AN all-expenses-paid tour of tram projects around the UK is to be laid on for councillors and officials in a bid to pick up tips for getting Edinburgh’s long-awaited system up and running.
Up to nine elected representatives and officials from the Capital will travel to Manchester, Nottingham and Dublin to see what lessons can be learned from cities which appear to have made a success of trams. Sheffield and Luton may also be included.
The city council’s policy and strategy committee will be asked next week to approve the trips.
A report to the committee says: “The tram project is approaching its operational phase and there is an opportunity to visit other cities with tram systems to learn from their experience.
“A greater understanding of practical tram issues will lead to a smoother transition from the construction phase to operation.”
It said the visits, expected to take place in March and April, would include the transport convener and vice-convener, the tram media manager and “up to two other appropriate officers”, with the tram manager also expected to go and opposition transport spokespeople to be invited.
But opposition politicians voiced scepticism about a “grand tour” which could be viewed by the public as “jollies”.
Lib Dem transport spokesman Robert Aldridge said the public would not understand the need for the trips.
He said: “It’s important to know what pitfalls there are, but I’m not convinced a grand tour is the appropriate way of doing that. I’m sure our officials can speak to their officials without such an extravagant way forward.”
He said he was unlikely to accept an invitation to go on the visits.
“Although the motives are absolutely correct – to iron out any difficulties before they arise – I don’t think the public will see the need for a large group of people to tour the country.”
Tory group transport spokeswoman Joanna Mowat said the visits must not be “jollies”.
She said: “These kind of visits can add to knowledge and can mean you are better able to hold officials to account.
“But we have got to make sure these are business-like visits and we get the maximum amount out of them and they are not jollies.”
She said she would wait to see the schedule for the visits before deciding whether to go, and assess the likely benefit nearer the time.
Green transport spokesman Nigel Bagshaw said: “I won’t be going with them. I struggle to think what the practical benefit would be.”
Transport convener Lesley Hinds said the visits would help councillors and officials see first-hand how trams were operating elsewhere and learn directly from those involved about the potential teething problems and best practice when launching a new system.
She said: “As well as making sure the project is delivered within the revised timescale and the revised budget, we are also responsible for its smooth operation. These visits will allow us to speak to people who have experience of tram systems about things like how to maximise passenger numbers, how tickets work and what teething problems they had.
“People might not put it on paper, but they will tell you face-to-face what problems they have had and how they dealt with them. I think people will think this is quite sensible.”
“Dublin has seen a dramatic increase in people using the trams and they are expanding the line. They have also been extremely successful in allowing children to travel free if accompanied by an adult.”
The council said no costs had yet been worked out for the visits. But Cllr Hinds said the visits were being organised at minimum cost and without an overnight stay if possible. “We are looking at the cheapest options,” she said.