there. This is wrong!
There are several ways that van drivers could be dealt with. Let us park in a resident's bay if we are working there. Let us use yellow lines when we don't impede traffic or cause danger to pedestrians. Let us pay for parking in a bay for as long as we need to (you still get the money!)
There must be ways to make van drivers lives a bit easier when it comes to parking in Edinburgh. Your residents need us. We don't drive around Edinburgh because we want to. We do it because we have to provide a service that people need. Maybe your next outing around Edinburgh could be a day in the life of an Edinburgh tradesperson! You would be welcome in my van any time.
Kevan Gordon, Faside Road, Tranent
I know many people think managing parking on our streets should be easy, but we have to balance the legitimate needs of many different groups. This includes residents wanting to park near their homes; shops, who, to survive, need short-term spaces for customers; as well as tradespeople like yourself.
Tradespeople do have special circumstances and we have listened to trade association representatives in our recent comprehensive parking review, and have some changes in store that may help you during your daily work. First, we have proposed a trades' vehicle permit which would allow tradespeople to either park in residents' or pay and display bays for a set fee every year, or a second type of permit which will allow trades' vehicles to still pay but overstay in pay and display bays for a smaller fee. We have also increased the observation period for trades' vehicles from five minutes to ten minutes for loading and unloading, with the maximum time to unload at 30 minutes.
I can see why you would be frustrated after your experience on George Street, but I would suggest anyone with a special situation like this appeal their ticket; with proof of the circumstances, we would have cancelled your ticket. We don't give our parking attendants any discretion to ensure they don't have to make difficult, stressful decisions and to lessen the chance they can be influenced unfairly.
Finding a parking space in some areas at night time is a problem. Has the council considered the introduction of one-way systems in residential areas with tenement properties in order to allow more cars to be parked head on to the pavement?
Sandy Gemmill, Mertoun Place
Unfortunately, most of our roads are not wide enough for this type of parking. Around 4.5 metres is needed to park end-on and, to manoeuvre into the space, another five metres is needed. (The space behind the vehicle has to be large enough for it to back straight out then turn; therefore the manoeuvring space has to be slightly longer than the vehicle.) If there is still side-on parking on the opposite side of the road, which takes about two metres, then the minimum overall road width to safely provide this parking arrangement would be around 11.5 metres. This width is greater than most residential roads in the city centre. If end-on parking was provided on only one side of the road, then the number of spaces in a street would not increase.
Can you contrast the transport infrastructure that has been delivered in the last five years with the previous, say, 25-30years? I'm principally interested to know how much better (or not) your predecessors have done in delivering on infrastructure.
Peter Barker, Bruntsfield Place
Thanks for the support Peter. . I appreciate the sentiment and the interesting question!
You're right – the last five years has seen an enormous amount delivered on transport projects in Edinburgh. While significant projects were delivered between 1976 and 1996, the then Transport authority, Lothian Regional Council, had responsibility for a much larger geographical area which incorporated a diverse range of urban and rural transport issues.
The Regional Council was certainly responsible for some significant achievements. One of these which I would highlight is the reopening of the passenger railway between Edinburgh and Bathgate and the provision of Park and Ride facilities along the line. The council also provided parking facilities at Dunbar railway station. You only have to see how busy these services have become to realise what a major contribution they make towards providing commuters with a realistic alternative to the car.
The Regional Council was also responsible for building the Edinburgh City Bypass which is now the responsibility of the Scottish Executive. This might seem a mixed blessing to those people who get stuck in traffic jams on some sections every day. I think it serves to highlight the importance of providing good public transport services as an alternative to those able to take advantage of them. Nevertheless, the bypass was a major engineering achievement and now forms a significant link in the Trunk Road network. You should however be aware of the total funding context. From the late 1980s up to around 2000 funding for transport was limited nationally. The funding from government for local road investment through much of the life of Lothian Region was greater than that for the national road network. This changed in the latter part of the the life of Regional Councils.
However, there are a number of areas in which I do believe we have improved since the days of the Region. Between 1986 and 1990, the average number of casualties per year on Edinburgh roads was over 2600. This figure included an average of 39 fatalities each year. Between 2001 and 2005, the overall average figure had fallen to just under 1870 of which 10 were fatalities. For each of the last three years, there have been no child fatalities, the first time we have ever seen this figure sustained over such a long period. Any serious accident causes a great deal of emotional and financial hardship and we have no room for complacency. Nevertheless, I believe that we have every reason to be proud of our targeted approach to accident reduction, often in the face of a hostile but vocal minority.
We have also made great strides in continuing with the provision of Park and Ride. In 2002, along with our partners we funded the opening of three new railway stations in Edinburgh (half the figure for the whole of the UK that year!) including a Park and Ride facility at Newcraighall. Since then we have opened two more highly successful bus-based facilities (at Hermiston and Ingliston) and are making significant progress toward providing a complete ring of sites around the city. We have also, through a range of measures such as bus priority and bus information, contributed to the reversal of a 40-year decline in the numbers of people using the bus where patronage for some years has been rising.
We remain the majority shareholder in what I believe is Britain's best bus company (Lothian Buses) which continues to provide some of the best value services in the UK. In partnership with them, we are rolling out Bustracker, a Real Time Information system that keeps passengers at bus stops updated with the progress of their bus. We have also provided a range of bus priority facilities to improve journey times and reliability for all bus operators, something which I believe accounts for the very healthy bus patronage figures we continue to see in Edinburgh. We have successfully targeted government funding (in some years the most successful in Scotland) not just for public transport but also in providing the new access road to the Granton Development which is not only the first piece of new road in the city since the 1970s but was provided ahead of development in the area.
With the space available, I hope that I have given you a flavour of the things that we, in this Council, can be proud of. I would leave it to others to judge whether or not we are better than our predecessors who, as I have acknowledged, faced different challenges.
I supported the idea of congestion charging as I think there is far too much traffic in the city already and it just seems to be getting worse. My concern is that as the streets get busier and motorists get more frustrated that the safety of pedestrians is at risk. I'm not comfortable with letting my kids out on the roads as it is, but at the same time I don't want them to feel restricted. What can the council do to assure me that road safety is being carefully looked at?
Laura Keddie, Burdiehouse Avenue
While I want motorists, cyclists and pedestrians to have equal access to our streets and feel they are safe I do feel that people must take priority over vehicles and that is why road safety is our number one transport priority. So much has been done over the last few years to improve our road safety record. We have installed 38 residential 20mph zones and roads around 108 out of 149 schools now have full or part-time 20mph zones. Through our Safer Routes to Schools programme we are working with schools to develop travel plans which are vital in teaching children how to be street smart. These schemes have all played a major role in the fact that we have had no child deaths on our roads since 2002, compared to eight children killed from 2000 to 2002 and that serious injuries have also fallen by more than half.
I recently went on the net to fill out “Edinburgh's transport survey” but to my horror, the questionnaire is worded in such a manner that it is almost impossible to say No to any question. Example: Question 6) Should we ensure that people with prams or in wheelchairs should be able to use buses? Mmmm . . . no?
This is just one question but the whole survey is worded like this. Why does Edinburgh City Council continue to send out biased survey questionnaires instead of giving Edinburgh citizens the opportunity to give unbiased views? Will you ensure for now on that all questionnaire's sent out on Edinburgh's Transport Strategy are unbiased towards any point of view?
Leyla Ogilvie, Carnbee Dell
Because it is the second stage of public consultation, the questionnaire on the Local Transport Strategy is a bit unusual. In the first stage, we had a general consultation; in the second stage, we are asking your opinion on our draft LTS. The questionnaire summarises our draft LTS and asks point-by-point if you agree with it. I would also encourage you to fill in the section at the end of the questionnaire, which is reserved for general comments.