Metrolink demand must double to hit target, says TfGM

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


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Probably more about the snail pace of the actual services. In many areas you can walk faster than the trams between stops. Taking over half an hour from Eccles to the City Centre is ridiculous for rapid transit.

By Steve

This is because the service is poorly managed and overpriced.The second city crossing fiasco hasn’t helped as due to the ridiculous length of time it is taking to build half a mile of track there is continual disruption on the service.People have to walk from Market street to Castlefield/Deansgate now for Airport and East Didsbury trams.How long is St Peters Square going to be closed? Another Summer of delays and excuses.Businesses have gone to the wall due to the slowness of the Second City crossing too, due to boards isolating them from the public.Another issue is that this system is dangerous.People are constantly abused and assaulted on it,as Metrolink gave no means of stopping ticketless people from boarding the tram.The ticket machines are always breaking down and it takes forever to get a ticket. On Heaton park station there is one ticket machine which means the queue can be a mile long,which means people miss their tram and then have to wait 15 minutes for the next one. The buses on that route from Bury come every 5 minutes.

By Elephant

Its too expensive. Cut fares across all public transport.

By Zulu

It would help if it was actually fast, as others have said. There are a couple of stops on the eccles in particular line that are redundant to be honest. Broadway and Harbour City are within spitting distance of each other.

By Lin

Regular(ish) user of Altrincham and occasionally East Didsbury line. Echo the comments of others on here. It’s too slow. It’s too expensive, particularly for those from poorer households. I cycle into town now. Is quicker and has the side benefit of seeing me benefit the local retail economy as I now need new trousers (due to waistline decreasing, not sheer terror of commute!)

By John

Yeah Elephant! They need to employ more men with spades. How complex can laying a couple of strips of metal be eh?

By Giraffe

Giraffe, You would be surprised , after near twenty years of practice they managed to put a 100 metre straight section of track on
Hardy Lane, Chorlton in too high and it cost £1000 a metre to fix . If someone said they had an important appointment to attend would you tell them to go by Metrolink?

By Barny

Yes Giraffe and any man with a spade would be a start. They have blamed the delays on the dead. Respect is there for those who died in a plague when Adam was wearing shorts, but not for those paying half their salary to use the system in 2016.

By Elephant

Didsbury line – 60% of expected target? You can’t possibly fit more people on them services during peak time! Not only that but it costs less to drive!

By Scott

Better integrated Park and Ride sites with the Motorway network and a pricing strategy to suit would be a good way forward. I appreciate Sale Water Park and Hollinwood are next to the M60…but over a fiver for a fare into Manchester is a bit steep. It detracted me from using it.

I ended up using the Wadley P&R site on the Lancs instead…although a park and ride fare for that facility would be welcome too. Leeds P&R at Elland Road has the right idea. Let us see the same in Manchester.

By Anon

Agreed Elephant!! I reckon me and you could do a better job than these so-called experts!

By Giraffe

The Metrolink system is trying to be everything to everyone and its failing badly. The Metrolink is certainly not rapid and the cost of using the service is far too high. TfGM seems to excel itself in being able to justify poor investment decisions despite employing reams of so called transport experts. I dread to think what will happen if TfGM gets control of local buses If bus reform comes in. I believe that the time has come to revisit the feasibility of introducing an sub surface transport system under Manchester City Centre and abandoning city centre running of so called Light rail vehicles that are totally out of scale in a busy and constrained city centre like Manchester.

By Jack Lewis

Second city crossing has undoubtedly affected passenger numbers. Much of the anticipated growth on the Ashton line was predicated on developments happening in East Manchester which have been slow to hit the market. Numbers will increase, for sure.

It seems that people will not let Metrolink win: it is criticised either for being too busy or underused and unpopular. Other regional cities will kill for a system like ours.

As for a sub-surface transport system, the “experts” that Giraffe and Jack dismisses would quickly tell you that, while tunneling would be something of a panacea from a purely transport perspective, the Benefit-Cost Ratio would be unlikely to stack up. And of course, people would still complain about the decade of upheaval during the works.

Experts aren’t always exactly right, but I am reassured to have people applying the best knowledge and analysis that we can, rather than populist shouts for simplistic solutions. And I haven’t even mentioned Michael Gove.

By Percy

Well you have certainly got the height Giraffe and I have the strength.

By Elephant

Percy we do expect upheaval but come on,people have been born and died of old age waiting for that second city crossing. God help the new Trafford line.Prince George will be opening that,when he is King.

By Elephant

Yes, major infrastructure works cause a lot of upheaval. Its not for want of proper plannung

By Percy

Is too dear and unreliable..They have a long way to go to win us over….

By Schwyz

Its too expensive. its unreliable . Ticket machines are hopeless . The City Centre disruption is outrageous. Its basically getting what it deserves…Fewer customers than expected

By Roberto

Chronic under-capacity between Cornbrook Junction and St Peters Square, especially at Cornbrook tram stop, will kick in after the 2CC service patterns are fully implemented and when the Trafford Park services are added. A new four-platform interchange stop is need on canalside land alongside the present stop. The old alignment could be used for secure overnight stabling.

By David Holt

I dare say these services seen far busier than the stats indicate.
There are far too many fare dodgers and not enough inspectons.

By Graham