Talking point: Keep on rolling

Written by on 10 June 2014

Stop the press and try not to fall off your seat: Edinburgh’s notorious and much maligned trams are finally operational!

After a couple of months of testing so Edinburgh’s residents could get used to this new form of transport, the trams opened their doors to paying customers on 31 May. And in the days since, I’ve seen real commuters using them, albeit slightly bemused looking commuters, but actual people. With their distinctive ‘ding ding’ getting its own hashtag and Transport for Edinburgh updating their already very decent mobile phone app to accommodate the trams, things are looking very positive. However, for Edinburgh’s long-suffering residents, the bad memories are slow to fade.

When the Edinburgh Evening News asked its Twitter followers to come up with ideas for a noise to sum up the trams, one tweeted this: “Gentle sobbing seems appropriate, or resigned sighs – maybe a constant disapproving ‘tut tut’.”

City of Edinburgh Council transport convener Lesley Hinds acknowledged the issues. She said: “Two years ago, I pledged to do everything in my power to ensure we brought this project in on the revised budget and revised schedule. It was never going to be straightforward, but with an incredible team effort and a focus on results, it now feels fantastic to be where we are today.

“The tram project has been hugely challenging for the people of Edinburgh but now there seems to be a growing positivity in the city about the start of a brand new transport service. I know from firsthand experience how trams can transform and enhance a city and I am determined Edinburgh should make the very most of the opportunities ahead.

“I hope that everyone who uses a tram in these first few days and weeks enjoys the experience. We’ll be monitoring things very closely to make sure the system is performing as best it can – these are the early days of a brand new transport system and it needs time to bed in.”

However, while an operational system might go some way to allay the naysayers, the reputational damage done by the tram debacle is going to be hard to reverse. Just a week after the trams became operation, First Minister Alex Salmond announced the project will be investigated by a judge-led inquiry. He cited “considerable public concern” over the £776m project. Let’s hope the ‘ding ding’ of the trams soon become part of the city’s fabric, rather than a reminder of a huge and costly debacle.

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