For a brief period this afternoon the sun came out in Manchester. Piccadilly Gardens was filled with young children playing in the fountains, city centre vagrants swigging cider on benches and local office workers lounging on the lawn; and only a few meters away six of the city’s metro-link trams were also basking in the mid-day heat.
The inner-city light rail network ground to a halt as one of Transport For Greater Manchester’s (TfGM) fleet apparently failed to cope with the unusually clement weather. Although the delay was brief, it would have been an unwelcome inconvenience for all passengers, particularly those stuck on board in these temperatures.
Light rail is a wonderful form of public transport when done correctly, it’s cleaner than buses and quieter than trains and provides a nostalgic connection between Victorian tourist towns and modern cities. Greater Manchester will soon have the largest tram network in the United Kingdom when the expansion to Didsbury, Ashton, Oldham, Rochdale and Manchester Airport is completed in the summer of 2016. But will this planned expansion make the region overly reliant on this form of transport?
Whilst the cities trams have generally been reliable and punctual, any breakdowns or incidents generally create a much longer delay than similar incidents for buses. Trams can’t be moved to one side and with dual road and rail lines in the city centre, any incidences also have a huge impact on road using traffic. Stagecoach, who are contracted to operate the Metro-link networks have recently upgraded the fleet of trams, but there still appears to be a shortage of carriages at peak times, making commuting a very uncomfortable experience. There is also a lack of vision in terms of a truly joined up transport initiative for the area, a persistent unwillingness to allow cyclists onto trams shows a lack of understanding on issues preventing car drivers from abandoning their vehicles. The trams are also a relatively costly form of transport compared to alternative methods and don’t have the same number of concessionary discounts as buses or trains, which has a greater impact on those social groups who are most reliant on public transport such as the young and the elderly.
Over the next 5 years far more of Greater Manchester will become accessible by tram as the Metro-link expansion continues apace, I hope that this isn’t at the expense of other equally important forms of public transport or to the detriment of cycling as a method of commuting. I’d like to think that it’s all part of a much wider transport initiative for Greater Manchester and will eventually give rise to a London-esque Oyster card system. Time will tell.