The summer is over, and it’s time to get back to work.
For many of us in Manchester, we breathe a sigh of relief as it also signals the reconnection of the Northern and Southern parts of the Metrolink tram network after almost two months of no service through the City Centre.
Our messed up commutes could return to something looking like normality, or so we thought…
Last week, Metrolink announced their new service patterns for the re-joined network, no longer constrained by the single-track contraflow system through the St Peter’s Square worksite:
“People of Didsbury rejoice! For we are improving your service, with trams every 6 minutes!”
Now here’s the catch and small print:
Note that while there are twice as many trams, they will only be half as long, and half of them will terminate at Deansgate, on the extreme south side of the city centre, which will mean they are no use to some of you.
So, while we get more frequent trams, at least as far as Deansgate, the overall capacity on the line has stayed the same, yet we were experiencing busy and crowded trams when they were double trams every 12 minutes, and we’ve now actually got reduced capacity on cross-city journeys.
We’re already seeing complaints about crowding and reduction of tram length:
So I’ve decided to start tweeting and hashtagging when I observe overcrowding due to single tram operation on the Didsbury line, using the hashtag #didsburydoubles and suggest those similarly affected do the same.
We then make it easier to track and hopefully get this trending on social media and get Metrolink & TfGM to sit up, listen to their users and understand how we actually use their tram network.
On paper the capacity is the same, so what’s happened?
Metrolink planners have made an assumption that passengers will always take the first tram and change where necessary.
Taking a look at my more usual trip into town, I’m normally heading to Market Street or Shudehill:
- Under the old service pattern there was a direct double tram every 12 minutes.
- Under the new service pattern there is a direct single tram every 12 minutes, or I can take the Deansgate tram, which runs in between the direct tram, and change at Deansgate.
I now have to make a decision, do I take whatever turns up first and proceed accordingly, or do I always wait for the direct?
I’m missing a vital piece of information if I take the Deansgate tram and change: How long will I need to wait at Deansgate for a Market Street/Shudehill tram?
What I don’t have is the planned sequence through Deansgate. I know that each “route” is planned to have a tram every 6 minutes, and it repeats on a 12 minute cycle. I just don’t know the order they are meant to come in, because Metrolink does not publish that information.
If the tram terminating at Deansgate is immediately followed by a cross-city Altrincham – Bury tram, then I’m fine. My end-to-end journey time remains basically the same, I have to change once, and don’t have to wait long.
But what if the sequence of trams means that I’m waiting, let’s say 4 minutes, for the Altrincham – Bury direct tram? Or worse still, my Didsbury – Deansgate tram arrives at Deansgate platform just in time to see the Altrincham – Bury tram pulling away?
I don’t gain anything and I may as well have taken the direct tram, and who’s to say I’ll be able to even get on to the next tram, that might be busy too?
They have not accounted for human nature: where a direct service exists we will prefer to take it.
Remember that I am a transport geek as well. I’ve studied this stuff, and have a degree from Aston Uni in Transport Management. The thought process above comes naturally to me. Heh… Maybe TfGM/Metrolink could hire me to tell them the blindingly obvious?
An average person won’t even bother going though the thought process above. They will just wait for the direct tram.
On outbound journeys in the evening commute, this situation is made even worse. People are less inclined to change on the way home, because the trams are already at their fullest in the City centre.
One simply daren’t take the first cross-city tram from Shudehill or Market Street and expect to change at Deansgate or Cornbrook because that will mean trying to board an already crowded tram.
This means evening commutes will likely be worse than morning commutes because people will almost certainly wait for the direct.
When the Didsbury line was first opened, there were waves of complaints because the use of the line outstripped Metrolink’s predictions, rapidly leading to the decision to run Didsbury trams as doubles, and this remained until this week.
It’s time to make sure TfGM and Metrolink hear our voices again.
We should at least have the through trams operating as double trams, so that cross-city capacity is restored to what it was before the St Peter’s Square works were completed.
This is how the Altrincham and Bury lines work – a 6 minute headway with alternate trams, the cross-city trams, as doubles.
If you experience an uncomfortably crowded journey on the East Didsbury line, or you have to let a tram depart without you onboard because it arrived already full, please tweet about it and use the #didsburydoubles hashtag.