I was persuaded that a tram system was best for the future of Edinburgh around four years ago as I contemplated the inefficiency of buses in Princes Street as they transported large numbers of people. It is still not unusual to see upwards of half a dozen buses queued at a stop waiting for a few intending passengers to get on the first bus. The public in the following buses (and following cyclists and other traffic) just wait. The Edinburgh buses do a good job in covering the city (made more efficient by the bus app for android and iphone!). But they are inefficient for conveying large numbers of people. So here are key factors which make a compelling case for trams.
- Efficiency: Trams are more efficient in transporting large numbers of passengers on high density routes.
- Growth: Trams are needed to move a growing population. The population of Edinburgh grew by 4000 to 5000 per year between 2006 and 2009. The figure for 2010 was up around 8,460 (+1.8%) according to official estimates taking the current population up to 486,000. But the number of visitors are also on an upward trend with the success of Edinburgh airport numbers particularly striking with a year on year rise of 14% to May 2011 (albeit slightly skewed by ash clouds and snow the previous year). We will be guilty of failing to plan for the future if we seek to respond to growth - well, by doing nothing.
- Congestion: Trams are needed to counter congestion. Transport delays affect the lives and livelihoods of people and businesses. Efficient transport also gives people to have greater choices - to work in or travel to different locations.
- Regeneration: Trams are a stimulus for regeneration - and we certainly need that in significant areas of the city. It is also notable that there has been very strong support for trams from many of Edinburgh's large institutions and trade bodies.
- Air quality: Trams are more environmentally friendly. Although there will be little difference in total emissions, harmful emissions will be removed from heavily populated areas (back to the power station which generates the electricity). That will bring a significant benefit for air quality and consequently the health of residents. It will also contribute to meeting the more stringent air quality standards which Edinburgh is required by law to meet.
On Monday I will address what has gone wrong - and later posts will examine the options. None of them are good options - but some are much better (or worse) than others.