ASTONISHED transport chiefs have been snowed under with requests from people desperate to be tram drivers – with a whopping 350 applications submitted for just 12 jobs.
That equates to 30 people chasing just one job – with more people expected to send their CVs in as fresh opportunities to control one of the machines arise.
We told last month how Lothian Buses, which will be operating the controversial network, had started driver recruitment ahead of the line’s launch next summer.
The advertisement said candidates needed to have “well developed concentration and communication skills”, and the “ability and desire to work safely, be flexible and deliver customer service excellence”.
Ian Craig, managing director of Lothian Buses, described the speed, quantity and quality of responses to the company’s driver recruitment efforts as very impressive.
He said: “This speaks volumes for the building excitement around the tram project as it nears operational go-live, but also for the high regard in which Lothian Buses is held as a major employer in the city.
“It is reassuring to know so many talented individuals are keen to see their careers progress with Lothian Buses, which is a reflection of the importance we place upon people development within the business.
“The selection process is now under way and over the course of the coming months I look forward to welcoming more and more tram colleagues to the business.
“The long-term objective is to ensure Edinburgh citizens and visitors have access to the highest standards of integrated public transport operated by the best people available.”
Successful candidates will be involved in the testing stage of the trams project, which started last month with the electrification of the 1.7-mile stretch from the Gogar trams depot to Edinburgh Airport.
People who win tram driving jobs will earn between £20,000 and £24,000. The salary reflects the responsibility of operating a high-tech £2 million road-going “train”.
City transport convenor, Councillor Lesley Hinds, said both the economic climate and the reputation of Lothian Buses as a good employer would have contributed towards the large number of applications.
She said: “Obviously it’s something quite new as well in terms of being the first trams in Scotland. People may well be transport buffs or people who have got a particular interest. But I think it’s probably just people who are interested in the job and want to work for a decent wage and conditions.”
Edinburgh fares well against other comparative cities when it comes to unemployment.
In November last year, the Capital’s rate was 3.1 per cent compared with just under 4 per cent Scotland-wide and the average of 5.2 per cent for the UK’s top ten largest cities, according to Jobseekers’ Allowance figures.
There are also two-and-a-half jobseekers for every vacancy in Edinburgh, compared to 6.9 in Glasgow, 7.7 in Dundee and 12 for every post in West Dunbartonshire.
Those lucky enough to be given one of the dozen available positions will start their training from as early as March. Sitting behind a reinforced plate glass door, they will monitor banks of cameras to check traffic, and be trained in the use of the “Big Red Button” – which brings the tram to a grinding halt when pressed in emergencies. Drivers must also be trained in the use of the traction brake controller, which manages speed, and the use of bypass switches allowing the controller to manage a systems failure directly.
Cllr Hinds said the training would be exhaustive. She said: “I think one of the issues is people just think you jump into a tram and that’s it. But that’s why they’re employing them now, because there’s a big training exercise to go through in terms of safety and all the tests for them to get used to.”
Tom backs fight for free travel on trams
GOOD Samaritan Tom Gilzean is backing our campaign for concessionary travel to be extended to Edinburgh’s trams.
Over-60s and the disabled face being banned from using their free bus passes on the trams, unless the Scottish Government gives the green light to the concessionary fares scheme being extended to it.
Tom, 92, of Prestonfield, said: “As far as I’m concerned it’s a concession for buses and the trams should get it as well. I don’t know what they’re thinking about.”
Mr Gilzean, who earned a CBE for collecting charity money on the Royal Mile, worked as a bus driver for 40 years so believes he’s well qualified to tackle the issue. He said: “I would never have been able to do my charity work without access to free travel.”
Failure to include trams in concessionary arrangements would also result in more buses needing to stay on the roads, undermining the benefits of the tram project.
We told on Tuesday how hundreds of OAPs living along the tram route will be left out of pocket if bus services running close to the line were reduced, forcing them to pay full tram fares.
Mr Gilzean’s efforts in raising £40,000 in a year for charity by collecting donations along the Royal Mile led to his recognition in the recent Queen’s New Year Honours List.
Now the Prestonfield pensioner is getting behind another worthy cause, predicting a march on the Scottish Parliament by seniors if they were told they were going to be denied free travel on the trams.
He said: “In the year 2015 they’re making it a flat rate for old-age pensioners of £140 a week, and they’re going to make them pay for tram cars and all the rest of it?
“If they lose their concessionary tickets, then no way – there will be a hue and cry about the whole lot. You can’t do that. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was [a march].”
Mr Gilzean is already an outspoken critic of the budget over-runs and reduced scale of the Capital’s £776 million tram project.
The widower catches the bus from Prestonfield into the city centre every day, weather permitting, to gather collections.
Seniors who wanted to use the trams five days a week without concession passes would have to pay a minimum of £612 a year under the existing fare structure offered by operator Lothian Buses.
Edinburgh has been urged to follow the example of Manchester, which has one of the most extensive tram networks in Britain.
Pensioners are allowed to travel for free on trams in the English city after 9.30am Monday to Friday and all day at weekends and on Bank Holidays.
Ministers will come under pressure in the
Scottish Parliament next week to guarantee free fares for older people on Edinburgh’s trams.
Lothians MSPs have pledged support for the Fare Deal for Over-60s campaign to ensure the existing concessionary travel scheme is extended to cover trams in the same way as buses.
Labour’s Kezia Dugdale pledged to raise the matter at question time in the parliament next week.
She has already written to Transport Minister Keith Brown, warning that in view of the low level of public support for the trams it would be “adding insult to injury” to declare them out of bounds for concessionary passengers.
She said: “We need an integrated public transport system so more people use it – and integrated fares are essential to that.
“If you have a pass that lets you travel free on buses, it must let you travel free on the trams as well.”
Lothians Conservative MSP David McLetchie also backed the Evening News campaign. He said: “I wholeheartedly agree. [I] frankly don’t see the point if they are not the same. It would be a waste of time.”
On right lines for business
THE founding director of Scottish recruitment firm Eden Scott says the flood of applications for drivers may be a sign that people are coming around to Edinburgh’s trams project.
Michelle Lownie said: “I don’t think you can get any more negative PR than the trams have had. I think probably people are of the opinion now that actually you might as well be with them than against them because it’s happening.”
Sales advisers, financial analysts, hotel reservation mangers and sous chefs are positions being advertised across the Capital in the same salary bracket.
All change for some staff?
A POOL of existing drivers for Lothian Buses are among those who have jumped at the chance to be behind the helm of Edinburgh’s state-of-the-art trams.
The transport company, which will also be in charge of the trams network, confirmed there had been considerable internal interest in the recently advertised jobs, along with the high number of external applicants.
About 30 drivers with Lothian Buses are understood to be among 350 applicants who are bidding for only a dozen positions.
The attraction of being in charge of the Capital’s controversial trams when they hit the streets next year appears to have appealed to those at the company.
Lothian Buses confirmed those wanting to make the switch would not be changing jobs based on salary, with pay rates between buses and the trams comparative.
A spokesman said: “Upon completion of the benchmarked, industry-leading training and comprehensive evaluation, a driver new to bus and a driver new to tram will be on similar entry-level basic salaries.”
The competition for spots comes with the company also advertising for a head of operations for its bus services, with a hefty salary of £70,000 to £90,000, plus benefits.
The post has called for someone who is “passionate about buses and public transport, customer service, safety and high standards” with the capability to “lead and motivate an operations team of 1500 drivers, supervisors and managers”.
Lothian Buses said the appointment was to replace its existing chief, who is retiring in May.