Time to make the most of trams

It looks like the long-awaited Edinburgh tram extension is finally about to happen. The case for the extension is stronger than ever. Edinburgh’s expected population growth over the next few decades means that the city must develop a modern public transport network. Trams are an ideal type of transport for areas with a high population density, like Leith. There’s also potential for future development of the network into the areas surrounding the city.
Of course, lessons must be learned from the delays and massive cost overruns in the original tram project. Hopefully the ongoing tram inquiry will provide some ideas to make sure mistakes aren’t repeated. And the city needs to make sure that any extension makes proper arrangements for the safety of all those travelling in or around the tram tracks, particularly cyclists.
The construction of the tram network must also not be allowed to undermine local businesses. This is particularly important in and around Leith Walk, where many businesses were badly affected by the previous disruption. I’ve seen reports that help might be provided for around 300 businesses along Leith Walk. However, I know that there were also businesses in neighbouring streets that were also severely hit by disruption, but weren’t eligible to receive any help to make up for loss of business. There should be a generous programme of grants and interest-free loans for all the affected businesses in the area.
Even the limited extension of the tram route will make more journeys possible, and is projected to increase passenger numbers substantially. But the full potential of the trams will not be tapped until they run on a real network, rather than just on one relatively short route. So, it is important to complete the full tram network originally planned. That includes the completion of the circle to provide tram links for much of north Edinburgh. The opening of the new Queensferry Crossing is a reminder that the Scottish Government once floated the idea of using the space freed up on the original Forth road bridge to extend the airport tram route to serve the growing communities of south-west Fife. The extension to Newbridge should go ahead. Links to the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary area need to be re-examined, possibly along different routes from the original one proposed, and should include services into Midlothian and East Lothian.
Many other routes could no doubt be suggested. What is vital is that our local and central governments must think and plan for the public transport needs of the whole of south-east Scotland for future decades, not just the short term. And an extended tram network could play a big part in making that happen.

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