Merger would end ‘duplication’ between bus and tram

City of Edinburgh Council has announced plans for a major shake-up of its arms-length public transport businesses with plans to merge bus operator Lothian and Edinburgh Trams into a single operation.

While the Lothian and Edinburgh Trams brands would remain, “unnecessary” competition between the two networks would be eliminated and services co-ordinated.

At present Transport for Edinburgh, wholly owned by the council, is the parent of Edinburgh Tram. It also holds 91% of Lothian, with the rest of the bus operator owned by the East, Mid and West Lothian councils.

The council says that while these arrangements have delivered a high quality public transport network in the city, “inefficiencies within the operating model have led to challenges regarding collaboration and integration across and between then”.

Paul Lawrence, the council’s executive director of place, told members last week that since the existing arrangements had been put in place almost a decade ago, tram operations had matured and the transport and mobility needs of Edinburgh and the surrounding region had also changed too.

Lawrence explained that the city continues to grow and that by 2041 Edinburgh’s population is forecast to be nearly 583,000. The transport operations also needed to assist in wider council mobility and sustainability objectives, plus wider national policy goals. Meanwhile, Edinburgh, like other cities, would be subject to significant change in employment, leisure and wider activity in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The need to improve the network of service provision across and into the city needs to make it easier and more attractive for people to choose public transport services rather than travel by car,” he added.

“The current structure of ownership – a shareholding parent company with two operating companies, all of whom are responsible for delivery of different aspects of transport operations presents challenges to the delivery of existing and emerging transport policy objectives.”

Lawrence said the impact of Covid-19 in the short term and possible future impacts from the pandemic “makes optimisation of efficiency more crucial”.

“Close working between the council and public transport delivery will maximise the role that public transport can play in Covid-19 recovery and help deliver model shift.”

Lawrence recommended to members the creation of a single company as the preferred option, the other two options being “do nothing” or adapting the current structure.

“This option would put integration and improving outcomes for the travelling public at the heart of public transport delivery and would see an end to the competition between tram and bus at a local level,” he said. “It would also maximise operational savings.”

While the Lothian and Edinburgh Trams brands would remain, an integrated set of back office functions and, potentially, management team could create significant efficiencies.

Alongside the creation of a single, integrated company, Lawrence also called for a comprehensive new public transport strategy to tackle congestion and deal with the “constraints of the current bus network”.

“The current bus network is 100 years old and while this has served the city well in the past it now needs to be recast and modernised using best practise and external expertise as is being done in other cities such as Dublin,” he said.

“Redesigning the bus network is an opportunity to review the evidence for public transport demand and to design a network that meeds those demands most efficiently.

“Ultimately, the goal is to provide a network designed around the needs of Edinburgh today and tomorrow, rather than one based on the past.”

A detailed delivery plan and a full risk assessment will be developed once the final decision on the preferred approach is taken. The council also plans to consult on its proposals with Lothian’s minority shareholders.

Lawrence added appropriate further legal and financial advice will also be sought if the plan is implemented.

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