When I was glad I was five minutes early

I’m regularly travelling for work these days and can certainly notice that the more I travel, the less anxious I feel about missing connections or being delayed etc. However, on Friday I was glad that I’ve not become too relaxed, and left work a little earlier than required to get to the airport. I had decided to take the tram. I have my Ridacard so the tram is free all the way to the airport (as in many cities, paying passengers have to pay a premium to take the whole route to the airport). As it was approaching rush hour, I thought the tram would be a safe option because it doesn’t have too many points where it can get stuck in traffic. It’s also super easy when you are dragging a suitcase along behind you. However, Friday’s trip wasn’t the most user friendly. Here follows my (slightly long winded) account of the journey.

Tram trip goes awry

The problems started when the tram reached Edinburgh Park Station by Hermiston Gait Retail Park. A few people boarded or disembarked as per usual but we didn’t pull away. There followed an exceptionally quiet announcement that I could only just about hear, and which others missed entirely. The driver told us that there was a delay due to a medical emergency on the line ahead of us, but suggested we’d be on our way shortly. As the delay increased, passengers were getting visibly more anxious but there were no other announcements for at least five minutes. I checked Twitter for any other info but found nothing more than what the driver had announced. Then I checked the Transport for Edinburgh app to see if I could get to the airport by another route but we were a good walk away from an alternative and that would have taken too long when I had a flight to catch.

A second (quiet) announcement followed with little more information for us, other than saying that tram tickets would be valid on buses. At that point most passengers started to reluctantly disembark with little idea of what to do next. If I had been in an unfamiliar city I think I would have been pretty panicked by this point. No one wants to miss their flight and most people on the tram by this point in the journey were heading to the airport with flights to catch. In the end I found three strangers all destined for the airport and asked if they wanted to share a taxi. With no taxis in sight, I first turned to one of the taxi apps I use but that said the nearest taxi was 25 mins away. Again, this would be too long for our flights. Luckily I quickly found the phone number for a local taxi company and they had a car out to us in under ten minutes. There was a slightly awkward moment when we arrived at the airport as we were all fumbling with notes and change trying to sort out a fair way to split the bill, but overall we were all happy just to be there in time.

A few observations

  • As a visitor to Edinburgh, unfamiliar with the local apps or taxi companies, this would have been a stressful experience. Will they trust and use the tram if they come back to the city?
  • Many passengers had paid the full £5.50 fare to take the tram to the airport but then had to pay out a second time for a taxi instead, as buses couldn’t easily replace the tram journey.

So what could have been better?

  • Get the basics right – why was the volume of the announcements from the tram driver so quiet?
  • Could the information being passed from the incident to the driver of our tram, and then on to us passengers, have been more informative? It was difficult to know whether to wait for the tram to start on its way again, or whether we really needed to find an alternative. I realise the timings for resolving emergencies like this are difficult to predict but even an approximate time for tram to be moving again would have been useful.
  • As there are only a relatively small number of tram stops, I wonder if there could be a set process for each stop to ensure passengers can complete their journey with minimal disruption. This is particularly important for people heading towards the airport for flights.
  • Could there have been more support from Edinburgh Trams to ‘summon’ taxis to the tram stop and cluster passengers to help us on our way?
  • Could there be an easy way to refund the tram passengers who have paid their fares? This might help to maintain trust with passengers and encourage their use of the tram in the future.

Transport operators are investing to make their services increasingly user-focused but there is clearly more we could do (high tech and low tech) to ‘smooth’ the times of disruption. Let’s start designing some of these solutions.

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