Tram to East Didsbury – a net detriment to Society

Today was opened a 2.7 mile tram link. The plush new trams will transport people to the centre of Manchester in 25 minutes. For those who normally take the car, there is a large car park, meaning people do not have to endure up to sixty minutes of heavy traffic congestion and then to face exorbitant city-centre car parking charges. For people normally taking the bus, there is a similar time saving, and a much more pleasant ride. Further the route goes via Chorlton, a route that is only served with public transport by a painfully slow bus at any time of day. People who do not use public transport now will start doing so. People who already use public transport have a much superior option.

So how on earth, with all these positives can I claim that this fantastic new tram is to the net detriment of society?

Within 400 metres of East Didsbury tram station is East Didsbury railway station. To Manchester it takes 12 minutes, half the time of the tram. Off peak by train is around £2.50, as against £3.80 tram cost I was quoted at 8pm when I took the photograph.

The bridge in the background is of the A34 Kingsway. Less than 50 metres away is a stop for the 50 bus into Manchester. 100 metres left of shot is East Didsbury Bus station. In between on Didsbury Road is a bus stop for buses from Stockport going through towards Altrincham, Chorlton and also North through Didsbury, Withington, Rusholme into Manchester. The Withington to Manchester bus corridor is probably the busiest in Europe, mostly due to serving two large University campuses. The tram route is useless to the students.

Then there is the cost. A weekly ticket on the tram to Manchester is £21.00. An annual ticket is £800.00. This compares with £12.50 for a weekly bus ticket. For students, Stagecoach (the dominant bus company) provide an unlimited travel ticket for £60.00 a term, equivalent to £5.00 to £7.50 per week.

But the biggest costs are to society as a whole. In December 10th 2008 there was a referendum in Greater Manchester on a package of measures to improve public transport, paid for by a congestion charge. There was a huge, publicly-funded website called “”. The most expensive item Although the website is now suspended, thanks to the Wayback Machine, the claims can be charted. Most important amongst the claims was

FACT: There’s no Plan B. If we vote NO in December the money goes back to Government, all £3 billion of it.

I wrote on 09/11/08, a full month before the referendum:-

… is a false statement, as the total investment is less than £2.8bn, including £313m for the congestion charge investment. The central government is only providing, £1.5bn of this, £1.2bn is to be funded by the congestion charge and £100m is from other sources. The full £2.8bn includes contingencies, so will only be “achieved” if there is an overspend.

Anyway, the full and permanent withdrawal of the £1.5bn funding may not occur. The Prime Minister, in a response to a question tabled by Manchester Withington MP John Leech, said “If Greater Manchester came back with a revised proposition, we would need to assess it on its merits.”

Just six months later the decision was made to go ahead with the scheme. Maybe you can excuse a Government trying to cajole people into making people decide in the general interest. But they commissioned a detailed study which relied upon a congestion charge to force large sections of the community from private to public transport. That the people who would be forced to switch would be those currently only just able to afford the luxury of private transport, or that the figures ignored empirical economic evidence that undermined their case are beside the point. What is important is that the wider economic validity of the case for an expanded Metrolink to East Didsbury relied upon the “stick” of the congestion charge. Without that “stick”, the costs of the Metrolink extensions are significantly greater than the benefits, so society as a whole is worse off than if the money had never been spent. The Labour Party would have known this if they had read and interpreted the report they commissioned. Yet the spin doctors put Labour Party interest before the interest of the wider society and ploughed on regardless. If a GP had done this in regard to a patient they would have been struck off. If a business director had put personal interest before the interests of the company they would have been disqualified, with all costs falling upon them personally. But when a political party tries to hang onto power by favouring voters in areas where they are strong, or marginals where they are a close second, at the expense of the country at large, then this is not viewed as a moral issue. I beg to differ. Political decisions have wide implications. Our political masters should seek the net betterment of society as a whole. In the case of the Metrolink extensions we have a lovely service that will never justify the original outlay of £1.6 billion, but the long-term passenger revenues may not cover the operating costs, whilst custom taken away from the trains will increase subsidies and/or reduce services in that area along with bus services being diminished that currently run without subsidy.

East Australia High Speed Rail – Opening Comments

Bernd Felsche has been blogging recently on proposals for a High Speed Rail project for Eastern Australia. The details and Phase 1 report are here.

In Britain there has recently been approved a HSR project from London to Birmingham, costing at least £17.1bn (A$26.7bn) for just 190km of track. The estimated cost of A$61bn to A$108bn for around 1644km looks remarkably good value in comparison. However, it is worth studying the underlying assumptions.

The Taxpayers Alliance has made a number of damming criticisms of the UK project. In particular that the actual costs could be nearly three times the estimated if supporting infrastructure improvements are taken into account. Having also looked at the Manchester Congestion Charging Scheme in 2008, I thought it might be worth a perusal.

The basis for the project is the projected demand, so my first comments are population and demand levels.

Initial Thoughts on Population

The study assumes a high level of population growth for Australia as a whole. From the current 23m, population is forecast to be between 30 and 40m in 2056. That is growth of 30% to 74% over 45 years. Taking the mid-point, that is 52.2% growth to 35m. East Australia is forecast to grow 58.3% from 17.8m to 28.2m, leaving growth in the rest of Australia of 30.7% (5.2 to 6.8m).

Map from page iii of Executive Summary, annotated with city population growth projections for 2011 to 2056.

The highest growth in population (using Australian Bureau of Statistics, Population Projections Australia 2006 – 2101, 2008 (Series B forecasts updated)) is projected to be in the Brisbane area. Given that this is the least populated end of the line, these population projections need to be put through a sensitivity analysis. With much lower projections for South East Queensland growth it could be that the northern stretch of the line and one third the estimated cost is not economically justified.

Passenger Growth

From the Executive Summary page iv

The population of the east coast states and territory of Australia is forecast to increase from 18 million people in 2011 to 28 million people by 2056. Over 100 million long distance trips are made on the east coast of Australia each year, and this is forecast to grow to 264 million long-distance trips over the next 45 years.

So population will grow by 58% and long distance trips by 164%. By 2036 (with 35% growth in population), they will have grabbed half the project air market in 2036 for Melbourne to Sydney and Brisbane to Sydney. With such a huge capital outlay how can this be?

Capital Cost

From the Executive Summary

International experience suggests it is unrealistic to expect the capital cost of a HSR network to be recovered.

The reason that the projected fares look so cheap, so that there is not going to be any recovery of the costs in fares. So the

competitive ticket prices, with one way fares (in $2011) from Brisbane to Sydney costing $75–$177; Sydney to Melbourne $99–$197; and $16.50 for daily commuters between Newcastle and Sydney

are no such thing. A quick check on single flights from Melbourne to Sydney reveals prices of $125 economy and $850 business. The HSR will be financed out of taxation to grab market share from air travel.

Kevin Marshall

Why Labour has not the Courage to cut Public Expenditure

18 months ago, I voted on the Congestion Charge. I went into the ballot box having been promised  

 ‘There’s no Plan B. If we vote NO in December the money goes back to Government, all £3 billion of it.’

  See wevoteyes facts 09 Nov 08

I was one of the 812,815 who voted against, a staggering 78.8% of the votes cast.

Depite this promise, six  months later Manchester gets the Metro extensions – the big ticket item. Costing £1.4bn. South Manchester Reporter had the story here.


We now have a huge deficit to tackle. If Gordon Brown cannot keep to a firm promise in the face of strong opposition, how resolute will he be on the unspecified commitments to cut the deficit?

 NB the pdf is from This website has now been taken down. For the full story see

Is Lucy Powell the right candidate for Manchester Withington?

Lucy Powell has some of the qualities to make a good politician. In particular she is hard-working and believes in the cause. However, there are two debilitating hurdles she needs to overcome. (see also here)

First, is that she stands for a political party that has undermined public services for a generation. By creating a structural deficit in the boom years, by my estimates, up half the National Debt of £1400bn in 2014 will be due to Labour’s policies, with less than a fifth the hang-over of the world recession.

Second, one of the worst aspects of the present government is failure to admit when their errors and learn from that experience. In the wake of defeat of the Manchester Congestion Charge by 4 to 1, Ms Powell wrote in the Guardian on 12th Dec 2008

 “Even after a big public information campaign, the basic facts of the proposed scheme just didn’t get through. It was a complex set of proposals, which were not readily understood. There remains much confusion and misunderstanding about them.”

I suggest, after an enormous expenditure of public money to vote in favour, people understood exactly what was proposed. Though only 20% of adults would have paid the charge, there were loads of voters who know someone who would be. Like donating to disaster relief, lots of people sacrificed a little to help a minority a lot. It would be a mark of political maturity for Ms Powell to recognise this aspect.

Update – Ms Powell’s strong support for the congestion charge caused her to make a little video.