TRAM rides will be opened to the public next month as the drive to win over hearts and minds for the project cranks up a gear.
Businesses, transport enthusiasts and community groups have already submitted bids to be among the first passengers on the £776 million line and will travel along the recently-commissioned 2.8km stretch between Gogar and Edinburgh Airport.
Transport convener Councillor Lesley Hinds said giving the wider public the same opportunity would also be considered and that she would strive to ensure the full eight-mile route to York Place was opened ahead of the summer 2014 timetable.
Scout groups, community councils, local “stakeholders” and business associations are understood to have been placed on a list of eager tram testers.
The news came as the initial section of the line was officially handed over to the city, with Cllr Hinds and Transport Minister Keith Brown travelling on the passenger-laden tram leaving the Gogar depot.
Running four months ahead of schedule, roadworks across the city centre are expected to disappear by the year end before a testing phase is introduced, lasting up to six months.
An official launch date for Edinburgh’s entire tramway is likely to be revealed in September.
Today, public relations expert Charlie Mann said taster tram rides could prove effective in winning over a “sceptical” public.
“There is now a definite public relations battle to be won,” said Mr Mann, a director with McGarvie Morrison Media.
“The more people who have an opportunity to have a ride on a tram the better, as they will physically see for themselves the benefits that they will deliver. Word will spread anecdotally to say how good it is and how comfortable the trams are.
“I think it’s a great idea to set about winning folk over in this way.”
Cllr Hinds said: “We have received a number of requests from key interest groups and community organisations that would like to take part in tram depot tours and we are currently working on plans to accommodate these.
“We want to have passengers on the trams as quickly as possible as I will be challenging the tram team to ensure we do that.”
Professor Lewis Lesley, who is technical director of light rail company Trampower, said the dummy runs for passengers would help promote the trams and iron out any kinks before it goes into commercial service.
“Usually process for a new tramway is to have first day free, with clowns and jugglers giving away balloons and make a gala of it,” he said.
“It’s very good PR to offer tram rides so far in advance of it going live, but whether it’s good enough in Edinburgh to counteract the bad publicity that’s gone before is anyone’s guess.”
Speaking about the handover of the first section of line, Mr Brown said: “This is further evidence that the project is now making good progress in terms of the revised timetable.
“The people of Edinburgh and local business community should now be able to plan ahead with confidence and look forward to seeing further evidence of the project coming to fruition over the coming months.”