After last year’s blip, when there was a small decrease in light rail journeys in England, the latest figures have shown that once again there has been an increase with a grand total of 272.4 million journeys recorded on the eight qualifying systems – an increase of 1.9%. All systems with the exception of London Tramlink and Stagecoach Supertram saw increases with the largest percentage rise being on Manchester Metrolink (6.1%), although for some systems it was a very marginal rise.
The eight systems covered by this data are the Blackpool Tramway, Docklands Light Railway, London Tramlink, Manchester Metrolink, Nottingham Express Transit, Stagecoach Supertram, Tyne and Wear Metro and West Midlands Metro. Although not covered by the main data the Department for Transport have also released information on Edinburgh Trams (plus London Underground and Glasgow Subway) which shows no change despite the fact they don’t match figures released by the City of Edinburgh Council.
Whilst the overall picture is a pleasing reflection on how crucial light rail has become to the public transport offering in this country (especially within London with the two London systems accounting for over 55% of all journeys recorded) these latest figures do suggest a certain degree of stagnation and saturation with the number of passengers which can be carried on the systems without significant increases in either trams, lines or in some cases both.
Stagecoach Supertram has recorded its lowest passenger numbers since 2015/6 whilst London Tramlink’s decrease is also continuing a downward trajectory seen since 2016/7. Meanwhile, there have been very small changes in Blackpool (weather will always be a factor there as a seaside tramway but the data may suggest it has reached a high until major changes to the service or additional attractions in the town) and the Tyne and Wear Metro (reliability is bound to be an issue here along with continued infrastructure improvements).
The DLR is once again by far the busiest system across the country (121.8m journeys out of the total of 272.4 million recorded on that system) outside of London it remains the fact that Manchester Metrolink as the market leader with 43.7m passenger journeys recorded – also making it the busiest “tram” system as opposed to “light rail”. Keeping with the positive both Metrolink and Nottingham Express Transit have reached a high in their passenger numbers; something which will hopefully continue for many years to come!
As this article usually ends up just talking figures (not really that much of a surprise considering it is about numbers!) this year we’ve presented the information below differently taking each system in isolation with the main data presented:
Passenger journeys 2018/9 – 5.2m (increase of 0.3% from 5.2m)
Its always difficult to compare and contrast Blackpool as it is a very different tramway and place since these records began in 1983/4. However, we will try! The highest number of passengers recorded was 6.2m in 1983/4, 1985/6 and 1986/7. Since hitting a low of 1.1m in 2011/2 there have been increases in each year since.
Vehicle miles 2018/9 – 0.6m (increase of 0.1%)
Passenger revenue 2018/9 – 6.8m (decrease of 0.7%)
In the release each system has provided some commentary to explain discrepancies in their data from the previous year. Every system except Blackpool that is! Maybe because there has been so little change? Whilst there is a percentage increase the actual figure of passengers hasn’t increased when presented in millions.
Docklands Light Railway
Passenger journeys 2018/9 – 121.8m (increase of 1.2% from 119.6m)
Highest figures recorded were in 2016/7 when 122.3m journeys were taken
Vehicle miles 2018/9 – 3.8m (increase of 0.4%)
Passenger revenue 2018/9 – 176.5m (increase of 0.7%)
The previous year had seen two days of industrial action and with improved weather in 2018/9 both these factors are said to have led to higher passenger numbers.
Passenger journeys 2018/9 – 28.7m (decrease of 1.3% from 29.1m)
Highest figures recorded were in 2013/4 when 31.2m journeys were taken
Vehicle miles 2018/9 – 2.0m (decrease of 4.0%)
Passenger revenue 2018/9 – 23.5m (decrease of 4.2%)
The fall in vehicle mileage has been put down to the closure of part of the network for six days following a warehouse fire alongside the tramway on the Wimbledon branch. The introduction of a new timetable in February 2018 will also have affected number of miles operated (whilst over a year ago the figures for last year only featured this revised timetable for a month or so).
Passenger journeys 2018/9 – 43.7m (increase of 6.1% from 41.2m)
This is the highest number of passenger journeys recorded since opening. Passenger numbers have now increased every year from 2011/2 onwards. However, a change in recording passenger numbers from 2010/1 means figures from beforehand aren’t directly comparable.
Vehicle miles 2018/9 – 8.0m (increase of 10.5%)
Passenger revenue 2018/9 – 82.1m (increase of 8.0%)
Continued service improvements (including extension of the service from MediaCityUK to Etihad Campus to Ashton in January 2019) and a general increase in people using the existing service have helped to contribute to these ever increasing rises.
Nottingham Express Transit
Passenger journeys 2018/9 – 18.8m (increase of 5.7% from 17.8m)
This is the highest number of passenger journeys recorded since opening. Passenger numbers have now increased every year from 2013/4 onwards.
Vehicle miles 2018/9 – 1.9m (increase of 1.4%)
Passenger revenue 2018/9 – 20.6m (increase of 5.8%)
Fewer trackworks and less service disruption led to increased fleet mileage. There has been a continued growth in patronage ever since the new lines opened which has been helped by the increased use of park and ride sites alongside commuting by students during term time and by people travelling to and from the Queen’s Medical Centre.
Passenger journeys 2018/9 – 11.9m (decrease of 3.1% from 12.3m)
Highest figures recorded were in 2008/9, 2010/1, 2011/2 when 15.0m journeys were taken. The 11.9m journeys taken this year is the lowest since 2015/6 (11.6m).
Vehicle miles 2018/9 – 1.6m (increase of 8.0%)
Passenger revenue 2018/9 – 14.0m (decrease of 1.3%)
Whilst the latter part of the period saw the opening of the Tram-Train pilot to Rotherham Parkgate the figures have seen a decrease with the commentary putting this down to the continued rail replacement works (likely to also affect next year’s figures).
Tyne and Wear Metro
Passenger journeys 2018/9 – 36.4m (increase of 0.1% from 36.4m)
Highest figures recorded were in 2009/10 when 40.8m journeys were recorded
Vehicle miles 2018/9 – 3.4m (increase of 0.8%)
Passenger revenue 2018/9 – 51.9m (increase of 0.1%)
Ongoing modernisation work is said to have affected these figures although despite this no major changes in passengers were recorded.
West Midlands Metro
Passenger journeys 2018/9 – 5.9m (increase of 2.5% from 5.7m)
Highest figures recorded were in 2016/7 when 6.2m journeys were taken
Vehicle miles 2018/9 – 1.1m (increase of 2.0%)
Passenger revenue 2018/9 – 10.7m (increase of 7.3%)
The data suggests that the increases can be partly put down to the transfer of operation to Midland Metro Limited (possibly especially the passenger revenue increases with all fares now going straight back to the West Midlands Metro.
Overall across all eight systems 272.4m journeys were taken which is the highest number ever recorded with 2017/8’s figure being at 267.2m.
Although not part of the main data figures have also been given for Edinburgh Trams although their timing does mean they don’t match those already given in the Scottish capital. A recent announcement said that 2018 saw 7.3m passenger journeys but the figures for 2018/9 give that figure as 7.5m – the exact same figure as 2017/8 whereas Edinburgh Trams have said there was a 10% increase! Other figures for Edinburgh include £15.7m passenger revenue (down from £15.9m) and 0.9m vehicle miles (same as last year).
With further tramway extensions to come in the next few years (Blackpool, Manchester Metrolink, West Midlands Metro) and the end of track maintenance elsewhere (Sheffield, Tyne and Wear) hopefully the next few years will see even higher increases in passengers.
* The full data can be downloaded from the Department for Transport website.