Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Authority and Executive (RT 36)



  1.  Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Authority and the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive welcome this opportunity to present joint evidence to the sub-Committee's Inquiry into Light Rapid Transit (LRT) Systems. Our evidence is based on our experience with the Greater Manchester Metrolink system which is acknowledged both nationally and internationally as a successful LRT system. However, the Authority has an open mind on other forms of LRT and is about to take a decision on whether or not to promote a busway system on part of the route between Manchester and Leigh.

  2.  The evidence is set out as follows:

    —  In Annex 1 we describe the background to the Metrolink system explaining why it was built, what alternatives were considered, the different phases of the system and the methods of funding. This should assist the Committee, and in particular Members who are not familiar with the Metrolink system to put the evidence in a wider context.

  3.  The evidence itself begins by explaining, on the basis of our experience, why Light Rapid Transit systems have a major role to play in creating an integrated transport network in large urban areas. It then goes on to address, in turn, the specific issues the Commitee is to consider.

    —  the main problems faced in creating a Light Rapid Transit system at each stage in the process from concept to operation.

    —  the successes of the Metrolink system, our views on the reasons for this success and how we intend to build on this in our plans for the expansion.

    —  the Committee's request for suggestions on what further help can be given to assist the growth of Light Rapid Transit systems in the United Kingdom.


  4.  We should state at the outset that both the Authority and GMPTE are firmly of the view that Light Rapid Transit systems can and should play a major role in urban public transport in the future. They have the potential to provide a high quality, frequent service, at an operating cost level which can be funded from passenger revenues, and which can give better access than heavy rail to town and city centres. They can combine elements of the speed of heavy rail with the flexibility to penetrate conurbation centres. They therefore attract people out of their cars, help regenerate the country's economy and reduce social exclusion.

  5.  These conclusions are illustrated clearly by the success of Metrolink. It has been successful as a mode of transport by combining good accessibility of its suburban stations to their catchment areas, centrally sited interchanges in the town centres at the outer ends of each line, on street operation giving good penetration into the centre of Manchester, high frequency to reduce waiting times for passengers, journey times which are faster than the car in the peaks, equal to the car in the off-peak and faster than the bus at all times, and high levels of passenger security.

  6.  Its success as a mode of transport has led to other benefits. These include:

    —  Reduced traffic levels as a result of attracting trips from the car leading to reduced environmental emissions from traffic, fewer road accidents and less congestion.

    —  Greater social inclusion as a result of creating a fully accessible system which has given high quality transport to the whole community.

    —  Economic benefits resulting from better access to jobs, shops, entertainment and leisure facilities. This in particular strengthens the role of the town centres and the regional centre and reinforces social inclusion.

  7.  Light Rapid Transit can deliver these benefits because of its ability to combine segregated sections of track—in our case the former rail lines into the centre of Manchester—with the ability to share existing road space with other traffic to gain access to town and city centres. Rail based LRT systems have the additional benefits that they are normally electrified and can reduce atmospheric pollution even further than bus based systems.

  8.  The permanence of a Light Rapid Transit system has long term benefits. Location decisions can be made in the confidence that the service will continue to be provided—especially if it is being procured under a long-term operating concession. Furthermore, the long-term nature of the network will encourage the private sector to take a larger part of the risk as the experience of the second Phase of Metrolink set out in the Annex (para 10) demonstrates.

  9.  These are benefits which cannot be achieved by buses alone. The benefits of LRT are reinforced by making it part of an integrated transport system. For example, Metrolink is used by over 600,000 people a year to complete journeys to Manchester by rail. Bus is a major feeder mode to Metrolink at key stations. This is being reinforced by the Greater Manchester Integration project which has already widened the scope of inter-modal ticketing for example.

  10.  Finally, whilst most of Greater Manchester's experience with Light Rapid Transit has been with the Metrolink system which is rail based, the Authority and GMPTE believe that there is a role for bus based LRT systems in areas where patronage is likely to be lower. A 7 kilometre guided busway is being developed in the Leigh area as part of a Quality Bus Corridor linking Leigh and central Manchester.


  11.  No undertaking of the scale of any LRT system can be without problems. Of the many problems faced and overcome in Greater Manchester, we would draw the subcommittee's attention to three areas:

    —  getting powers;

    —  attaining funding;

    —  disruption during construction.

Getting Powers

  12.  GMPTE has now made three successful applications under the Transport and Works Act for the Eccles, Airport and Ashton-under-Lyne Metrolink extensions and the Authority will shortly decide whether to authorise the GMPTE to apply for powers for the Leigh Guided Busway. We also have Parliamentary powers for extensions to Oldham and Rochdale, Trafford Park and Didsbury besides those for the original line and the Salford Quays extension.

  13.  Whatever the intention was, there is no doubt that the TWA procedures are lengthier and more expensive for promoters than the Private Bill procedures they replaced. The cost of an Application which goes to Public Inquiry is likely to be in the range of £1.5 million to £2 million compared with £1 million for a Private Act. Much of this is due to the more onerous obligations placed upon the promoter (eg environmental issues) by the TWA procedure.

  14.  Many of the issues are technical but are nevertheless important and have an impact on the total length of time taken from initial planning of a scheme to a decision to grant or withhold powers. This has increased considerably under the new procedures. One result is that this can frustrate the Authority's policy of minimising the effects of uncertainty and blight during the planning process. The main point of principle is that the Inquiries are both detailed and adversarial in nature and this increases the costs of appearing for both promoters and objectors. What is now required is an open, official review of the working of the Transport and Works Act, which includes all parties involved in the process, including promoters and objectors, building on the valuable work done by the Chartered Institute of Transport in 1996.

  15.  Two major points of principle do need to be brought to the Committee's attention. First, when granted, powers under the TWA only last five to 10 years in most cases. We are now finding that five years is not sufficient to develop the funding case, obtain funding, draw up and let contracts particularly where central government funding is involved. Without powers it is not possible to obtain definite commitments to funding from either the public or the private sectors. This is compounded by the latest PFI guidance which effectively means that the process of seeking private sector funding can only start after public sector funding is secured.

  16.  As a result, renewal of powers under the TWA is becoming increasingly necessary. It is appreciated that many complex issues are involved but this is one area which needs further study and attention.

  17.  The second issue is that the Inquiries under the TWA include the funding case for the proposals as part of their terms of reference. However, until powers have been obtained no definite funding plan can be drawn up. In many respects, promoters are caught in a loop—they have to defend their funding proposals to get powers whilst at the same time need the powers to enable the funding package to be assembled.


  18.  The second major problem area is funding itself. The first issue here is the way in which central government funds local authorities and the PTAs. If a major LRT scheme attracts credit approvals it attracts Revenue Support Grant to cover the costs of servicing and repaying the borrowing. Although the PTAs incur the costs, the present local authority funding regime only allows the RSG to go to the District Councils. The PTA's debt charges therefore have to be met by their levy on the District Councils which falls as part of a District Council's expenditure totals which can still be subjected to capping. Thus by developing a major LRT scheme:

    —  the PTA is forced to increase its levy to cover debt charges;

    —  the District Councils have to increase their "cappable" expenditure to meet the levy.

  19.  Furthermore any increased RSG received by the Districts is not separately identified or ear marked and the whole process is not transparent. This creates unnecessary difficulties for both the Authority and the District Councils.

  20.  Hence the PTA's have made proposals that in future major capital schemes funding and the associated RSG to be paid direct to the PTA. Hence government money will be properly allocated for the purposes it was given.

  21.   Turning to the government's proposals that in future LRT schemes would be funded from the proceeds of workplace parking charges and road user charges, the Committee should be aware that all Greater Manchester Districts and the PTA have expressed a willingness to explore pilot area status further with the Government. However, we have two concerns in this area:

    —  first, we believe that it is essential that the improvements to public transport should be well in hand before the introduction of the charges. To do this will require authorities to have the powers to borrow against the future income stream from the charges. Alternatively the private sector could borrow within the project but this will have a much higher cost than the borrowing by the public sector but in any event will still want guarantees of the future income stream.

    —  second, there has to be a clear regional dimension to the charging issue. Greater Manchester cannot put itself at a disadvantage within the region by agreeing to charges if neighbouring authorities can attract developments without charging.

  22.  In their Local Transport Plan, the PTA has submitted proposals for developing the full Metrolink network under a Single Contract. This would give a 100 kilometres network including Oldham, Rochdale, Manchester Airport, Ashton-under-Lyne, Didsbury and Trafford Park. Furthermore, work on funding packages shows that a funding requirement from Government is needed of some £30 million per year. If the whole of this could be raised from workplace charging it would mean charging between 50 and 60 pence per day per workplace parking space.

  23.  The final area of difficulty relating to funding is the arrangements for cost sharing with the statutory undertakers. The government recently proposed a reduction in the contribution that they are required to make towards the costs of relocating their apparatus in order to build an LRT system from 18 per cent to7.5 per cent. This contribution is meant to represent the betterment element in the process where for example an old gas main is diverted and replaced with a new one—thus reducing future maintenance costs for the gas company.

  24.  Had this been implemented before the Eccles extension was being built the effect on the costs of building the extension would have been an increase of £0.350 million. The costs of future extension would be increased by an estimated £5 million as a result of the proposed change—which we believe is not justified and should not be implemented.


Metrolink Phases 1 and 2

  25.  The first phase of Metrolink has been a major success. Before the system opened the Altrincham and Bury lines carried about 7.5 million passengers a year. Phase 1 of Metrolink carries well over 13 million passengers a year. The reasons for this success are set out below.

  26.  First, the system offers journey times for most of its passengers which are shorter than the bus in both the peak and the off-peak, shorter than the car in the peak and about the same as the car in the off-peak. In addition it provides as good if not better penetration of central Manchester than the bus and the car—thus reducing the time people have to spend walking to and from their destinations.

  27.  Second, the service is very frequent, every five minutes in the morning peak, every six minutes in the off-peak and evening peak and every 12 minutes in the evenings. It is very reliable, over 99 per cent of contracted mileage is oeprated. All stops have CCTV supervision from the control centre.

  28.  Third, it is fully accessible. This in itself has created new travel opportunities for people in wheelchairs, with shopping trolleys and with children in prams and buggies. As a result, new users have been attracted to Metrolink which in the past either could not be made at all or had to be made by car.

  29.  Another feature of the line which has contributed to its success is the fact that at the outer ends of the line there are two major District centres, Bury and Altrincham. As a result there is a well balanced traffic in both directions for most of the day. Trams running towards Bury or Altrincham in the morning peak, whilst not as full as those going into Manchester, nevertheless have healthy loads. In the off-peak, as passengers travelling out of Manchester get off, they are replaced by passengers travelling into Altrincham and Bury and vice-versa.

  30.  One measure of this success is that for journeys between the catchment areas of the stops Metrolink now has a market share of over 58 per cent compared to 17 per cent for the rail service it replaced. The market share of the car has fallen from 55 per cent to 33 per cent.

  31.  It is estimated that as a result of building Metrolink over 2.5 million car journeys per year have been taken off the road network. This reduced traffic volumes on the main roads into Manchester which run parallel with the line, by between 2 per cent and 8 per cent. Such changes ae small in absolute numbers but can make a lot of difference to the levels of congestion on the roads affected.

  32.  This leads to further benefits in terms of reduced pollution. Metrolink consumes only 60 per cent of the primary energy requirement per passenger kilometre of a car journey. It produces no atmospheric pollution within the urban area and even allowing for the pollution in electricity generation, there is a net reduction in a number of air pollutants including carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. It therefore makes a contribution to improving urban air quality.

  33.  The transfer of trips from the car to Metrolink has reduced road accidents. Metrolink itself has a good accident record and in total the cost of accidents within Greater Manchester has been reduced.

  34.  The first line served an already developed area and three major centres and little evidence of any regeneration impact was gathered. However, the system has been positively welcomed by the business community. There is no evidence that it has taken trade away from Altrincham and Bury, indeed the Chambers of Trade in these towns reported an increase in trade when it opened. Central Manchester has been undergoing a process of regeneration both before and after the 1996 bomb explosion and Metrolink has helped to contribute to this.

  35.  So far as Phase 2—the Salford Quays and Eccles extension is concerned, evidence of the regeneration impact was readily apparent in that the Developers along the line agreed to contribute £12 million to the funding of the line in cash and free transfer of land. Furthermore, in 1996 the PTA commissioned the Centre of Economics and Business Research (CEBR) to undertake an analysis of the regeneration impact of the Metrolink network. This showed that once built the full network would increase GDP by £169 million per annum and create 5,000 permanent jobs.

  36.  Finally, but importantly, integration has been a key element in the success of Metrolink. Physical integration exists at purpose built interchanges at Altrincham and Bury—where the bus services in the area terminate at the Metrolink station. This is backed by day and period tickets valid on both modes. In central Manchester the main Metrolink station is next to one of the main bus terminal points in Piccadilly Gardens. Integration with the rail network takes place at Altrincham, Deansgate, Piccadilly and Victoria stations. Through fares are available between all rail stations in Greater Manchester and the Metrolink network and all tickets from these stations to central Manchester are available on Metrolink at no extra cost to the passenger.

  37.  In summary, we believe that to be successful, a Light Rapid Transit system has first of all to offer a level and quality of service which are much better than existing public transport and are competitive with the car. To be commercially successful, it needs to serve an appropriately sized market and have a number of sources of traffic along the line—ideally at each end to generate a balanced flow of passengers and maximise the use of available capacity. If it can achieve this then the wider benefits of regeneration, reduced congestion, pollution and accidents will follow.

Future Phases of Metrolink

  38.  Although Metrolink has been successful, its impact is confined to a small area of the conurbation. However, the Authority's objective is to create a network of Light Rapid Transit services in Greater Manchester comprising the Metrolink network and other forms of LRT where they are appropriate. For example we are developing the case for a busway system on part of the route between Leigh and Manchester. The Eccles line is the second phase of the Metrolink system and will shortly open.

  39.  Since 1989 GMPTE has obtained powers for several extensions to the system which will add the following lines:

    —  Rochdale via Oldham

    —  Manchester Airport via Wythenshawe

    —  Ashton-under-Lyne

    —  East Didsbury

    —  Trafford Park.

  40.  The PTA have submitted proposals in their Local Transport Plan to complete the whole of this network under a single contract. The top priority for further Metrolink extensions is the line to Rochdale via Oldham which would replace a poorly performing heavy rail line, divert it, largely on street, into Oldham town centre and extend it, on street into the centre of Rochdale. In this way new bus-Metrolink interchanges would be created, thus furthering integration. Converting the line to Metrolink in this way will improve penetration of the two town centres and overcome the main cause of the poor performance of the rail line which is the remoteness of the main stations from the centres of the towns they serve. There is also considerable scope for the line serving and acting as a catalyst for regeneration at several points along the route.

  41.  Both the Airport and the Ashton-under-Lyne lines will create new public transport routes for part of their length and for the other part will run in or adjacent to the existing highway. The Airport line will also serve the Wythenshawe estate in south Manchester just north of the Airport and link the suburbs of Firswood, Chorlton and Sale Moor with each other, Wythenshawe and the Airport. It will play an integral part in helping the Airport achieve its commitment to having 25 per cent of trips to and from the Airport by means other than the car by 2005. Its primary role in this respect will be in relation to staff transport. It will open up new catchment areas for staff and will also reduce journey times for many existing staff. The number of staff working at the Airport is expected to increase from 17,000 currently to 24,500 in 2005. However, the number of staff car parking spaces will remain at the current level of 5,000.

  42.  The line will also serve and link Wythenshawe Town Centre, Wythenshawe Hospital and a number of regeneration sites in the Wythenshawe area as well as improve public transport links between Wythenshawe and central Manchester. Again, it will create new public transport routes which will reduce journey times including a new public transport crossing of the M60 and the River Mersey between Chorlton and Sale Moor.

  43.  The Ashton-under-Lyne extension will serve the site of the Commonwealth Games stadium and provide this with a direct link to the city centre. It will also directly serve two major redevelopment sites, one in east Manchester and one to the west of Ashton-under-Lyne. It will also improve the public transport service in the corridor as a whole by creating two new sections of route and two underpasses which will enable the trams to avoid the congested crossings of the Manchester inner and intermediate ring roads.

  44.  The East Didsbury line would reinstate a public transport service on a disused railway line. It would link several of the suburbs of south Manchester with each other and provide links to the Airport, Altrincham and Eccles routes as well as a fast link to the centre. However, it currently lacks a major traffic attractor at the outer end. The Authority has recently authorised public consultation on an extension of this line to Stockport which would help to relieve traffic congestion in the Mersey Valley between Didsbury and Stockport. Stockport would provide a major attraction which would encourage patronage and a more evenly balanced loading on the route.

  45.  The Trafford Park extension will serve two major employment centres, Trafford Park and the Trafford Centre. The PTA have agreed to build this line provided no public funding is required as it believes that the private sector including the developers in the area could fund the line.

  46.  All of these extensions would be integrated with the rest of the public transport network. The Rochdale and Ashton-under-Lyne lines would terminate at the bus stations in these towns. The Airport line would terminate at a purpose built interchange for bus, coach, train and Metrolink which would be the hub of the Airport's internal transport system as well. Integration at other points on each line is also planned.

  47.  Whilst these extensions can be built over a number of years on a line by line basis, the Authority sees major benefits in letting a single contract for completion of the above network. This would:

    —  avoid repeated and expensive tendering processes and changes of operator on the system as individual lines are added to the network;

    —  create, with the Quality Bus Corridor network which includes the Leigh Guided Busway LRT scheme, an integrated county-wide network of quality public transport which can be a viable alternative to the car;

    —  obtain the benefits of this network at a much earlier stage.

  48.  Annex 2 gives, in summary, the benefits which the full Metrolink network would bring. It will be noted that each of the extensions will serve or has the potential to serve more than one potential source of traffic. Each extension will provide a better quality and more competitive public transport service than is there now. There is every reason to believe that the conditions for success which were found in Phase 1 will be found in the other extensions as well.

  49.  The Authority and GMPTE firmly believe that Light Rapid Transit in different forms is the key to providing the backbone of a high quality public transport system in major conurbations. Whilst there is a capital expenditure involved in initially creating the system, there is also a long term stream of benefit flowing from the investment. Metrolink has demonstrated that people can be attracted from their cars and there is now a pressing need to achieve this on a wider scale.


  50.  Without doubt the most important help to future development of Light Rapid Transit is for the sub-Committee to emphasise to the government the role LRT can play in achieving its White Paper objectives and the benefits it can bring in appropriate circumstances. Based on our experience our view is that the circumstances in which LRT systems will be successful are:

    —  serving a major urban conurbation;

    —  having major traffic attractions at each end of the route;

    —  serving corridors with significant volumes of traffic;

    —  being able to offer a service which is competitive with other modes;

    —  a network, rather than just one or two lines.

  51.  Our experience has shown that Light Rapid Transit, by combining the best features of the train and the bus, can increase and retain public transport patronage in urban areas and consequently give a wide range of benefits which cannot be achieved by other modes.

  52.  Where these benefits are clearly demonstrable, government needs to allocate funding for well justified schemes. The White Paper and subsequent "daughter" documents have been less than helpful in this respect although, in fairness, the Deputy Prime Minister has repeatedly said in public he is impressed by the Greater Manchester Metrolink. Light Rapid Transit has the potential to meet many of the objectives of government transport policy at least in the conurbations—where the problems are most severe.

  53.  In summary the ambivalent position taken in the White Paper needs to be replaced with a positive and constructive policy.

  54.  Other areas in which the sub-Committee could ensure that assistance is given include:

    —  reviewing and, where necessary, revising/amending the Transport and Works Act procedures to make it easier, cheaper and quicker to for both promoters and objectors to put their cases;

    —  once granted, allowing powers to last for a period which is sufficiently long for the public and private sector funding to be secured and contractual and construction processes to take place;

    —  giving local authorities the powers to borrow against future revenue streams;

    —  making the revenue support which government gives for credit approvals to build LRT systems flow directly to the PTAs;

    —  reconsidering the proposed reduction in the contribution which Statutory Undertakers make to the costs of diverting their equipment;

  55.  These measures would help to create a climate in which the positive development of Light Rapid Transit in its various forms can take place and enable it to play its full role in achieving a sustainable transport system.

October 1999

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