Blue sky thinking: what Edinburgh needs.

On a grey Edinburgh summer’s day I jump off a bus painted with blue skies and fluffy white clouds and on to the tram in Princes Street.  It isn’t going anywhere of course but it’s still a great ride if only to dispel  myths and misconceptions rumbling around town.

The tram project is not wildly over budget, the council is not planning to axe other projects to pay for it and the line will run all the way from Newhaven to Edinburgh airport.

That’s the gist of  TIE’s Myths Buster bulletin. Busting myths is important in a cynical environment but I long to hear someone speak with  blood stirring passion about the benefits trams will bring.  Even when you are just standing  on the motionless tram Edinburgh suddenly feels like a different place: smart, efficient, connected.

So Richard Jeffrey (the chief executive of TIE is surely a man with thick skin) urges politicians to have courage.  Reading yesterday’s media coverage of Jeffrey’s energetic outburst I was also interested to see a quote from an old newspaper colleague of mine.

Howard Johnston, editor-in-chief of Tramways and Urban Transit, says Edinburgh needs to get its act together as pretty soon there will be so many cars in the city it will seize up.  I paraphrase just a little.


Even Kazakhstan has trams: flashback to the brilliant Friends of the Earth Scotland 2007 campaign.

LRTA – “a new magazine for a new era of city transport” –  is refreshingly evangelistic about trams but it also speaks authoritative good sense. One editorial argues that public opposition to tram construction might be reduced if the cost of moving utilities was not included in the price.  Edinburgh’s ancient utilities – water, sewage and gas pipes – would have been replaced sooner rather than later even without the trams.

That puts a different slant on those shock horror newspaper stories claiming that it has cost £350m to construct only 18% of Edinburgh’s tram project. The £350m spent so far includes utility work as well as purchasing the  trams and acquiring land etc plus that 18% of track laid – which, according to TIE, was always the deal agreed with the council.  There’s lots more like this on the Myths Buster but don’t expect to find it prominently quoted in the local press.

Sadly the only passionate voices we hear  are those rubbishing the scheme without much regard for the facts. But that is  because those are the voices that are reported.

As it happens Howard Johnston and I did our newspaper training together a long time ago in a friendly newsroom producing the old EMAP Spalding Guardian and Lincs Free Press.  We did a bit of council bashing when necessary from time to time but it was not our mission to undermine every project proposed by local councillors.

Back on the tram, I’m told more than 50,000 people have hopped aboard since it arrived on Princes Street and – according to the man on the tram and the LRTA’s Edinburgh page – most people seem to like it. But you won’t read that in the local press either.

(The blue sky bus is a feel-good story in itself but more of that later…)