Accessibility Page Navigation
Style sheets must be enabled to view this page as it was intended.


As Edinburgh’s trams get ready to roll at the end of the month, proposals to force people off buses and onto the new trams could face stiff resistance, writes KEN HOUSTON

For most of the 1950’s the first view many people had of Aberdeen – if approaching the city from the south on the A90 – was that of a green and white corporation bus and tram standing side by side at the Bridge of Dee terminus.

The role of the bus was as a feeder for residents living in nearby post-war housing estates, transporting them to and from Bridge of Dee, where they boarded or alighted a tram which connected to the city centre and beyond. [The picture shows Aberdeen Corporation bus and tram at the Bridge of Dee terminus: commuters disliked changing between the two. Image courtesy of the GS Cooper collection].

While many passengers disliked the inconvenience of the change, it highlighted a dilemma facing Aberdeen transport bosses. The cost of extending tram infrastructure to the new housing areas would have been prohibitive compared with the simpler, and cheaper, option of allowing residents to make the whole journey, uninterrupted, by bus. However the latter option presented a problem too, as some of the tramcars were built as recently as 1951 and the corporation wanted to make as much economic use of them as possible before the eventual changeover to an all-bus network.

There was, however, one exception to the rule - a bus service which operated directly to Aberdeen harbour in the early hours of the morning, specifically for fish market employees. So the question came to be increasingly asked: if these residents could have the benefit of a direct service to the city centre, why not those employed during more conventional hours of the day?

Attitudes such as this led to the Aberdeen tram system closing in May 1958, even though the most modern vehicles had several years of serviceable life in front of them.

Four years later, and 150 miles to the south, Glasgow Corporation and railway bosses finally set aside decades of mutual hostility by agreeing to set up a transport interchange scheme on the south side of the city. Under the plan, peak-hour buses  taking residents from the Castlemilk housing scheme to St Enoch Square were diverted to nearby suburban stations and the passengers transferred to the new electric ‘Blue Trains’ for a congestion-free journey to Glasgow Central.

While it looked good on paper, the practice could be somewhat different. The trains did not always run to schedule, making the overall journey time no quicker. But many passengers were dissatisfied even when the scheme worked as envisaged: having settled down inside the bus with their newspapers and fags (smoking was permitted on the top deck in those days), they objected to being decanted onto a draughty railway platform perhaps less than mile into the journey. The experiment was dropped, quietly, after six months.

In the present day it is not uncommon for the daily commute to involve more than one change of transport mode, but generally this only applies to those who live on the periphery of a large metropolitan area. For example, a resident of Kent working in central London might start his journey on a BR branch line before transferring to a direct ‘fast’ train to Victoria or Charing Cross and then, perhaps, onward to his final destination by Tube.

However, as the experiences in Aberdeen and Glasgow showed, commuters living in more compact cities are resistant to a change of travel mode for what are relatively short journeys. During the Glasgow experiment, feedback showed a passenger preference for a slightly longer commute by bus than the hassle of changing from bus to train (and vice versa on the homeward journey).

Despite this, according to Edinburgh’s Evening News, in a report previewing the city’s forthcoming tram operation, “actions…..likely to come to fruition include rolling out tram-feeder bus services, from areas in the west of the city”.

Perhaps Transport for Edinburgh (TfE), the umbrella body responsible for bus and tram services in the capital, might like to dip into the newspaper archives of 1962 and read up on passenger opinion on enforced changes within short commutes.

This could give a clue to the likely reaction to such a development in Edinburgh given that, this being Scotland, a good proportion of the changes of mode will take place when the weather is not exactly clement, not helped by the fact that none of the tram stops is particularly endowed with shelter.

Also, it might do well to remember that in 1962, local bus services were strictly regulated (with few exceptions, municipal buses enjoyed a monopoly within the city boundary) therefore those commuters in Glasgow had no alternative but to go along with the interchange scheme dreamed up for them by well-meaning transport officials.

Today, any bus company with an appropriate licence will be free to launch a service in competition with one involving a change of mode between bus and tram. Therefore if the intention is to ‘persuade’ some commuters in the west of Edinburgh to switch from using a Lothian bus taking them directly into town to one involving a change to a tram, a rival private operator could easily nip in and sweep up the patronage. Transport officials may be surprised by the number of commuters who prefer the direct bus option for relatively short journeys – which most within Edinburgh are - even if getting from A to B takes slightly longer overall.

From day one the tram project has been based less on logic than on dodgy calculations (both financial and technical) plus an unhealthy dose of wishful thinking. Sadly, the interchange idea may come into the latter category as wel

Twitter: @PropPRMan