Tram fiasco could cost city dear
EDINBURGH’S disastrous tram project may have forced people off buses, and has led scores of businesses to demand reduced business rates.
The drop in passenger numbers on Edinburgh’s council-run bus service could also lead to a hike in fares.
A multi-million pound cut in Scottish Government grants is also to blame for the expected fare rise.
Lothian Buses Managing Director, Ian Craig, refused to comment on the expected fare rise but acknowledged that tram works was a “significant challenge” to existing bus services, adding: “The decision to alter fares is not one we take lightly. We are a low-fare operator and we will cling to that going forward, but it is becoming more and more difficult to maintain fare levels.”
Labour transport spokeswoman, Lesley Hinds, said that Lothian buses was facing a “double whammy” from the grant cut and the tram works, adding: “There is concern Lothian Buses will consider fare increases. I would urge them not to do that.”
The cost of a day ticket is likely to increase by 20p to £3.40, with single fares increasing by 10p to £1.40, insiders suggested.
Mr Craig said: “We’ve still got one or two final decisions with regard to tweaking some fares. We will announce in the next few weeks if there are to be any change in fare levels.”
The disastrous tram project also came under fire this week after it was revealed that a large number of businesses in the capital had demanded reduced business rates, with 107 firms naming tram works as their sole reason for appealing.
More than 7500 appeals have been lodged to the Lothian Valuation Joint Board since April 2010 with companies saying there has been “a material change of circumstances” since the rates were set in 2008.
More appeals are expected to be launched as tram work is resumed in the city.
Sarah Connelly, director of Odyssey Boutique at William Street, appealed her annual business rates bill of £5000 in April 2010.
She said the tram works fiasco was having a “huge impact” on customers getting to her store.
She said: “If people can’t get here they can’t shop and that has a huge impact on us. If we don’t get people in the door it affects the viability to keep trading; all we can do is buy less stock – but that affects quality of offer – or get help from the council regarding costs and that’s where business rates come in.”
“Pretty much everybody I know that has premises that are rated has an appeal in,” she said. “That’s not just in the West End, it’s throughout the city. We’re next to the tram works because they’re one block along but it does not matter whether they are a mile down the road or right outside your door, they have a huge impact.
Joan Hewton, assessor at the Lothian Valuation Joint Board, described the increase in appeals as “unprecedented.”
He said: “The increased appeal numbers are creating a substantial increase in workload for my staff. Such increased pressure may require an increased legal budget or increased professional staff costs.”
Councillor Gordon Mackenzie, the council’s transport leader, said: “The increase in the number of appeals is largely down to the wider economic situation, with only 1.4 per cent relating to the tram project.
“However the council has acknowledged the impact of tram works in the city centre, which is why we have committed close to £1 million this financial year and next to offering direct support to businesses affected, including assistance with the rates appeal process.”
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