Less than half the forecast number of passengers are using new Metrolink lines opened in recent years to Oldham, Ashton, East Didsbury and Manchester Airport.
There were 10.58 million trips made in 2014/15 on the four lines that have opened as part of the phase three expansion of the Metrolink, which began a decade ago. This compares to a target of 22.10 million. The number of trips was calculated based on ticket issue data and surveys relating to concessionary travel.
TfGM blamed poor take-up on a range of factors such as “weakness of economy in recent years” and disruption to services caused by Second City Crossing construction. Metrolink’s new line through the city centre is due to open in 2017. The relatively high costs of tram fares compared to some bus services was also a factor that led to dampened demand across all lines.
Depressed property markets were also cited for “significant developments that have not yet materialised along the corridors”.
However, TfGM argued that the frequency of services has not yet reached capacity on all lines and, as the business case forecast was for 2016-20, demand is still in the “build-up period”. The business plans were written for funding and planning bids to government between 2006 and 2010. The evaluation report is a requirement of Department for Transport funding and will be followed by a more detailed study due to be carried out in 2019, when the economic impact of Metrolink phase three on the Greater Manchester economy will also be examined. This interim report was written in 2015.
The report’s authors said “the impacts of suppressed economic growth and development activity have had a negative impact on outturn patronage performance in the initial period of operation, not anticipated at business case stage.”
However, they said “early indications are that the system’s expansion is beginning to generate the benefits anticipated, which is encouraging”.
Prior to 2010 the network had 37 stops and covered 24 miles, operating the Bury to Altrincham line and extension to Eccles. The network now stretches 58 miles to 93 stops on seven lines.
The breakdown of performance in 2014/15, the first full year after the last piece of the phase three extensions opened in October 2013, was as follows:
Oldham & Rochdale Line: actual annual demand 3.6 million; expected demand 8.13 million: demand as proportion of target 44%
Ashton-under-Lyne: actual 2.05 million, expected 5.11 million: 40% of target
East Didsbury line: actual 3.43 million, expected 5.26 million: 65% of target
Manchester Airport: actual 1.49 million, expected 3.59 million: 42% of target
Total: actual 10.58 million, expected 22.10 million: 48% of target
TfGM told executive members of Greater Manchester Combined Authority the expansion had been delivered on time and budget, with £764m spent by the date of the report.
Other evaluation highlights:
- Nationwide Building Society found that proximity to a Metrolink stop, or train station, has a significant impact on property values
- Second City Crossing “by the far the largest expansion of any modern tram network in the UK”
- Timing of opening sub-sections varied from the dates originally published, due to challenges including new signalling and control system
- Significant increase in public transport accessibility at a Greater Manchester level: “half of the population in the corridors experience an increase in public transport accessibility to employment and healthcare of 10% or more. This means that there is 10% or greater reduction in the overall time required to access a range of each type of opportunity. For further education, over a third of the population experience an increase in public transport accessibility of 10% or more”
- This equates to 180,000 people in the corridors around new lines that have benefited from increased public transport accessibility
- A quarter of all trips on the new extensions would have been made by car if the option of travelling by tram had not been available
- Business case for four extension lines was developed prior to Second City Crossing business case, “this report did not take into account the potential side effects on Metrolink services of the construction of the Second City Crossing or other system enhancement works. This has affected service frequencies in particular”
- Frequencies and tram speed will be improved in the future, once restrictions of Second City Crossing are lifted
- Patronage has been growing across Phase 3; Oldham and Rochdale line patronage has more than tripled since Metrolink’s introduction
Full report available here: GMCA Metrolink Phase 3 evaluation report