Memorandum by Peter Thomson Esq (OPT 06)
OVERCROWDING ON PUBLIC TRANSPORT
My observations concern the "Metrolink"
tram system in Greater Manchester. This has lines from Manchester
city centre out to Eccles (via the Salford Quays development area),
to Bury and to Altrincham, with a spur into the mainline Piccadilly
The system is a great benefit to the areas it
serves, providing a fast and generally very reliable service.
It is well patronized, especially so at rush hours and on other
occasions which bring people out (concerts, sports fixtures, etc).
The system is owned by the Greater Manchester
Passenger Transport Executive (GMPTE), but is operated by a franchisee
(currently SERCO Metrolink).
I have never ever seen any financial results
published for the system in all the 10 years of its existence.
My comments concern overcrowding on the Altrincham
to Manchester city centre section. I do not know what conditions
are like on the other two lines.
The AltrinchamManchester and the BuryManchester
lines comprise former British Rail lines, converted during 1991-92
for use by Metrolink trams. Train services on these two lines
began in the mid-Victorian period, and were by 1991 long established
and busy commuter lines. A new "on-street" link was
built through the city centre to link these two lines, and this
has been crucial to Metrolink's success. The line to Eccles is
a completely new creation, and was opened in 2000.
For the AltrinchamCity CentreBury
lines, 26 trams were provided; the GMPTE wanted somewhat more
(34 ?), but Government financial constraints prevented this.
Each tram is an articulated two-coach unit,
29 metres long and 2.65 metres wide; each unit has 82 seats, plus
four "pull-down"; there is space for two wheelchairs,
and standing room for 122 people (four per square metre). None
of this information is displayed anywhere on or within the trams.
Yet all buses display their seating and standing capacities within
Tram service frequency on Monday-Friday is every
12 minutes from 5.53 am to 7.17 am, then every six minutes right
up to 7.17 pm, then every 12 minutes to the final journeys around
midnight. Saturday is similar, except that the six-minute frequency
runs from 9.29 am to 6.29 pm. Sunday frequencies are 15 minutes
in the early and late parts of the day, and 12 minutes from 9.38
am to 5.00 pm. (All times quoted are from Altrincham.)
Overcrowding on the Altrincham line has been
a problem since at least the mid-1990's, and was often raised
at meetings of the GMPTE consultative committee for this geographical
area. It occurs during the morning and evening peaks Monday to
Friday, sometimes later on those evenings, most Saturday late
evenings, and most excruciatingly so whenever there is a Manchester
United football match at Old Trafford.
My personal experience as an occasional commuter
(I do not work in Manchester) is fortunate in that I board at
the Altrincham terminus and so can always get a seat. Less than
halfway along the route, all seats are taken, and from then into
Manchester, the volume of standing passengers becomes ever greater,
until at some inner end stations it is impossible to get on a
tram. At the Stretford station on one occasion, there was "tram
rage" violence on the platform among those who had failed
to get on two or three successive trams. During 2002, several
letters appeared in the local press about the discomfort and even
fright occasioned by such over crowding, and several writers declared
their intention of resuming the use of their motor cars to get
I myself was virtually imprisoned in my seat
one Saturday afternoon by the sheer volume of football supporters
in the tram; I was unable to get to the doors for an intermediate
stop, and had to remain on the tram until it reached a city centre
stop where many people alighted, allowing me to move from my seat.
How a frail and elderly person would have coped
with this situation I just cannot imagine. There is no platform
supervision of any kind at any station; the drivers use the public
address system to exhort passengers to squeeze further into the
tram, to try to free up some space by the doors to try to get
Metrolink has become a victim of its own success.
The problem of course is that there are not
enough trams. Additional vehicles could provide an additional
rush-hour only service between a range of inner area stations,
but this would also need more "cossovers" installing
on the track layout. There are a small number of these, but they
would not allow much versatility of "short workings",
even if there were some additional trams.
Rush -hour fares on Metrolink are considered
to be quite expensive, although I think they are not too out of
line with the fares on an existing train service from Altrincham
to Manchester which uses a different route from the trams.
With more trams, and a different financial regime
(whereby it really was run in the public interest like those in
Belgium and Holland), Metrolink could carry even more passengers
in less rush hour discomfort than at present, and contribute to
relieving current local road traffic congestion.
However this would require a complete policy
change, plus the injection of some public money, neither of which
appears to be likely under current arrangements.