Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Manchester's Metrolink: An utter disgrace.

Regular reader. Sorry not a software topic just wanted to get some thoughts out.
This morning's delayed tram
I love public transport. It's brilliant. Instead of crawling along in rush hour traffic, getting cramp in my foot as I leave the clutch at biting point I get to have a nice walk to the local public transport stop(healthy), stare vacantly into space as I wait for my carriage to arrive (meditative) and then I take a short journey where I read my book to somewhere vaguely near my destination (educational). Then I take a further walk and I'm there(even healthier). Or that's the idea. It's not quite working out that way. You see I use Manchester's Metrolink.
Metrolink is a light railway system that spans the city. When it was created it filled the need for better transport links from Bury and Altrincham to the city centre. I remember travelling on the Altrincham line for the first time. It was quick, clean and efficient. Sure there were some problems but my co-workers who used the system didn't seem to be affected too adversley. I don't know what's happened but things have got worse, much worse. I've been a commuter on the Altrincham line for 4 years and the service has degraded to such an extent that I feel that the people of Greater Manchester need answers from those who run the system. So why do I feel angry?
Price hikes.
On January 3rd prices across the system were increased on average by 6%  This price raise was described by the media as 'Inflation busting' 
This irks me on two points. I thought the point of public transport was to provide cheap, quick, links across the city to stimulate the economy, and ease the burden on the roads. What instead has happened is that by raising prices potential commuters are driven away from using the Metrolink in favour of driving or just not bothering. This price hike has been introduced at the same time as Manchester city centre begins to charge cars to park on a Sunday.
Its a 'double whammy' for Manchester residents and plays into the hands of places like the Trafford Centre which provides much better parking facilities and although there's not a Metrolink there, a reasonably efficient bus service.
Poor service.
Since the price increase I have made 26 commuter time journeys. Of those journeys, 6  of them have had some form of disruption. That's 23% of my commuting journeys have had delays. In the last 2 days 100% of my journeys have been delayed. I'm writing this after spending 76 minutes on the tram (a normal jourey tkes 20 mins).
Tonight's Journey.
This particular journey was so farcical it beggar's belief. I was travelling from Altrincham to Piccadilly to get to an event starting at 6.30. I buy a return ticket from Altrincham (more on this later)at 17.33. As soon as I set down the driver reports over the tannoy that there is a failed vehicle in the city centre and the line is suspended. Most people leave the tram, an angry few commutters are talking to the driver. I can just hear him and I'm sure he says that we shouldn't ring up to complain because that will just tie up the people trying to sort the problem out. I chance it and decide to wait - buses from Altrincham crawl up the A56 and to be fair Metrolink normally sort it within 20 mins and I've bought a ticket. After 10 mins or so the tram then starts moving. We are informed that the service will stop at Deansgate-Castlefield
Altrincham is at the end of the line and just before the stop before (Navigation Road) the track becomes single file. There is signal where trams have to wait for the other to pass. Our tram pootles to there and then doesn't move for 10 mins. The driver then informs us that the he can't contact Network Rail to get the signal changed. We wait for what seems like another 10 minutes the driver then informs good news - the service will continue to Piccadilly. Unfortunately neither he or the control room can get the signal changed. Minutes pass and eventually we move. The driver apologies once again. 
We begin thundering up the line. Angry commuters squeeze on and off  at Timperley, Sale, Dane Road, Stretford and Old Trafford but at least the thing is moving.  We then stop just past Old Trafford. There's always a delay now between Old Trafford and Trafford Bar as the Chorlton line joins the Altrincham one. This delay seems to take longer than normal thought, it couldn't be ano... The driver comes on the tannoy. "Sorry blah ... blah... there's been a backup of all the trams trying to get through Cornbrook. We're just waiting for our turn". Fair enough. (I look at my watch its 6.30. I'm now late.)  More minutes pass, I hear something over the driver's radio about telling customers of the Eccles & Chorlton lines that their tickets are valid on the buses.  Phew! I'm on the Altrincham line. Driver comes back on, apparently the computer system is overloaded at Cornbrook so they can't let us move. I am now officially livid. My normal stop, Trafford Bar, is 200 yards away and Old Trafford is about 100 yards away and I am stuck on a packed tram, missing my evening event and unable to move. 18.49, 1 hour and 16 mins later I arrive at Trafford Bar. I should be in Piccadilly Gardens, 20 mins ago. Do I risk it? Can Metrolink get me 4 stops closer? I didn't want to find out.
Dealing with delays on the Altrincham line.
I mainly travel between Trafford Bar and Altrincham. To catch up a common tactic of Metrolink is to terminate vehicles at Timperley so they can turn around. This means that commuters who want to go to Altrincham (read most of the people remaining) have to either wait or walk. Walking takes 28 mins. If most people are getting off at Altrincham why can't the service terminate at Navigation Road, 10 mins walk away?
There are 3 places on the line where trams get delayed.
1) Between Altrincham & Navigation Road
2) Between Old Trafford & Trafford Bar.
3) Between Trafford Bar & Cornbrook
Why can't trams wait in the stations for signals to change? At least then the commuters can make a decision of whether to stay on or off. Ticket inspectors over Safety Inspectors.
In a bid to reduce the number of fare dodgers there have been an increase in the number of safety officers. At one point I've been checked 3 times on a journey. At no point have safety officers been there to prevent the over-crowding that occurs or been there to provide information when a delay happens,
Poor ticket flexibility
Today I wanted to buy a ticket at Altrincham from Trafford Bar (where my season pass ends) to Piccadilly. So I have 2 options. I can either get off a Trafford Bar, buy a return from there and wait for the next tram or buy a full return from Altrincham. Today I spent £4.30 and gave up at Trafford Bar. I actually paid twice for this journey.
What the hell is going on?
It seems to be that this transport system is reeling from one cock-up to the next. I've had one person from my team at work leave due in part to the Metrolink commute. His train/tram season ticket was accepted by most inspectors but then he got slapped with a £50 fine (for his first offence!). Poor information on the train system caused this.

There's probably more I could haul out of the memory banks if I wanted to, such as the cock up of the wiring at Altrincham where you had to pay someone to stand there until someone ordered some sleeving because it was too close to the footbridge. I think you get the idea though. Metrolink is mismanaged and not fit for purpose.
I feel it's Metrolink's duty to explain its self and to sort it out!

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