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Metrolink's road to nowhere

Inundated with questions we try to get to the bottom of the poor service on the flagship transport system

Published on January 20th 2010.


Metrolink's road to nowhere

Manchester Confidential has had lots of people asking questions about the Metrolink system at present.

They have been doing this because it's knackered.

So we asked for an official response to some written questions. We weren't happy with the initial reply so we asked for clarification and we got this over the phone.

Or we sort of got clarification, we're still not happy with the replies.

CHAPTER ONE

Confidential: There seem to be fewer tannoy announcements when there are delays on the service at present. People on the Altrincham line waited from just before nine to 9.25am one morning this week and there were no announcements.

GMPTE: As a result of the recent icy weather, there has been some disruption to Metrolink services. GMPTE are working with Stagecoach Metrolink to ensure that passengers are kept informed of delays via regular station announcements, website updates and media alerts.

The high level of demand on the Customer Services team, which is responsible for making manual PA announcements, has had an impact. However, we are working with the operator to ensure better announcements are made. We apologise to customers for the inconvenience they have experienced and thank passengers for their understanding as work continues to restore normal services.

Confidential: This is a very vague answer. To make a twenty second announcement surely only takes a minute of time in total and is done at the push of a button.

GMPTE: There is quite a small customer service team and they get lots of calls but we are aware of the issue. We are working with the operator to see how they can improve the situation.

Confidential: Surely it is vitally important given Metrolink performance that they communicate with passengers stood on cold platforms about what on earth is going?

GMPTE: We are aware of the issue and working with the operator to see how they can improve the situation.

CHAPTER TWO

Confidential: How come, to quote customer services, they said after the 25 minute wait referred to above, "there'll be one along soon and then three will be in succession behind it?" Why would that level of incompetence happen?

GMPTE: An unexpected disruption on the Metrolink, for example a failure on one of the vehicles, can cause a backlog of vehicles on the line. Once the line is clear, the trams which have been queued will be able to complete their journey as quickly as possible. The vehicles will then be re-organised to ensure a regular service is resumed as soon as possible.

Confidential: If this happens that should be communicated with the passengers waiting at stations – it makes the tannoy announcements even more necessary.

GMPTE: We are aware of the issue.......

CHAPTER THREE

Confidential: Why is there still a delay over tram arrival when the snow happened more than ten days ago?

GMPTE: Please see attached statement (general press release), 'During this prolonged period of exceptionally icy weather, there has been some impact on Metrolink vehicles, and some trams are not in service. Ice and snow can also affect overhead lines, tracks and points. However, a normal service is operating on the Eccles line and a 12-minute service is operating on the Altrincham and Bury lines. Metrolink Director Philip Purdy said: “Since the Metrolink network opened, temperatures as low as -15C have never been experienced for such a long period. The extreme temperatures and excessive snow have caused damage to the trams’ traction equipment, which now needs replacing or refurbishing. We are working with the operator, Stagecoach Metrolink, to repair the damage as quickly as possible.When the current spell of snow and ice is over, we will of course carry out a review with a view to putting any lessons learned into practice for future situations.'

Confidential: Having read the statement when might the situation improve? Can we have a timescale?

GMPTE: As soon as possible.

Confidential: A day, a week, two weeks?

GMPTE: All I can say is as soon as possible, I'll ask for an actual time.

Confidential: That's not good enough really is it?

GMPTE: All I can say is as soon as possible.

CHAPTER FOUR

Confidential: Why do Bury trams leave as the Altrincham tram approaches in Piccadilly Gardens rather than wait for people to transfer?

GMPTE: Under normal circumstances, there is a direct service between Bury and Altrincham every 12 minutes so passengers should not have to transfer at Piccadilly Gardens. If two trams are at a platform, drivers are encouraged to wait for any connecting passengers if time allows. However, due to the high frequency of services, drivers cannot always afford to wait for other trams to arrive on the platform and for passengers to disembark.

Confidential: I'm sorry, if the tram is approaching then the other driver at Piccadilly Gardens should wait. You mention the high frequence of service above and then you mention the delays. Given we have so many delays a degree of courtesy at present wouldn't go amiss would it? Can we re-assess this?

GMPTE: There's not much I can add to the first answer.

Confidential: If the service was on time maybe we could understand as passengers, but given there are so many delays that passengers now define Metrolink by its delays, then perhaps the drivers should exercise their discretion? (Drivers using their discretion was promised in our interview with Philip Purdy).

GMPTE: I will enquire. There's not much more I can add.

CHAPTER SIX

CONFIDENTIAL: Why do the new trams have less capacity than the older units?

GMPTE: Capacity on the new trams is 206 passengers, which is a higher capacity than on older trams. The new trams have more standing room and less seats, which provides space for an increased number of wheelchairs and prams than on older trams, without compromising capacity.

CONFIDENTIAL: What was the capacity on the old trams, didn't they have a capacity of 208?

GMPTE: No, 203.

CONFIDENTIAL: So the new trams can fit three more people on?

GMPTE: Yes.

CONCLUSION

And that was that.

Almost.

Number one, the spokesperson was very sincere and very good at the job, so no blame should attach to the responses – the person genuinely hadn't been given specific answers to our questions. That the person hadn't been given those answers from officers higher in the organisation is much more concerning.

Number two, we were so dissatisfied we asked for further interviews, with Philip Purdy head of GMPTE – actually we were offered one. But also with Metrolink Stagecoach, because the operational failures must lie with them rather than the overall transport organisation, GMPTE.

So keep posted because a knackered Metrolink system is shaming Manchester. And we're not going to let this go.

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62 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

thetramsareshiiiteJanuary 20th 2010.

i agree with you 100% there is no one to check anything.i once saw (and reported) blood splatters all over the drivers door. It was still there two days later. who is going to argue with the dog? but a bike?

AnonymousJanuary 20th 2010.

Does saying it three times give your cause more impact or make you look like a loon I wonder.

direct actionJanuary 20th 2010.

An organised fare strike (a day where everyone agrees to refuse to buy a ticket or to show their travelpass) across the whole of the network would certainly make Stagecoach take their duties more seriously than they appear to so far.

Railway JohnJanuary 20th 2010.

In answer to Johnthebrief, it'll never happen. Nu Labour, with their massive majorities could've wrenched transport back to being a service and not a for-profit business. As part of a wider view on *public* transport, we are chucking more money - or subsidies - comparatively at the old BR, now profit-making companies, and prices are increasing as costs are cut: our subsidies are going into directors' and shareholders' pockets.

jezmo1000January 20th 2010.

Been trying to get on the met from sale station recently. I generally turn up just after 8 but have not even been able to board until 4 / 5 trams later due to every tram that passes through been jammed to capacity. the snow has gone now and this situation has barely changed. when it works the speed and convenience of the met is excellent. it just doesnt currently work

slouchJanuary 20th 2010.

What happened to the 'next tram due in...' boards when the 'major improvements' were being carried out? I know they were always sketchy at best but at least gave you a bit of a clue.As someone who lives in Oldham, I'm really looking forward to being without a viable way of getting home from town for the next two years. Even when the line is complete and the trams are running they're going to take longer than the 15 mins the train took!

tblzebraJanuary 20th 2010.

Ask why they've installed the lovely new shelter at Piccadilly Gardens TOO SHORT? Bury/Eccles/Altrincham bound trams pull up right to the end of the platform, meaning people waiting for the front carriage have to wait in the open. Unbelievable.

Jonathan Schofield - editorJanuary 20th 2010.

We're interviewing Andy Morris, Managing Director of Stagecoach Light Rail and Philip Purdy, GMPTE Metrolink’s Director of GMPTE on Wednesday 27 January next week. It's my birthday present to myself. Or theirs to me.

Big bellyJanuary 20th 2010.

Please continue to interrogate Metrolink on why their service is so poor (and expensive). I am a regular commuter and and now pregnant. I used to get really annoyed with late trams, busy trams, machines not taking my money etc., and I still do - but now I am really suffering as well. There are no seats on the Manchester bound platform at Bowker Vale so I have to stand waiting for the (nearly always) late tram. The rain shelters at St. Peter's Square have no sides - so are useless. The trams at peak time are so packed I'm worried that I'm actually at risk of crushing my unborn child. I've arrived home crying more than once due to the stress of it all.I've contacted Metrolink customer services a couple of times but just get a 'we are trying to improve' type of reply, which addresses nothing.What can we all do to get these issues addressed? Peak time overcrowding really is the worst issue. I think I'm going to have to resort to parking at the £3 Boddingtons car park and then walking across town to get to work.

DarrenJanuary 20th 2010.

I find the statement from GMPTE below quite funny."Since the Metrolink network opened, temperatures as low as -15C have never been experienced for such a long period. The extreme temperatures and excessive snow have caused damage to the trams"I can't quite understand why my £14,000 Nissan Note that was built in Sunny Sunderland and developed jointly in even sunnier France and Japan can easily put up with the snow and icy conditions. Yet both the Metrolink and the TGV had major problems in the snow and ice. Considering how much each of these engines cost (Metrolink probably in the £50,000 mark, and TGV probably in excess of £100,000) you'd think they could build an engine that would deal better with a little bit of ice and snow than a £14,000 Nissan!Just wondering does the metrolink tram manufacturer (is it Bombardier?) not make trams for any other country? How come the Swedish tram systems don't get damaged with a little bit of snow and ice?As for customer service I got so annoyed with them when I pressed the customer service button and it took 5 minutes for someone to actually answer, by which time the tram had arrived and I'd asked the driver and had to get on quickly leaving the operator hanging on the end of the line or miss the tram to tell the operator I'd sorted the problem.

Big bellyJanuary 20th 2010.

Forgot to add that this morning I had the pleasure of standing (all seats full) next to a man drinking a can of lager (it was 9am) and dragging an unruly pit bull terrier type of dog around the carriage. It's my understanding that you shouldn't have dogs (unless guide dogs) or drink alcohol on trams. But who is there to enforce these rules - no-one!

AnonymousJanuary 20th 2010.

Metrolink is worse than the railway trains it replaced - at least as far the Altrincham line goes.And you could take your bike on the old trains.

MattJanuary 20th 2010.

The point is tha, the press officer can't be held responsible - who is their boss/head of communications/marketing/whatever and why hasn't he/she got a proper grip on how they communicate - both to passengers on platforms and to Manchester Confidential? Massive overhaul required....

johnthebriefJanuary 20th 2010.

Why did half my post above disappear?

YoungJanuary 20th 2010.

Stagecoach = pirates.They will not ever accept criticism, even constructive, and their standard response is seek out another transport provider, even where they hold a monopoly.

AnonymousJanuary 20th 2010.

Couldn't agree more. My friend was on the tram when a gang of girls were on it drinking stellas early evening. They then started singing 'rude' songs and swearing alot, an older lady next to him started to lay into them, telling them off etc and went to raise her arm to them when they were abusive to her.... my friend stopped her saying she would be in more trouble etc and to sit down and asked the girls nicely to be quiet. They then verbally abused him. When they got off in a couple of stops they walked past him and emptied their stella tins over him in unison...Nice hey? but, who was there to complain to? Not a soul. Frightening.

thetramsareshiiiteJanuary 20th 2010.

The trams are poor at best. No staff on the trams AND still more expensive than other tram services in other cities. A ticket inspector once described the ticket machines to myself and my missus as 'trailing edge technology'. Now it appears there are no staff in the offices either or on customer services. No staff on platforms is a recipe for disaster - you will no dount wait until someone goes missing from a tram stop on a dark evening before you staff them.i have been 'caught' twice without a ticket and threatened with court proceesings even though i attempted to buy a ticket both times and was unable to due to faulty equipment. (i was once told by the helpline to go to a shop and get some change as the machine wouldnt take my note) i advised them i had attempted to buy a ticket and they should check their CCTV - the first time they said they couldnt as they didnt have film or the ability to check them. I was outraged and the second time i suggested this there ahd obviously been a change in policy as they said there and then on the phone to 'forget it' as 'it wont prove anything' i rang back and was told by a supervisor that i could consider the matter closed as they had seen it on the film. - so they do have film?! or don't? im confused which one? The new trams are awful as well, 3 more seats? thats shocking! no bikes on trams? terrible. I say we boycot the trams altogetheranyone interested? look for '#Tramsareshite' on twitter

Tyson the BeerhoundJanuary 20th 2010.

Fact is, everyone knows that the Metrolink is now a worse service than when it started. By now we should be enjoying a weekday late night service and high tech stations. Instead we are getting expansion to Oldham/Rochdale when the problems with the existing setup are unresolved. It simply boggles the mind that the new trams, after all the hype, only carry 3 more people-and standing at that. It's no use blaming the GMPTE, the blame lies fairly at the door of Stagecoach, a company that was definitely not the prefered choice of the Metro staff when the contract came up. Realistically, without something like the congestion charge-the one that was hated so much on here-but would have at least been a source of revenue, things aren't going to get any better. So whilst it's carthatic to have a rant now and again, please don't be naive and expect any actual improvement.

Eddy RheadJanuary 20th 2010.

"Metrolink is Bobbins" ? - hold the front page! Havent we always known this? No one with any real influence seems able or willing to actually stick their heads above the parapet and say "You know what? - this system is rubbish and we need to sort it out" We are still led to believe that Metrolink is something to be proud of and yet actually its an ill conceived, badly realised and consistently badly run transport 'system'. I'm just glad i dont have the misfortune to have to use this piss poor excuse for public transport on a regular basis (i just have to use the rest of Manchester's piss poor excuse for public transport instead)

BuyacarJanuary 20th 2010.

I'm one one poor unfortunates that has had to put up with the disruption and shameful service over the summer on metrolink (I WALKED from Anchorage 12 times due to suspended services) with the promise of a sparkling new system for November 2009.... only to get this steaming heap of dog poo. So shameful in fact that i've abandoned any notion of being 'green' and bought a car.

DavidJanuary 20th 2010.

I've been head of customer services for a number of companies and would be horrified if I had to put my name to the shameful lack of customer service and communication from Metrolink. During the various issues due to weather I have tried to ring Metrolink customer services literally dozens of times and it's either continually engaged or continually ringing out. It's simply unacceptable. Metrolink need to recognise that if their team is too small to deal with demand - they need a bigger team. Or - invest in a simple IVR - you can then change messages in seconds and customers can be informed by ringing without even speaking to staff member. Or - a simple text update service so I know the state of play before schleping to the station. Not rocket science is it ? Embrace modernity and see it as an investment to public advocacy and not extra cost to Metrolink.Finally - have to just add that I was on the platform a couple of weeks ago where an announcement was being made over the tannoy saying there was a 12 minute delay. At the same time a colleague standing next to me (who had miraculously managed to get through to the customer service line) was told a tram had failed at the next stop and nobody would be going anywhere !!!!!! Priceless. Shame on Metrolink management.

twitterrageJanuary 20th 2010.

if your unhappy with metrolink - lets garner support via twitter. tweet #metrolink or '#Tramsareshite'

AnonymousJanuary 20th 2010.

what consideration is given to passengers with disabilities? i've not noticed any. i have mobility issues and when ticket machines have been broken i have been told all i can do is walk to the next stop! this is a big problem with stagecoach buses too - so many times the driver does not wait for me to sit down before moving on, also staff are often rude when i am clearly struggling to get on or off.

RichardJanuary 20th 2010.

How about asking some decent questions to Stagecoach:-1. Why aren't the new ticket machines installed at Altrincham2. Why do the securicor guys empty the machines at rush hour3. Why don't you run double trams at peak times4. Why is it so expensive for such a shite service5. Why don't you go and study a decent transport system in Germany or Switzerland and try to replicate it????

AnonymousJanuary 20th 2010.

Waited at Heaton Park station with some Metrolink staff who rang through to see how long the delay would be and to ask if a announcement could be made. The control refused. Trams heading into twon but nothing coming up to Bury.Finally a tram came, a new one - not in service. The staff rang again and were told that the tram was running up to Bury to fill in the gaps in the service - no-one could understand why the tram couldn't pick up passengers as it went. Eventually an announcement that a tram was leaving Piccadilly!!!Its a total mystery why when even running a 12 minute service, a tram cannot run every 12 mins, after all, its not as if they are in a jam.

lets_hit_em_where_it_hurtsJanuary 20th 2010.

'metrolinkispoor' is our new metrolink boycott twitter account

tblzebraJanuary 20th 2010.

In answer to Helen - I only ever have cash on me to buy my ticket, when I speak to customer services. The answer to 'have you got a credit or debit card' on you is always no.

AnonymousJanuary 20th 2010.

I now rarely use the Metrolink due to the poor unreliable service (rather use the car!). I used it on Sat this week and watched several inspectors "catch" young male fare evaders and just ask them to get off rather than taking their details. It was obvious they were just going to get on the next one! It crossed my mind that they were scared to challenge them and I wondered if they would behave the same way with a young woman/child or someone who genuinely had problems getting a ticket.

AnonymousJanuary 20th 2010.

I recently helped a blind gentleman down to the piccadilly station metrolink platform. I realised that the machines actually have no brail on them so helped him get a ticket. There are no announcements about what trams are coming and no metrolink staff on the platform so I then waited with him so he could get the correct tram. Metrolink need to sort this out too.

JacquiJanuary 20th 2010.

what happened to the brief appearance of the new trams? If the old trams have been damaged during the snow, where are the new ones that were spotted some time ago....Customer Service is appalling - website wasn't kept up to date during snow and ice, meaning you'd get to the station thinking there was a normal service to find out there wasn't any. Phone lines permanently engaged. If there was another option I'd take it.

HelenJanuary 20th 2010.

tblzebra - lucky you if you phone up and get given a free code to travel. When I phone up because the machines aren't working they make me pay with my card over the phone, security number and everything.

AnonymousJanuary 20th 2010.

Anyone experiencing delays of over 30mins are entitled to a refund. A letter should be sent to Metrolink Customer Services including a copy of the ticket. In the last 6 months I've received over £30 in vouchers!!

danJanuary 20th 2010.

I got so annoyed of the lack of announcements about delays etc I made a twitter.com/manc_metrolinkHowever…, Metrolink could do a much better job themselves.It seems their customer services are too busy answering phones to people asking about delays when the people are ringing up because nobody has made an announcement because they're too busy answering phones!

tblzebra sorryJanuary 20th 2010.

Editorial: we were messing about in the back office and deleted your comment correcting the mistake you'd spotted.

srp973January 20th 2010.

Integrated Transport System.......I don't think so......concert at the MEN before Xmas on a Sunday.....concert finishes at 1045, last trams out of Victoria 1040.When asked why they surely couldn't lay a special on after, just a shrug of the shoulders from the Customer Service Team........

TomJanuary 20th 2010.

I'll echo Anon's comments above and say well done for keeping at them, but I can't see anything changing in the long term. I'm shocked about the new trams only fitting a few more people in. Another waste of money! I was so disillusioned with the service that I upped sticks from Altrincham for the city centre, as saving £80 a month and having a 15 minute walk to work was far more preferable!

NoMoreInsideJobsJanuary 20th 2010.

Why dont they put on more trams when there is a concert on at Lancashire Cricket Club ?Clueless idiots.

AnonymousJanuary 20th 2010.

Odd this. Stagecoach run the system. Why did you not ask them. They might know the answers. Ha ha

theresalwaysoneisntthere?January 20th 2010.

Anonymous - the internet posting police

AnonymousJanuary 20th 2010.

If they put as much effort into running a decent service as they do into assembling aggressive bunches of ticket inspectors we'd have a marvellous system!

lets_hit_em_where_it_hurtsJanuary 20th 2010.

'metrolinkispoor' is our new metrolink boycott twitter account

curious orangeJanuary 20th 2010.

Railway John, can you answer me something. I often see people use 'witty' variations on 'Nu Labour', 'New LieBore' etc... what exactly is your point of changing the spelling of 'New'... what is the clever jokey joke pun there? I'm not picking an argument, you're spot on about about the govt treatment of the railways.

GrimUpNorthJanuary 20th 2010.

Having lived in Zurich for 7 years there is no comparison between its first class tram system and Manchester's. Many of its trams are much older, and go slower but you can set your watch by them. I would never attempt to take a tram from St Peters square if I was rushing for a London train at Piccadilly. In Zurich I never missed a long distance train because of a delayed tram. Zurich's trams are one of the main reasons why the city is one of Europe's most successful. Manchester, for all its boasting, remains a third rate Europe city when it comes to a decent transport system.

thetramsareshiiiteJanuary 20th 2010.

i agree with you 100% there is no one to check anything.i once saw (and reported) blood splatters all over the drivers door. It was still there two days later. who is going to argue with the dog? but a bike?

grrrrrrrJanuary 20th 2010.

+1 for slouch's comment - aren't passenger information boards an absolutely basic requirement? We have them for buses for ****s sake - who on earth decided to remove them as part of the "upgrade"? After 6 months using Munich's flawless public transport system it's an embarrasment to see what Manchester has to offer.

NHJanuary 20th 2010.

In the past Metrolink would at least respond to formal complaints, and when relevant, reimburse the fare.Seems this got knocked on the head as soon as the tracks were fixed. Is a Customer Charter too much to expect?

EugeneJanuary 20th 2010.

I am sure this has been asked before, but WHY won't they adopt on-tram ticket inspectors as per the stagecoach run sheffield service? It is superior and more pleasurable. I recognise that it is a smaller city with less demand but they have always had that. It reduces the fare evasion, makes the trams safer (esepcially for the old people, lone travellers and people with kids) AND eliminates the problems with the ticket machines.I acknowledge that they wouldn't get round the trams at the moment but thats because they don't want to put enough services on.Thanks, ManCon

lets_hit_em_where_it_hurtsJanuary 20th 2010.

i cant use a computer is why

lets_hit_em_where_it_hurtsJanuary 20th 2010.

metrolinkispoor is our new metrolink boycott

VanDonkJanuary 20th 2010.

My mother once said to me `"Good public transport is the opiate of the people"It took me years to understand this seemingly bizarre statement. And no, it didn't require recreational use of smack!Badly run, overpriced, overcrowded transport = ANGRY people (and employers)Efficient, affordable and reliable buses/trains/trams = HAPPY(er?!) people

DaveJanuary 20th 2010.

The drivers don't seem to operate with any discretion - or common sense - at all. Like when someone has clearly just bought a ticket, is waiting for the crappy machine to produce the ticket after feeding the same pound coin in 30 times, and would delay the tram by about 5 seconds, instead of being forced to wait another 20 on a cold platform. Unless their training insists that they should behave as they do?

AnonymousJanuary 20th 2010.

Good grief. I hope all the Oldham councillors who were so all-fire keen to replace the established, flexible, interoperable Oldham Loop line with this rubbish are happy. But I think you will find that so long as Stagecoach are making a packet we can all whistle for announcements, trams that wait for connecting passengers, or indeed anything whatever that doesn't make the commercial operator more money. Seriously folks, if you want anyone to care, the commercial operators' pockets have to be *seriously* affected by levels of customer satisfaction, and that's something no politician will want to tackle.

Railway JohnJanuary 20th 2010.

Well, Curious, ol' bean, nothing more than my little dig at a party that's supposed to be more about socialism than it is about image. They can call themselves what they want as far as I'm concerned - I wasn't going to waste precious time looking for more puntastic ways of spleen-venting. Socialism? You'd have thought that a great transport system would have been one of their goals rather than crass class-war-ism (banning fox-hunting) and self-enrichment. Oh, and pathetically trying to cling to power. They make me sick. And now we have the clueless Tories as a counter-weight. Oh, my God...

AnonymousJanuary 20th 2010.

Thanks ManchesterConfidential.Sadly all questions just not being asked by the Manchester Evening News anymore. Which I'm sure pleases GMPTE???(Evening is now a bit of a misnomer in their title, how long before Manchester is too?)

Jonathan Schofield - editorJanuary 25th 2010.

You're right Anon. We've been distracted by the launch. Apologies. The interview will be up tomorrow.

Tram hashJanuary 25th 2010.

Interview them to within an inch of their lives Schofield.

TracyFebruary 1st 2010.

Trams are working ok at the moment I reckon.

Eddie JacksonFebruary 1st 2010.

Now you have this new system, why do people rant under the title 'anonymous'?

AnonymousFebruary 1st 2010.

Now that you have this new system, why is nothing behind the paywall? Oh, apart from the story re Wetherspoons in Didsbury that was actually free to view last week.

AnonymousFebruary 1st 2010.

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