Councillor Lesley Hinds, Convenor of the Transport and Environment Committee, City of Edinburgh Council at the meeting.
© John Yellowlees, 2015
In her two-and-a-half years at the Transport and Environment portfolio, Lesley has learned how challenging it can be to please as many people as possible, and given that in addition to trams she is also responsible for rubbish collection and flood prevention it sometimes feels as though if anything is controversial it's hers!
Trams were in a bad place when she started, the recession having long agoovertaken the 2006 business plan's expectation of 29,000 new homes on the Waterfront where access would not be good enough without the lines to Leith, Newhaven and Granton.
An Airport link was then a secondary aspiration, but now that investment by Scottish Gas and Edinburgh College is helping lift North Edinburgh's prospects, the Tram is serving the Airport not the Waterfront, attracting users who would not forsake their car for a bus and making up for the initially poor public transport provision at Edinburgh Park.
During the first nine months of 2011, a mediation process restored trust between the Council and the tram contractor, eliminating the arms-length company that had previously lain between them. Pending the outcome of the Hardie inquiry it would seem that blame for the whole mess can be attributed to three main causes: the contract which is now widely seen as having been unfit for purpose, divisions at Holyrood where the incoming SNP minority administration was outvoted on the funding so withdrew its active participation, and divisions at the Council where again the Lib Dems were keen but their coalition partners the SNP were not.
By September 2011 deliverability was in place, with terms agreed between Council and infrastructure contractor to build the line from the Airport as far as York Place. With Transport Initiatives Edinburgh disbanded, Lesley inherited a new all-party group and has made a point of consulting all party spokespersons during the last two-and-a-half years. There would now be a team ethic respecting the interests of all stakeholders, and when after no further disputes passenger-carrying commenced under budget and ahead of the revised programme on 31 May the launch was deliberately low-key, with no champagne or tape-cutting so as to avoid any accusation of triumphalism. With 40,000 carried on the first weekend, there were 1.5M journeys in 90 days and the trams are now averaging over 90,000 each week - but use of Lothian Buses since last year is also up by 100,000 journeys a week, continuing to account for over 90% of Transport for Edinburgh journeys.
Transport for Edinburgh provides shared branding with integrated ticketing that promotes choice not competition. People had asked why not get someone else to run the trams, but Lothian Buses are trusted in Edinburgh. Ticketing using mobile phones accounted for £1M of journeys in its first five months, and there were 176,000 downloads in the first ten months of the new Transport for Edinburgh app. London's Oystercard now represents old technology, and Transport for Edinburgh aims to aid the city's future success by offering services that are environmentally friendly and socially inclusive.
Edinburgh's Local Transport Strategy for 2014-9 provides for road safety, active travel, intelligent choices, parking, public and accessible transport and for roadworks and road maintenance in the form of an action plan. Community transport helps older and less mobile people to get out of their homes and out of hospital with ease.
Lesley is all for spending more on roads and pavements, and the Council's Public and Accessible Transport Action Plan seeks to improve walking infrastructure by making it safer and more convenient. Her Transport Forum representing the widest possible range of stakeholders is supported by separate forums for walking and cycling. Over 18% of commuters in Edinburgh walk to work, and market research shows issues with cyclists about respecting shared roadspace. 4.8% cycle to work, up by over a tenth since 2012, and with safety concerns about narrow streets and low knowledge about how and when best to cycle 60% of citizens do not consider themselves cyclists.
With visitor numbers up from 2.3M in 1986 to 3.7M in 2013, Edinburgh must remain competitive, and availability of modern integrated transport is essential to the city's future growth. In promoting this, the Local Transport Strategy seeks to reduce the speed of traffic in the city, improve its parking strategy, develop the Council's own travel plan and contribute to reducing emissions.
Decentralisation of planning decisions to neighbourhood level will improve the quality of implementation, helping make walkers feel safe. Without prejudicing the outcome of the Hardie inquiry, prospects for extension of the tram-line towards Leith are being driven by the availability of the rails and of sufficient trams, by plans to improve the streetscape of Leith Walk (where the utilities have already been diverted) and by the availability of a contribution from the firm that is redeveloping the St James Centre.
Report and photograph by John Yellowlees.
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