When I lived in Augsburg, Bavaria, between 1998 and 2000, I took the tram for granted. It was quick, reliable and affordable. Augsburg has a population around half the size of Edinburgh yet has 6 separate tram lines stretching for over 25 miles. Other continental cities are the same: trams are a normal part of a modern public transport system.
And yet trams in Edinburgh have become a byword for financial and administrative mess. The budget is overspent, the construction is late and the roadworks have seemed never-ending. The handling of the trams project has embarrassed the city.
Leith has suffered all the pain but, as yet, has none of the gain. Businesses have suffered and some may have gone bust as a result of the tramworks.
Some of my constituents want an immediate end to the pain: Leith has suffered enough. We should reinstate Leith Walk to its previous state as soon as possible and should not even entertain the prospect of trams coming to Leith, they say. I’ve been critical of the horrendous mismanagement of the tram project and share the anger of these residents and businesses.
But many more of my constituents (a majority of those who contact me about this issue) say they want to see a benefit from all this pain and disruption. They want to see trams come to Leith. And I agree with them. Leith deserves the high-quality public transport system that many cities of our size take for granted: a clean, efficient tram system.
We need to be realistic about when this can be achieved. There is no prospect of work being funded by the current council or the current Scottish Government in the near future. We should, of course, learn the lessons of the tram line that is currently undergoing testing, from the airport to St Andrews Square and should wait until this line has completely bedded in. But I will continue to argue for investment in high-quality modern public transport systems and all the benefits it brings. Benefits such as local environmental improvements, better mobility for citizens, especially those without access to a car, and the investment that the tram has recently brought to some sections of the airport – city centre route.
The tram project has brought the city seven years of pain. I believe we are now about to see the gain. And that should include Leith as well.