Comment: A boost for plan to extend the city’s line

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Five million passengers. Three million of them new to the city’s public transport network and 95 per cent of them happy. Ticket sales approaching £8 million.

There is no getting away from the fact that the tram has delivered some pretty impressive figures in its first year. Even the two big fears – that the trams would be a drag on Lothian Buses and that huge numbers of concessionary-fare passengers would leave the city with a new financial headache – have proved unfounded.

Of course there is one crucial figure that we must not lose sight of – operating the tram has cost the city £1.3m over the past year. But it is far from alone in being a subsidised form of public transport. The buses that many of us rely on every day, for example, would not run without the council helping to cover their costs.

The important thing is that the trams have hit their first-year target. If they continue to do that – and the outstanding customer satisfaction ratings offer further encouragement that they might – then they will cover their own costs within two years, and thereafter make a profit.

The city’s transport leader, Lesley Hinds, is right to identify this as a boost for the plan to take the line to Leith. The truth, as she would acknowledge, is that without such an encouraging performance on the existing line, the case for an extension would be dead in the water.

It looks increasingly likely that the city will now back that proposal. We know a tramline that runs through the most densely populated part of Scotland could be vastly more profitable than the current stunted line.

The business case has yet to be published, though, including critical details of how the £80m or so cost of the extra work will be met. Before the starting pistol is fired on any more tram works, the city needs to be absolutely certain how much it will cost and that it can afford the investment.