I travel between Edinburgh airport and the city centre almost every weekday. The Airlink bus has been my preferred conduit. It's rated 'excellent' by TripAdvisor and I have never been given any reason to doubt it. However, 'try the Edinburgh tram' is number 50 on my bucket list and recently I decided to cross it off.
I turn left out of the airport, past the tram mock-up to the real one waiting behind it (the Edinburgh Tram website has it as a 'tam' mock-up which sounds fascinating, but I only find that out later). There is a queue of tourists befuddled by the ticket machines. It takes me a while to attract the attention of the ticket-dispensing 'customer service' agents who are gathered into some kind of pre-match huddle at the tram departure point. Eventually one breaks away and sells me a return ticket for £8.50.
Once underway the signs are more propitious. The tram glides through some green and pleasant countryside. I connect to the free Wi-Fi and Joni Mitchell starts working her magic on Spotify. A crowd of people board at Gogarburn. They appear to be employed by RBS. I can't but admire their tenacity. As we get closer to the city centre, however, things start to unravel. The tram stops at Murrayfield and idles there until people look at each other with a wild surmise. There's no announcement. At Haymarket we sit still while other forms of transport, including two Airlink buses, race past us.
By the time we get to Princes Street West, Joni is singing 'crown and anchor me or let me sail away' but it's clear we aren't going any further. There's still no announcement, but there's a sign that flashes 'tram delay'. This echoes the info-lite approach that I first noticed back at Edinburgh Gateway station. There, the sign says alight for onward train connections but doesn't say where they connect to.
Eventually, a customer service agent passes through the tram and tells us all to get off. Initially she offers no explanation but, when pressed, says that there is congestion ahead and we have to take the next tram which is 10 minutes behind this one. Asked about the nature of the congestion and how it will be cleared in time to allow the next tram to pass, she is nonplussed.
At St Andrews Square I resist the urge to kneel down and kiss the platform. The journey time for 13 km is 75 minutes. I have a return ticket.
The next was a day peculiar to this piece of the planet. It is 8am and I'm sitting in the sunshine at the Princes Street tram stop, the castle before me and the tramlines stretching away towards the Scott Monument to my left. The electronic sign says that there is a tram due in five minutes. Ten minutes later it arrives.
It is rush hour and the tram is standing room only. I squeeze my way between the huddled masses and cling to the luggage rack. Suddenly the crowd parts and a wee guy appears yelling something about checking tickets and storing your luggage on the racks provided. He scribbles on my ticket and tells me to hold on to it as it will be checked again at the airport.
I ask him why and he responds with a spiel about the price difference if you stay on the tram beyond Ingliston. I ask if he gets many people trying to trick their way to the airport on cheap tickets. He says: 'Aye. Lots. And when we catch them I charge them £10.' I want to find out more but get distracted by a vision of a gravestone with 'Work as if you live in the early days of a more suspicious nation' carved into it.
At each station people pile into the tram until it is as packed as the London Underground at the same hour. Unlike the London Underground, however, our man continues to push his way through the crowd to check tickets after every stop. People elbow each other as they search in pockets and purses.
By the time we reach Ingliston the tram has emptied out but, inexplicably, the customer service agent is still yelling about the luggage racks provided. At the airport he jumps off and joins the agents already stationed there to collect our tickets. I look for indications of under-ticketing among the other survivors – sweaty palms, furtiveness – but everyone seems remarkably sanguine. We form an orderly queue to have our honesty tested.
Behind the ticket checkers I can see two buses waiting to take passengers to the city centre. There's another one pulling in.