Conductors mean safer trams, say Liberal Democrats

The Leader of the Opposition and of the Liberal Democrat Group, Councillor Howard Sykes MBE, is proposing a motion to the next full meeting of Oldham Council (Wednesday 7 November) calling on the Council to support the elected members of Shaw and Crompton who are campaigning for the introduction of conductors on the Rochdale – Oldham Metrolink line.  The motion is seconded by Councillor Sykes’ Shaw Ward colleague Hazel Gloster.

Councillor Sykes, who also serves as a member of the Transport for Greater Manchester Committee representing Oldham Council, is adamant that the introduction of conductors will not only make tram travel safer for passengers, but it will make a major contribution to reducing fare evasion on the line.

The Rochdale – Oldham line is the worst for violent and criminal incidents of any route in the Metrolink network and at least one-in-eight passengers is estimated to fail to pay for a ticket so Councillor Sykes was bitterly disappointed that the Leader of Oldham Council, Councillor Sean Fielding, failed to back his call at the September Council meeting and hopes that the motion will give Labour the chance to reconsider its position.

Commenting Councillor Sykes said:  “Safety and fare evasion on the tram are issues that both concern and annoy a great many of my constituents and those of my colleagues in Crompton.  Shaw and Crompton is the busiest stop on the Rochdale – Oldham line and many people, especially those who are elderly or vulnerable, are now fearful of travelling on the tram, even though this is the most frequent, reliable and convenient form of public transport into Oldham, Rochdale or Manchester. Passengers have the right to expect to be able to wait or travel safely on the tram, without being subjected to criminal or loutish behaviour.  In addition, law-abiding passengers who pay for a ticket expect to see regular ticket inspections take place to ensure that others who should do so, do so.”

“Following several recent violent incidents on the line, an operation was mounted involving Metrolink staff, Police Officers and our Council’s Youth Engagement Officers in tackling this blight, and thirteen offenders have been arrested during the first two weeks of this operation.  Unfortunately although that operation was called Infinity, its duration and the resources devoted to it are not.”

Councillor Sykes is well aware that other tram services in the UK have on-board staff on every service, such as the Sheffield Super Tram and on the Wolverhampton – Birmingham tram line, and he sees no reason why Metrolink cannot introduce them on the Rochdale – Oldham tram line.

Councillor Sykes added:  “Not only does a conductor provide passengers with reassurance that there is always someone at hand should they need assistance in an emergency, but that person can also give passengers advice about services, stops and fares, and help them to board and alight.”

“In addition, a conductor would reduce fare evasion as he or she can issue tickets on the tram, and this would also mean there would be less cash left in the machines at tram stops – and some of these have been targeted by thieves – and it would also mean that those who are rushing to work need not worry about queuing up at a busy ticket machine before they board.”

The motion is asking for conductors to be introduced for an initial 12-month period to evaluate their effectiveness with a view to making them permanent on-tram staff.

The motion reads

Oldham Council 7 November 2018 – Notice of Opposition Business – Motion 1 – Conductors on Trams

 This Council notes that the Rochdale – Oldham Metrolink tram line has the highest number of acts of crime and anti-social behaviour and the highest level of fare evasion across the network. Most worryingly, several of these criminal acts have in recent months been of an extremely violent nature. As a result, passengers have become fearful of travelling on the line and resentful of fare evaders.

Council welcomes the recent crackdown on such activities during Operation Infinity when Metrolink staff, Police officers and the Council’s Youth Engagement Team worked together to apprehend offenders and deter undesirable behaviour. However  the resources devoted to this operation were finite and the operation was time-limited, and there is public and elected member concern that, without ongoing enforcement, the progress made on making tram travel safer will be reversed.

Council recognises that other tram networks in the UK, such as those in Nottingham and in Wolverhampton-Birmingham, operate with on-board conductors, and that the merits of having these staff include:

  • Increased Revenue Collection as conductors are able to check tickets and passes, and collect outstanding fares from passengers on-board the tram
  • Improved Passenger Safety as the conductor represents a visible on-board presence to deter criminal and anti-social behaviour and can ensure that passengers are able to board or alight safely
  • Better Customer Service as the conductor can respond in person to passenger queries and to requests for assistance, such as aiding passengers with disabilities or push-chairs

Council notes that these are the same reasons that the RMT trades union cites in seeking the retention of guards on trains in its ongoing dispute with Northern Rail.

Given the reasons outlined above, and in light of the estimate that £9 million in revenue is lost across the Metrolink network in fare evasion, Council believes that there is merit in introducing conductors on the Rochdale – Oldham Metrolink tram line as a pilot project, and for an evaluation to be conducted after a trial period of 12 months of its impact, with a view to making conductors permanent should the results prove favourable.

Council therefore resolves to ask the Chief Executive to write to the Chief Executives of Transport for Greater Manchester and Metrolink outlining its position and requesting the introduction of conductors on the Rochdale – Oldham line as a pilot.

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