What makes a successful tram service?

28/06/2016 By Thomas Folqué

28 June 2016.

Even before its opening in May 2014 Edinburgh Trams had taken a pretty bad rap in many sections of the media: after the project finished late and came in considerably over-budget.

Edinburgh tram blog image

If I’ve learnt anything from watching Kevin McCloud’s Grand Designs, then the fact that a building project took too long and cost too much is hardly a surprise and certainly makes a good story. But isn’t focusing on the overrun an injustice to the glorious finished product, complete with under floor heating, hot-tub-with-a-view and zero carbon credentials?

Edinburgh Trams’ finished product is, by many measures, a roaring success. On its second birthday the service is reported to have:

  • Exceeded patronage estimates, carrying 5.38 million passengers in year 2 – around 340,000 above target
  • Surpassed revenue targets (6% beyond expected)
  • Eased congestion by encouraging more people onto Park & Ride services rather than their driving into the city centre (60% increase in use of the Islington Park & Ride through 2015)

And most importantly it provides passengers with an excellent journey experience.

With my role at BVA BDRC, the passenger experience is something I know a bit about. We conduct the Tram Passenger Survey (TPS) on behalf of Transport Focus, the independent transport user champion. We go out onto tram networks across the UK to speak to passengers on their journey and ask for their feedback. The TPS is part of a suite of Passenger Surveys conducted across different modes of transport. We’ve been collecting this feedback for Transport Focus in Edinburgh for two consecutive years since the opening of the network.

The headline result in Edinburgh is that, in Autumn 2015, a massive 97% of passengers were either very or fairly satisfied with their journey overall. That compares to 92% on all other surveyed tram networks across the UK.

Our further analysis reveals that this great customer experience is driven by Edinburgh Trams delivering on what’s really important to passengers: punctuality and speedy journeys, hassle free boarding and value for money.  Any areas for improvement identified in the TPS related to relatively minor aspects of the journey, for example improvements to the ticket buying process or the temperature on board.

With customer experience at this standard, it’s hard to argue that the time and money that went into building the network was wasted. While the public enquiry has likely caused a headache in the city council, they have ultimately delivered an excellent tram system which serves thousands of people in Edinburgh every day.

Where next for Edinburgh Trams? If current performance is anything to go by, then surely we should expect to see proposed extensions of the network to Newhaven going ahead. The appetite from customers is there, with many TPS respondents spontaneously calling for a bigger network:

"More trams in Edinburgh!"

"More extensive route, linking more parts of the city"

"I wish the trams went further down to Leith Walk"

"Get them down to Leith Walk"

"Extend the distance the tram covers to East Lothian"

"In the long run, extending the tram out to Bathgate or further would be ideal so a single connection can be made to the airport"

If you’d like to find out more about the TPS, or how we can help you to measure and understand the customer experience, get in touch with us at mail@bva-bdrc.com.