This post first appeared on Nottingham Post. Read the original article.
In this year’s instalment of Nottinghamshire’s Top 200 Companies, the highest riser in the Post’s listing – based on turnover – was Tramlink Nottingham. As the consortium that holds the contract to operate the city’s tram network, its funds have been boosted by the opening of the two new lines in August 2015. But that’s only part of the story, as chief executive Adrian Wallace tells Dan Robinson
When two new lines were added to Nottingham’s tram network in August 2015, it put a third of people living in Greater Nottingham within 800m of a tram stop – while 20 of its 30 largest employers were a similar distance away.
It has inevitably led to a steep increase in the number of passengers using the light rail system and rising income from fares has led to revenue doubling for the organisation that operates behind-the-scenes as contract holder.
When the Post recently published the 2017 list of Nottinghamshire’s Top 200 Companies – in which firms were ranked according to their turnover between July 31, 2015, and June 30, 2016 – Tramlink Nottingham was the highest riser, jumping by 83 places to 69th position, having increased its turnover from £22.5m to £44.5m in the 12 months to March 2016.
But for Adrian Wallace, the figures are not the be all and end all of how he measures his operation.
“It’s nice to win awards but when I see more people are using the tram and high levels of customer satisfaction across the service, that’s what helps me to sleep at night,” the chief executive says.
“If I can see that NET (Nottingham Express Transit) is recognised as not just a transport provision but for being part of the community, opening up opportunities for employment and helping charities, that’s when I think I’ve got a successful business.
(Image: Angela Ward)
“That’s my mantra as CEO of Tramlink Nottingham because without our strong and loyal customer base, it wouldn’t be possible for the organisation to be moving up the charts as a business in Nottingham.”
Tramlink is the consortium that won the 22-year contract from Nottingham City Council in December 2011 to build the new extensions to the city’s tram network and operate the entire completed service under the NET brand.
It is made up of various partners, including global names Vinci, Alstom and Keolis, as well as Wellglade – owner of bus operator trentbarton.
While no-one actually works for Tramlink, it has a board of directors representing its shareholders and is run by Fulcrum Infrastructure Management – part of its largest investor Meridiam – which provides six permanent staff and back office support functions.
Across the entire network, there are about 290 employees, including drivers, travel officers, customer services advisers, infrastructure cleaners and administrative staff.
The group owns 37 trams – split between 15 of Bombardier’s Incentro models that were introduced at the launch of the original tram line in 2004 and then 22 Alstom Citadis vehicles brought on board in 2015.
Tramlink’s rapid rise up the Top 200 list followed the opening two years ago of lines connecting Nottingham railway station with Toton Lane and Clifton South, expanding the network by 17.5km.
Passenger numbers back up the £570m investment of public and private funds that were pumped into the project, which took three years to build.
It has also validated the decisions of the investors who took a financial risk on the scheme, with returns on the public money helping to reimburse the taxpayer.
According to the 2016-17 light rail and tram statistics from the Department for Transport, 16.4 million passengers used the tram – up by 35 percent – with passenger revenue increasing by 28.1 percent to £17.8m.
Toton Lane has proven a more popular route than the Clifton line, Adrian admits, which he attributed to demographic factors.
“There’s a different population that use various parts of the tram system,” he says.
“The Toton Lane line is used a lot by business commuters who come in and out of the city, particularly from the A52.
“The Clifton South park and ride is very heavily used but there’s also a different population sitting around that line so we’ve tried to adapt some of our products to those people.
“A lot of the people in Clifton will not travel much outside of their area – they do a short hop travel for three or four stops maximum.
“So you need to have a product that lends itself to people who don’t want to pay the full ticket. That’s why we introduced a £1 short hop ticket.
(Image: Angela Ward)
“At Christmas we recognised that people like to make short journeys from the railway station to The Forest park and ride so for that period we brought in a limited time period short hop ticket too.”
Flexibility and freedom are key to the tram’s success and NET will soon offer the option of topping up Robin Hood and Mango cards online, rather than just at a ticket office or machine next to a stop.
And while the bus companies, namely Nottingham City Transport and trentbarton, are the main public transport rivals for NET, it also recognises the need to work alongside those operators to provide an integrated transport infrastructure around the city where people can use a combination of bus and tram to reach their destination.
Adrian adds: “There’s a whole programme behind how transport can be better integrated around the city and as part of that, there needs to be a greater focus on absolutely putting the customer in the middle of the service.
“It’s about creating freedom of choice for what’s best value around the city.
“The reason the tram is here is because, firstly, the city recognised there was a need to broaden and harden the backbone of its public transport network.
“But it’s also to create a healthier environment. The tram is a core part of that because it’s naturally more eco-friendly than other forms of transport, while it’s also helped to reduce the congestion that Nottingham suffers from.”
Tramlink’s research has revealed positive feedback from passengers, with surveys published in June giving an overall 97 percent customer satisfaction rating.
Some 96 percent of NET passengers were satisfied with service punctuality, up three points on the previous survey, and 93 percent were satisfied with journey times.
As the numbers demonstrate, the tram has already proven a success in persuading people to use public transport.
But the battle for people to ditch the car continues.
Adrian says: “It’s about the offer we have at the end of the day. We want to make sure we’re providing the best value to the public and a high quality of service because people buy on that basis.
“The real competitor is the car. The objective of public transport is getting people to make a modal shift but that usually takes about five years to ramp up.
“The goal is to get more and more people using public transport so we have fewer cars and a better quality environment for people to live in.
“It also makes the city more open in how it does business. If the city is recognised as a more accessible environment in which to do business, that will generate more momentum in terms of how the economy grows as people will be keen to invest in Nottingham.”