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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As EU funding is lost, “levelling up” needs investment, not just rhetoric

Oh, well. Image: Getty.

Regional inequality was the foundation of Boris Johnson’s election victory and has since become one of the main focuses of his government. However, the enthusiasm of ministers championing the “levelling up” agenda rings hollow when compared with their inertia in preparing a UK replacement for European structural funding. 

Local government, already bearing the brunt of severe funding cuts, relies on European funding to support projects that boost growth in struggling local economies and help people build skills and find secure work. Now that the UK has withdrawn its EU membership, councils’ concerns over how EU funds will be replaced from 2021 are becoming more pronounced.

Johnson’s government has committed to create a domestic structural funding programme, the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF), to replace the European Structural and Investment Fund (ESIF). However, other than pledging that UKSPF will “reduce inequalities between communities”, it has offered few details on how funds will be allocated. A public consultation on UKSPF promised by May’s government in 2018 has yet to materialise.

The government’s continued silence on UKSPF is generating a growing sense of unease among councils, especially after the failure of successive governments to prioritise investment in regional development. Indeed, inequalities within the UK have been allowed to grow so much that the UK’s poorest region by EU standards (West Wales & the Valleys) has a GDP of 68 per cent of the average EU GDP, while the UK’s richest region (Inner London) has a GDP of 614 per cent of the EU average – an intra-national disparity that is unique in Europe. If the UK had remained a member of the EU, its number of ‘less developed’ regions in need of most structural funding support would have increased from two to five in 2021-27: South Yorkshire, Tees Valley & Durham and Lincolnshire joining Cornwall & Isles of Scilly and West Wales & the Valley. Ministers have not given guarantees that any region, whether ‘less developed’ or otherwise, will obtain the same amount of funding under UKSPF to which they would have been entitled under ESIF.

The government is reportedly contemplating changing the Treasury’s fiscal rules so public spending favours programmes that reduce regional inequalities as well as provide value for money, but this alone will not rebalance the economy. A shared prosperity fund like UKSPF has the potential to be the master key that unlocks inclusive growth throughout the country, particularly if it involves less bureaucracy than ESIF and aligns funding more effectively with the priorities of local people. 

In NLGN’s Community Commissioning report, we recommended that this funding should be devolved to communities directly to decide local priorities for the investment. By enabling community ownership of design and administration, the UK government would create an innovative domestic structural funding scheme that promotes inclusion in its process as well as its outcomes.

NLGN’s latest report, Cultivating Local Inclusive Growth: In Practice, highlights the range of policy levers and resources that councils can use to promote inclusive growth in their area. It demonstrates that, through collaboration with communities and cross-sector partners, councils are already doing sterling work to enhance economic and social inclusion. Their efforts could be further enhanced with a fund that learns lessons from ESIF’s successes and flaws: a UKSPF that is easier to access, designed and delivered by local communities, properly funded, and specifically targeted at promoting social and economic inclusion in regions that need it most. “Getting Brexit done” was meant to free up the government’s time to focus once more on pressing domestic priorities. “Getting inclusive growth done” should be at the top of any new to-do list.

Charlotte Morgan is senior researcher at the New Local Government Network.