The start of the Edinburgh tram service has reignited the debate about the project – and the hitherto neglected role of one major player needs to be considered.
The lowest tender, submitted by a company with no record of tram building, was thought by several experts to be much too low. However, it met the specification and, in accordance with the rules of HM Treasury, the council had no alternative but to accept it.
Matters such as confidence, experience and enhancement cannot actually be taken into account.
This was followed by the idiotic decision to take the lowest bid and turn it into a fixed-price contract.
The resulting squabble between council and contractor, which looked like two dogs arguing over an inadequate bone, helped to push the final cost forever upward.
The big complaint is that the trams cost too much, which is true, although recent tighter management has helped, but the real problem was incompetent budget planning at the start. If, as forecast, Edinburgh’s population will rise by 150,00 in the next 15 years, the only way to move these people around will be by modern tram but the Scottish Government, not just the council, needs to have a proper system for contracting.
It has, selfishly, benefited electorally by distancing itself from the tram problem but that will not do for long-term planning.
On the evening of Saturday, 31 May, Edinburgh Tram Day, my wife and I decided to take the tram from town to the airport.
We are fairly frequent users of the excellent LRT airport bus and were curious to know how well the new competitor would measure up.
Armed with our Scottish concession cards, we headed down to York Place. Smooth, quiet and comfortable it was, but it took 35 minutes from Princes Street compared with 25 to 30 minutes on the airport bus.
Perhaps this is not a strictly fair comparison but it felt a bit like the Piccadilly tube line from central London to Heathrow compared with the Heathrow Express.
And of course the tram takes you through a rather less salubrious part of town than the bus, and you can go upstairs in the bus and get a better view.
On top of this, the tram costs £1 more than the bus (if you’re a paying passenger) and at the airport you have to walk 100 yards further than the bus with your heavy baggage to get to the tram station.
To get air travellers to use the tram, the bus terminus will have to be moved yet another 100 yards away from the airport’s arrivals hall and/or the tram fare will have to be set significantly lower than that of the bus fare.
Moving pavements connecting the airport terminal to the tram station might also help. Well, what’s another few thousand on top of £750 million?
By the way, the old trams were handier and much more fun!