A year after the launch of Newcastle's light rail service, Novocastrians are accustomed to trams, use them to connect to work, places of study, the beach or social outings, and remain eager to see the line extended.
While its installation remains polarising, light rail has proven popular as a city transport service. The trams have carried about 1.2 million passengers. The patronage, about 3400 per day, is more than the 1800 forecast during the planning phase.
Transport and urban planning expert Garry Glazebrook, of the University of Technology Sydney, said patronage was "reasonable" for the line's length and the state government would likely find it "encouraging".
"It's above what I would have thought," he said.
"It probably indicates that the break of journey is perhaps not as much of a problem for rail customers as people assumed, and secondly, there's probably a lot of people using it for small trips up and down Hunter Street. It's probably as much a recreational thing as it is people getting to work."
Since it launched, the light rail has been relatively free of the dramas that have plagued other state government transport projects.
A broken tram or two in the first few weeks or a delay here and there pales in comparison to the issues with the Sydney CBD light rail or Metro North West.
Outside of businesses lamenting the line's construction as a reason for their woes, the only real plight in its first year of operation was a cyclist's death at the eastern end of the line in July.
The fatality, which did not involve a tram, resulted in a review of the risks for cyclists along the line and a subsequent ban of cycling in the mixed-running section between the Queens Wharf and Newcastle Beach stops.
About 30 Keolis Downer Hunter employees have been behind the light rail's smooth-running operation. The organisation's general manager, Mark Dunlop, said he was "very proud" of their efforts, highlighting a 98 per cent on-time running result from 78,000 services.
"We're very pleased with how it has come along," he said. "Novocastrians have really embraced it.
"To see it adding to the vibrancy of Newcastle CBD and the inter-connectivity between heavy rail - they're telling me their patronage has gone up - light rail, bus and ferry, it's great.
"This is the only multi-modal contract in Australia, and only catenary-free [light rail]. There's a lot of firsts that the people involved can be proud of."
Tram drivers have had a battle with vehicles running red lights and pedestrians crossing without looking, but Mr Dunlop said those incidents were decreasing.
"It's dropped off," he said. "Red-light runners at Stewart Avenue and Steel Street are still our main concerns. People crossing the alignment, they're just not looking or not aware. It is a mindset."
Every inch of the tram line can be monitored from an operations control centre at Wickham. Specially trained staff work in the small computer-filled room 24 hours per day, monitoring not only light rail but bus, ferry and on-demand services too.
"We've got the whole network to look after," operational controller Ben Hartnett said. "It's monitoring and managing any incidents that come up over the day and essentially ensuring everything runs smoothly."
Mr Hartnett said the role involved anything from "someone asking for customer service through an emergency help point" to "dealing with major incidents".
"Our systems monitor all tram and bus locations via GPS feed to make sure services are on time," he said.
"We are able to react quickly for customers when weather or unplanned disruptions affect our services."
Newcastle East resident Stephen Snitch catches the tram about twice a week. He was initially not supportive of building the line, mainly due to its cost, but has grown to appreciate the service.
"It's handy how frequent the service actually is and for us, it's opened up the area, the restaurants down this end of town," the 57-year-old said as he boarded at Honeysuckle last week.
"We're surprised at how well it's getting utlised on weekends. There's always low times, like any transport system, but it's getting utilised reasonably well."
City worker Mary Doyle, 24, links with light rail after catching a bus and train from her Central Coast home.
"Every day," she said. "When you get off your train there's [a tram] there waiting. If you're unlucky and it's just leaving, there's another one only a few minutes away."
Ms Doyle, who does not have a drivers' licence, said she would use public transport even if she could drive.
"I've got to pay for parking here if I want to park, which will cost me more," she said. "The petrol as well. I've had issues with trains and buses before, but since I've used the light rail there hasn't been an issue. Not one."
Hunter Business Chamber CEO Bob Hawes said the light rail had been "one component" of an "unprecedented" amount of change in the city centre over recent years.
He said the trams had brought more foot traffic to the city, but most city traders had not experienced the uplift in trade they were hoping for.
He said the trading environment for many business had also changed as retail and hospitality sites outside the city evolved, particularly major shopping centres that have expanded.
"The regime people were used to changed significantly in a short space of time," he said.
"This city has bubbled along, apart from BHP closing in the 1990s, and been very, very stable. What we've seen in the last few years is unprecedented and the wave is still coming in. We're still seeing buildings being built that will attract people, attention and activity.
"I'm really hopeful something comes of it, because the businesses that have hung on, I don't think they're out there having their best year ever. They're hanging on because they believe there's a prospect of things changing and hope in the future."
Development in the city centre shapes as the major driver of patronage growth. Multiple residential, education and hospitality developments are expected to be completed in coming years.
The most significant is the University of Newcastle's Honeysuckle campus, which is expected accommodate 6500 students and staff. The number on campus each day will vary, but about 40 per cent are anticipated to travel by public transport.
The city centre's population is also expected to balloon over coming decades. City of Newcastle envisions 4000 new dwellings in the area by 2040, along with 7750 new jobs, according to its Local Strategic Planning Statement released last week.
Lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes said light rail would "only increase in popularity as the Civic precinct grows as an educational and cultural hub".
"Patronage is also bound to get a boost from Iris Capital's East End project, which will breathe new life into the long-dormant Hunter Street Mall," she said.
In 2016, the state government outlined possible light rail extension routes to Broadmeadow, Mayfield, John Hunter Hospital and other areas. Considered mere ideas, some are understood to have been investigated in a business case.
He has since temporarily stepped out of his role, but in an opinion piece in the Newcastle Herald last June, recently departed parliamentary secretary for the Hunter Scot MacDonald offered a way forward.
He said City of Newcastle's role would be "paramount in any sort of future extension" and called for it to prove there was "powerful community and business support" for a preferred route.
The council most recently said it envisions trams running to the Broadmeadow sports and entertainment precinct, John Hunter Hospital and Callaghan by 2040.
But at a local level, while there is general support for extending the line - individuals say they want it and stakeholders have it on infrastructure wish lists - there is no real community campaign or strategy advocating for it.
Garry Glazebrook believes the line could be an "orphan" if it is not extended. He thinks an extension is possible, but it lacks "a head of steam behind it".
He said there should be a more "imaginative" examination of the Lower Hunter's transport needs that considered tram-trains.
"There are now versions of trams that run on fuel cells or batteries. With these new technologies, there should be no reason, really, why in the future they can't extend that light rail in a number of different directions," he said.
"In the very long term, if you look say 20 years down the track, there might not be any coal traffic on some parts of the [train] network. The existing [Newcastle-Sydney] line could be used for a more intensive light rail service as well as the intercity trains.
"There are possibilities if they have the imagination.
"If you were going to extend to Cessnock, through some of those other little settlements where the right of way still exists, there would be a fair bit of capital costs but it would start to tie the region together. You could have a branch going out to the airport and all sorts of things."