Is a change on the way for public transport in Edinburgh?

As Edinburgh seeks to achieve its ambitious carbon neutral goals by 2030, a new set of proposals for changing the way public transport is operated in the city have just been announced and will be discussed at a forthcoming meeting of the Policy and Sustainability Committee. Options range from “doing nothing” to creating a single company running all transport in Edinburgh.

The “Reform of Transport Arm’s Length External Organisations report” makes three recommendations for the future operation of transport in Edinburgh, which would impact the current Lothian Buses, Edinburgh Trams and Transport for Edinburgh “arm’s length” companies who are currently involved in running most transport around the city. The idea is that public transport should be made as accessible and joined-up as possible to help the city achieve their carbon neutral goals as well as managing the impact of rapid population growth and aligning with local and national sustainable travel policies.

The three options mentioned in the report are:

* Do Nothing – leaving the existing corporate structure and agreements in place but looking to strengthen existing relationships between companies and the Council to deliver change

* Do Minimum – retaining existing corporate structure or parts of it but reviewing Shareholder Agreements and Memorandum and Articles of Association to promote transport priorities of the Council and improve integration

* Single company model – creating a single company to deliver an integrated transport system. Owners of the company would provide strategic direction as well as exercising shareholder power to ensure accountability.

The report recommends that the single company model should be the preferred option as it allows the ongoing delivery of high-quality public transport with no negative impact on the travelling public or frontline staff. Its proposed that even under this single company models the buses, trams and cycle hire scheme would still be managed as separately branded divisions while integrated back office functions would be delivered, along with potential senior management savings.

It has been acknowledged in the report that the current structure of ownership (shareholding, parent company and group of companies, all responsible for delivery of different aspects of the transport network) had led to inefficiencies and a lack of collaboration, hindering aspirations to provide joined-up travel options.

The current structure consists of Transport for Edinburgh (formed by the Council in 2014 as a parent company) with a wholly owned subsidiary Edinburgh Trams Limited and 91% of Lothian Buses Limited (where East Lothian, West Lothian and Midlothian are minority shareholders). This model was intended to achieve maximum integration between transport companies but this new report suggests this hasn’t been the case so an alternative now needs to be sought.

Cllr Adam McVey, Council Leader, said: “This is about creating a sustainable, accessible and joined-up public transport system that is fit for the future. As we’ve experienced over recent months, and will continue to do so, our city, like others, is undergoing a significant period of change as a result of COVID-19, and we must adapt in response. We simply must change the way we move around the city if we are to meet our ambitious goals to become carbon neutral by 2030 and to create a fairer, more inclusive environment. We wholeheartedly appreciate the roles of both Lothian Buses and Edinburgh Trams in providing high quality, award-winning public transport and excellent customer service, and will always do everything we can to help our companies achieve that.”

The report will be considered by the Policy and Sustainability Committee on Thursday 9th July. Before a final preferred option is confirmed, a further report will then be brought back to the Committee for decision. This will follow discussions with public transport companies, minority shareholders and trade unions to gather views on proposals and will set out any changes required on the shareholder side.

Cammy Day, Depute Leader, said: “For the many employees across these companies who play such an important role in delivering essential services, particularly during the current COVID outbreak, I want to reassure them that these changes will not negatively impact on their jobs. Rather, as we lead the charge toward a zero-carbon future, we want to increase reliance on sustainable public transport, and as bus and tram use continues to grow, we’ll need more drivers and staff to run the companies. However, we can’t move forward with these aspirations as it stands – we know that the current structure has led to inefficiencies. Of course this will take time and a great deal of engagement and planning, but by driving better integration, ensuring improved governance and putting the needs of the public at the centre of public transport delivery, I know we can provide a system that future generations will thank us for.”

If a single company is to be created it would need a new shareholder agreement between the owners and the company, with the new structure to be developed in consultation with the minority shareholders. The needs of partner councils, both from a transport policy and financial perspective, will also need to be filly addressed.

Updates once further details are released following the meeting.

* You can read the full report on the City of Edinburgh Council website.


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