My debut into Welcome Aboard, Christchurch, was about this time of the year in 2003 when I made my first nervous attempts at learning to drive a veteran tramcar. That was the best part of a decade ago. In all that time I have never been employed by the Christchurch City Council. I wish I could pen that statement in lights. I am continually amazed, distressed even, that so many people, including newspaper reporters, believe the trams were run by the council. Even, on the rare occasion, when a passenger (a local citizen) had a complaint, it was mistakenly made to the civic offices.
When the tramway opened in February, 1995, it was operated as a private company. The council paid for and contracted building the tram track, overhead power supply, and supporting miscellaneous infrastructure. But at the time the council made it clear there was no interest in council operating the trams. For over 15 years the Christchurch trams have been run by private enterprise (although owners have changed twice). Christchurch Tramway Ltd has employed mostly part-time people, typically semi-retired, and pays a fee for the use of Council-owned infrastructure. Over the 15 years, the council has more than recovered the cost of building the tramway. Christchurch Tramway Ltd and the Christchurch City Council have therefore, been in a partnership resulting in a leading city visitor attraction. One can be confident in saying the partnership has been hugely beneficial to all participants. Tramway partnerships also extend to world-class heritage tramcar restoration at Ferrymead Heritage Park. The first three trams used on the city loop were painstakingly restored by Tramway Historical Society members. All city trams (except one) are leased to Christchurch Tramway Ltd by Ferrymead-based Heritage Tramways Trust with the trust’s earnings being used for on-going tramway restoration, employing a skilled team–another partnership with widespread benefits to our region. The Anglican Cathedral and the heritage trams were two leading Christchurch visitor attractions. We still have the trams.