Is it time to rethink the Manchester Metrolink map?

A tram. Note the lack of letter telling you which route it's on. Image: Getty.

This is the official map of Manchester's Metrolink light rail network. It's horrible, but, click to expand it if you want to suffer:

It currently shows 11 different routes, every one of them in grey. Consequently, it's not obvious if there are direct trams between any two points on the network.

Let's say you want to get between Withington to Clayton Hall. To work out how you'd do it, you need to look at East Didsbury, to find out which trams serve Withington (C, H and K); then look at Ashton-under-Lyne to find out which trams serve Clayton Hall (E). There’s no direct tram between them.

So, you need to work out where to change. To do that, you need to look at where route E goes because it's easier to track one route than it is three.

Tram E runs to Eccles. So you look to see where it meets routes C, H and K – St Peter's Square, Deansgate-Castle-field and Cornbrook – and change at one of those stops.

By the time you've done all that you've missed your tram.

Not that you'd have noticed, because the letters used on this map aren't used on either trams or destination boards anyway.

Is there a better way? Well, London's famous tube map uses colour to show you, at a glance, which routes serve which stations.

The problem with replicating this in Manchester is that routes share tracks so much of the time. The core of the network is that Cornbrook-St Peter's Square section. Almost every line on the network serves that (route I doesn't; routes F and K both stop halfway along). Showing that section in 10 different colours is obviously impractical.

But what if, instead of showing every line in a different colour, the map coloured the various routes based on the path they took via the city centre?

Once the Second City Crossing (2CC) opens, there will be four different routes across central Manchester:

  • via Cornbrook and Piccadilly;
  • via Cornbrook, Market Street and Victoria;
  • via Cornbrook, Exchange Square and Victoria;
  • via Piccadilly and Victoria.

Here's another take on the central bit of the map, showing each of those routes as a separate line. We only spent an hour on it, so it’s messy, and it doesn’t show the whole network. Doing it properly would have taken rather longer than an hour.

But a map like this would make it at least a bit easier to see where you tram was going. On a branch served by red trams, trying to get to a stop served only by green or blue ones? Change at St Peter’s Square. Easy.

This system wouldn't be perfect. Many of the suburban branches would show routes in multiple colours (a bit like the northern side of London's Circle line). It also makes no allowance for trams that terminate in the city centre. Some of these routes will presumably extend across town once 2CC opens. Others may not.

And maps with coloured lines aren't great for one particular minority of transport users: those with colour-blindness. Making the map accessible to this group, Metrolink has said in the past, was the whole point of abandoning coloured lines in the first place.

But something of this sort would surely be an improvement on the current suffusion of grey.

(Thanks to Richard Gadsden for pointing all this out and inspiring us to make the map.)

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.

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Community-powered policies should be at the top of Westminster’s to do list

A generic election picture. Image: Getty.

Over the past five decades, political and economic power has become increasingly concentrated in the UK’s capital. Communities feel ignored or alienated by a politics that feels distant and unrepresentative of their daily experiences.

Since the EU referendum result it has become something of a cliché to talk about how to respond to the sense of powerlessness felt by too many people. The foundations of our economy have been shifted by Brexit, technology and deindustrialisation – and these have shone a light on a growing divergence in views and values across geographies and generations. They are both a symptom and cause of the breakdown of the ties that traditionally brought people together.

As the country goes through seismic changes in its outlook, politics and economy, it is clear that a new way of doing politics is needed. Empowering people to take control over the things that affect their daily lives cannot be done from the top down.

Last week, the Co-operative Party launched our policy platform for the General Election – the ideas and priorities we hope to see at the top of the next Parliament’s to do list. We have been the voice for co-operative values and principles in the places where decisions are made and laws are made. As co-operators, we believe that the principles that lie behind successful co‑operatives – democratic control by customers and workers, and a fair share of the wealth we create together – ought to extend to the wider economy and our society. As Labour’s sister party, we campaign for a government that puts these shared values into practice.

Our policy platform has community power at its heart, because the co-operative movement, founded on shop floors and factory production lines, knows that power should flow from the bottom up. Today, this principle holds strong – decisions are best made by the people impacted the most by them, and services work best when the service users have a voice. Our policy platform is clear: this means shifting power from Whitehall to local government, but it also means looking beyond the town hall. Co-operative approaches are about placing power directly in the hands of people and communities.

There are many great examples of Co-operative councillors and local communities taking the lead on this. Co-operative councils like Oldham and Plymouth have pioneered new working relationships with residents, underpinned by a genuine commitment to working with communities rather than merely doing things to them.

Building a fairer future is, by definition, a bottom-up endeavour. Oldham, Plymouth and examples like the Elephant Project in Greater Manchester, where people with experience of disadvantage are involved in decision-making, or buses in Witney run by Co-operative councillors and the local community – are the building blocks of creating a better politics and a fairer economy.

This thread runs through our work over the last few years on community wealth building too – keeping wealth circulating in local economies through growing the local co-operative sector. Worker-owned businesses thriving at the expense of global corporate giants and private outsourcers. Assets owned by communities – from pubs to post offices to rooftop solar panels.

And it runs through our work in Westminster too – with Co-operative MPs and peers calling for parents, not private business, to own and run nurseries; for the stewards of our countryside to be farmers rather than big landowners; and for workers to have a stake in their workplaces and a share of the profit.

Far from being ignored, as suggested in last week’s article on community power, our work has never been more relevant and our co-operative voice is louder than ever.

Anna Birley is policy offer at the Co-operative party.