#didsburydoubles – the current state of play

So, the weekend has passed and the kids are back to school. I’m working from home today so haven’t experienced the Metrolink this morning.

Travelling in last Friday…

Following that tweet, I was told by Metrolink social media that they can’t discuss the matter over social media and I should put my complaint regarding the withdrawal of double trams in writing to TfGM’s “customer services”.

Over 24 hours later, while I have received an auto-reply acknowledging receipt, I’ve yet to get a case number or any other correspondance from TfGM.

Over the weekend I noticed that the advertised Double tram service Bury – Altrincham was running as single trams. I contacted Metrolink about that too. They say that Bury – Altrincham directs are now reduced to single trams at weekends and their own timetable is wrong!

What on earth is going on at TfGM and Metrolink towers?

I do wonder if the running of lots and lots of double trams (Bury-Dids, Alty-Etihad, Eccles line) during the period of “contraflow” on Mosely Street while St Peter’s Square was closed has actually caused the fleet to accumulate mileage quicker than anticipated, and the operation of single trams now is what is known in the industry as¬†mileage conservation – stretching the period of time between planned examination and servicing by those affected trams running fewer miles.

This is also common in the aviation industry, where aircraft undergo checks based on hours flown – an aircraft approaching a major maintenance check can be put on restricted use, so it’s only used if absolutely necessary, until it’s place in the hangar is assured.

Back to the main subject, the loss of the much needed double trams from the Didsbury line, it seems people are still experiencing unpleasant journeys on overcrowded trams.

Here’s a quick scan of social media from this morning:

It’s also not just the Didsbury line. Eccles line users are grumpy too. Both about the basic quality of the service, and the fact that Eccles line trams don’t serve MediaCity UK for the majority of the day, which seems like a total chocolate teapot.

One can only imagine the answer to the question below:

What seems to be getting people’s hackles up further is the way we’re being talked down to by TfGM and Metrolink. The tone of the replies is like a parent trying to placate a child having a tantrum, rather than accept and acknowledge there has been a service delivery failure and that something positive will be done:

I don’t blame the people running the social media accounts at TfGM and Metrolink. I accept their hands are somewhat tied by the decisions of their bosses. But they need to stop talking down to us. We need to see there is some action being taken, rather than head-in-sand apologism.

However this particular exchange seems at least churlish, and possibly out-of-order, especially for a public servant talking to a member of the public they are meant to be working on behalf of. Maybe it’s a chink in the armour, showing that tempers are even getting frayed at Metrolink HQ, behind¬†the calm veneer of the¬†“Shush, shush… Everything’s okay, it will be all¬†fine once 2CC opens” party-line:

What seems to be worse still is that at least one Didsbury councillor is acting as a TfGM apologist rather than representing their constituents:

Evidently, according to Andrew, we should just shut up and be grateful that we even have a tram:

This goes on¬†to the extent that he’s openly disagreeing with other Manchester City Councillors from neighbouring wards who agree with residents that the new single tram service is a retrograde step:

Why would you change at Cornbrook and St Werburghs if you had the choice of a direct tram? The above feels like a load of old tosh. Also note that Andrew’s tweets there were sent from outside of Manchester, so it seems that he can’t have experienced this new single tram overcrowded fiasco for himself recently if he’s been out of town.

I’m honestly glad I’m not in the East Didsbury ward if that’s the standard of representation I can expect.

So what next?

Metrolink wish we would put up and shut up.

TfGM wish we would put up and shut up.

Now, one of our elected representatives also seems to wish¬†we would put up and shut up – rather than doing what he’s been elected to do!

Remind me that we’re meant to be living in a democracy? Remind me that public servants are meant to be accountable?

A former BBC journalist friend said “Don’t give up. Keep kicking off. Make as much noise as you can until they open a proper two-way dialogue with you.”

We need to make as much noise as we possibly can until we are listened to on this issue:

  • Please tweet about your overcrowding experiences, and use the hashtag #didsburydoubles, so the trend is visible.
  • Tweet Metrolink¬†every time you experience an overcrowded Didsbury line tram.
  • Please retweet what others say as well so we’re reaching as many people as possible.
  • Write to TfGM – customer.relations@tfgm.com – request that a formal complaint is opened.
  • Write to your Councillors – use www.writetothem.com

#didsburydoubles – What might it take to put doubles back on the Didsbury line?

I’m a transport geek. I find stuff like timetables absolutely¬†irresistible.

So thanks to the working timetables exposed in the FOIA request I took a look over lunch to find out what extra resources would be required to provide double trams once again on the Didsbury line.

Firstly, the notionally “busier” Cross-City services – the Didsbury-Shaw trams.

The Didsbury-Shaw 12 minute frequency service requires 12 trams on a circuit to operate it Рi.e. it takes 144 minutes for one tram to complete a full round-trip.

There are two Metrolink depots, the original one at Queens Road, and the newer and larger depot at Trafford.

The duties for the Didsbury-Shaw service are split between the depots, 5 duties are provided by Queens Road, and 7 by Trafford.

So, to increase all the Didsbury-Shaw trams, that would require all 12 duties to be double trams, an extra 5 trams provided by Queens Road, and 7 from Trafford.

I don’t know what sort of spare resources Metrolink has around. I can usually see more than 8 trams sat stabled at Trafford depot when I go past in the morning – though I accept they could be stopped due to a fault or awaiting scheduled maintenance such as a planned servicing.

Secondly, the Didsbury-Deansgate service.

This is a much simpler operation, composed of 4 single-tram duties from Trafford depot, on a self-contained “shuttle” operation between Didsbury and Deansgate.

It is therefore theoretically simpler to double, requiring an additional 4 trams to be supplied from Trafford.

To provide double trams on both the Didsbury-Shaw and Didsbury-Deansgate services would require 16 extra trams to be available for traffic.

We’ll assume providing all 16 trams is a non-starter, that Metrolink simply don’t have 16 spare trams available on a daily basis for the moment.

There are three options, as I see them, assuming no significant service changes:

  • The least resource intensive is for Trafford to provide an extra 4 trams each day and convert the 4 Didsbury-Deansgate shuttle duties to double trams.
  • The other is to double all the Didsbury-Shaw duties, which requires 12 extra trams, a somewhat tougher ask.
  • The slightly more radical option is to cancel the Didsbury-Deansgate shuttle, and revert to a 12 minute headway. Use those 4 released trams to strengthen 4 of the Trafford Dids-Shaw duties, only requiring a further 8 trams to be provided, 4 from each depot.

Right now, it seems that the path of least resistance and possibly most rapid solution is for Didsbury-Deansgate trams to be doubled. It feels less than ideal, as the notionally busier trams are the Cross-City ones. But this might at least encourage some passengers to choose to change at Deansgate rather than wait for the direct tram and alleviate some pressure on the Didsbury-Shaw.

However, I feel all doubles on a 12 minute headway used to work okay before. Do we want to go back to that?

#didsburydoubles update – Metrolink Working Timetable via FOIA request

Thanks to Twitter follower @ppixx I’ve been pointed in the direction of a FOIA request which resulted in the release of the Working Timetables currently in use (as of 28th August 2016) on Metrolink.

https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/manchester_metrolink_working_tim_5#incoming-849104

The “Working Timetable” is the hidden “technical” timetable that Metrolink staff¬†use to manage and maintain the service. As such it contains movements of empty trams, like¬†workings to and from depots at the start and end of service. It’s not written to be read by mere mortals.

In terms of what’s happened with our Cross-city Didsbury line commutes, the useful information here is the sequence of trams through the network. This is the bit of information I told you in my last post we didn’t readily have, yet need, to help us make decisions whether to wait for the direct tram or take the first tram and change.

I’ve done the hard work so you don’t have to: What it shows is that if you are travelling to a point beyond Deansgate from the East Didsbury line, during the 6 minute headway period, you may as well almost¬†always wait for the direct tram.

By taking the Deansgate tram and changing, you will have a 4 minute wait for the Altrincham – Bury tram to continue toward Market St, Shudehill and Victoria.

By leaving 6 minutes earlier – because we’re assuming for this example that¬†the first tram is the Deansgate tram – and changing, this is reduced to a 2 minute advantage by the time you get off. The direct tram has almost “caught up”.

However if¬†you are travelling to St Peter’s Square, Piccadilly Gardens or Piccadilly, it makes no significant difference which tram you take from the Didsbury line, both the Deansgate and the Shaw trams have good¬†connections into Piccadilly-bound trams at Deansgate. Both are good options.

#didsburydoubles – can we get Metrolink to reinstate double trams to East Didsbury?

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.

You can take the boy out of the North West, but…

Last week, a record was released to help raise money for¬†The Christie Hospital in Manchester, a tribute to the life and memories of one of it’s more famous patients, a certain Anthony H Wilson, music impresario, tv journalist, and “Mr Manchester”.

It’s not supposed to be a floor-filler, but more of a fond eulogy, a modern poem, that’s been set to an arrangement of New Order’s “Your Silent Face”.

“Saint Anthony, Saint Anthony, please come round, because something that’s lost cannot be found…”

The first time I saw and heard this I really was teary-eyed, with a lump in my throat.

Not only was it set to a favourite piece of music, but many of the faces staring back at me out of the screen were, like Tony Wilson himself, those from my own upbringing in the North West.

I was never lucky enough to meet him in person, but I was one of those people that grew up in the age of Tony Wilson, the music of his bands on my walkman, his face on my TV. Not only did he run a record label¬†and a nightclub… but he read the news too. Was there anything this man couldn’t turn his hand to? Best of all, he was¬†from the North and vociferously¬†for the North.

It also made me think of a more innocent time in my own life. When I had my whole life ahead of me, when I felt I could do anything. When we’d get the train into Manchester and visit places like Afflecks, and if you’d asked me where Granada was I’d answer “Quay Street”, not Spain.

New Order’s Bernard¬†Sumner wrote about Tony, “He always seemed so young and enthusiastic in spirit, he had the attitude of a man in his 20’s…”, and it was with this enthusiasm Tony made those around him believe¬†that Manchester and the North West could do anything, if only they tried… “This is Manchester, we do things differently here.”

When I graduated from University, I chose to move South, where I’d been offered a job. South to follow the money. Ravaged by 17 years of London-centric Tory policies, the North West didn’t look so attractive to someone in their mid-20’s with a freshly minted degree, I guess.

I found myself wanting to dig inside me for something that I’d become worried might have been lost from¬†so many years in the London rat-race, my¬†own Twenty-something spirit, that bit of me that lives for today, that thinks it can do anything, my own inner Northerner. Was I worried it was buried under a metaphorical jam of red London buses? I needn’t have been.

I looked and I’ve found it. It’s bruised and battered, but it’s still there.

Try as the world might, you can take the boy out of the North West, but¬†you can’t take the North West out of the Man.

One day, I’ll stop wandering. One day I’ll come home.

Those who know me will know that my own family¬†has twice already been touched by cancer. There’s a 50% chance everyone in the UK will need to be treated for cancer in their lifetime. If you liked “St Anthony” you can buy it, and if you didn’t, you can still donate money to The Christie Hospital¬†in Tony Wilson’s memory and help others in the future.¬†Give, and give generously.

Reflections on UKNOF 27

UKNOF 27 - Manchester Central
Our name in lights!

What a week it’s been!

My week started in Manchester, where it was the warm up for what turned out to be the largest UKNOF meeting so far – UKNOF 27. In this case the “warm up” was the IX Manchester meeting, facilitated by LINX (who operate IX Manchester).

This is, I think, the first time that UKNOF and one of the regional interest groups in the UK have teamed up and worked to co-locate their distinct, separate meetings on adjacent days in the same venue.¬†It might have been a bit of an experiment, but I hope everyone agrees it was a successful one and we’re able to co-operate again this way some time in the future.

Talking of the venue…¬†what a venue!

UKNOF attendance has been growing of late, and so to protect ourselves against ending up somewhere that couldn’t cope, we eventually chose Manchester Central Convention Complex.

I remember going to help scout the venues for this meeting earlier this year. We looked at various places, small and large. Remember that last time we were in the North West (back in 2010 thanks to the kindness of Zen Internet) only 65 people attended. Even the most recent non-London UKNOF in January 2013 couldn’t break the 100-barrier (and that was with Tref hosting!).

But, during 2013 we’d also had two bumper meetings at 15Hatfields in London and could see that we are definitely growing as a community, so we had to think big, and so we went with the venue that we felt could cope best with the unpredictability.

Initially, we were somewhat awestruck, maybe even a little bit nervous, when choosing a venue like this. It hosts massive conferences, trade shows and events. It’s a¬†serious venue.

But we needn’t have worried, it turns out we’d made the right decision, and the space happily scaled up from a 60-odd person IX Manchester meeting to the 200+ person UKNOF the following day.

UKNOF 27 turned out to be our biggest meeting so far.

…and not in London!

We had over 250 people register. Around 25 cancelled their attendance in the week leading up to the meeting, and around a further 20 no-showed on the day.¬†We’d ordered catering for 210, a good guess I think!

I’ve honestly not heard a bad comment about UKNOF 27.¬†We had some fantastic, interesting and original content delivered by our speakers from within the community. I can’t thank them enough. Without them, without you, there is no UKNOF.

The audio and visual support seemed to work well, but we also learned a thing or two which will be brought to bear at future meetings. The Internet access was nice and stable:¬†we brought our own wifi infrastructure for the meeting, and used Manchester Central’s great external connectivity to Metronet as a “backhaul”.¬†8 wireless access points were used to provide adequate coverage across the rooms, where most meetings previously got by on two. As usual, fantastic support from Tom at Portfast for the connectivity, and Brandon from Bogons.net for our webcast, along with Will and Kay who do connectivity for large events such as CCC who helped set up the additional access points.

Why was UKNOF 27 so successful?

Er, good question.

It was certainly a very easy venue to get to, regardless of how you wanted to get there. Plenty of parking space, easy access to public transport and an international airport just a short train ride away. Possibly even easier than a London venue?

Did the simple act of holding UKNOF in a serious venue such as Manchester Central raise the profile of the event with those who were sat on the fence?

There’s no doubt that the content itself was attractive, especially if (the lack of) bandwidth use was anything to go by.

The food offering from Manchester Central’s own in-house kitchens I thought to be superb, hope others agreed! All prepared from scratch in-house, even the biscuits for the coffee breaks, a definite cut-above a shipped-in offering. I felt you could taste the difference.

Maybe the co-location with the IX Manchester meeting meant that some folk stuck around for the extra day (and vice-versa)?

There seems to be renewed activity in the Internet engineering arena in the North of England at the moment – partly touched on by Mike Kelly’s participation in a panel at the meeting, discussing the relevance of regional infrastructure and it’s role in balancing the distorted London-centric infrastructure that has long characterised the UK’s Internet development…

…maybe there really are more Internet geeks in the North than the South these days?

Or if we’re going to have that level of influence, it’s just¬†that our thrice-yearly get-together of Internet geeks is coming of age.

That said, I promise that we’ll stay true to our mission of “distribution of clue” and keep our focus on grass-roots Internet engineering and development.

Thanks to everyone who attended, sponsored, spoke, asked questions, or helped us in any way to make UKNOF 27 the success it was.

For those of you who enjoyed us being in Manchester, the good news is that we’re looking at a potential return there in 2015.

A new regional peering initiative for the UK?

A few weeks ago, I wondered why a number of posts on my blog which had been quiet for a while saw some renewed interest – the series on regional peering suddenly saw a significant growth in readership – when I received word that there was group forming in Manchester to discuss the subject, instigated by Manchester co-lo operator m247 and involving (my former employer) the largest UK IXP, LINX.

Now it started to make sense…

Continue reading “A new regional peering initiative for the UK?”