A Beginner’s Guide to Metrolink Zonal Fares

How Transport for Greater Manchester’s zonal fares for Metrolink trams will work

Travelling by rail-based transport in and around Greater Manchester can be a pain in the you know whats at times. On Network Rail metals, walk-on fares, advance purchase fares, and peak hour restrictions add to the confusion. If you take a Metrolink tram, another set of fares again but help is at hand, thanks to changes to its fare structure.

From January 2019, zonal ticketing will be introduced to Greater Manchester’s Number One tramway system (Number Two, by the way is the one in Heaton Park). Instead of eighteen different fare bands and goodness knows how many permutations, there will be four zones.

Four zones. From Manchester Airport to Bury. Ashton-under-Lyne to Eccles. Altrincham to Rochdale Town Centre.

If you travel by train for part of your journey, through-ticketing is retained. Therefore, you could still travel from Mossley to Sale and have the tram element added to your return fare.

Zonal Boundaries

Zone 1, as you would expect, covers central Manchester. Its south-western frontier point is Cornbrook, which makes travel from there to Piccadilly possible as a single zone journey. Likewise to Victoria, or Stretford in the other direction. Zone 2 also begins at Cornbrook.

Within Zone 2, stations include New Islington, Etihad Campus, Old Trafford, Central Park, and Abraham Moss. Therefore, a journey from Piccadilly Gardens to see Manchester United, Manchester City, or Lancashire County Cricket Club is a two-zone journey. Eccles and MediaCityUK would also be a two-zone journey from the same station.

Zone 3, the outer circle as seen on our diagram (and TfGM’s map), covers the finishing points of the South Manchester (East Didsbury) and East Manchester (Ashton-under-Lyne) lines. The most northerly point on the Oldham-Rochdale Line is Derker. On the Bury line, it is Whitefield; known by many inveterate bus users as the northerly point of Rail Zone 1 on the 1970s – 1980s SaverSeven ticket.

Further down the line, the limits of Zone 3 continue up to Roundthorn and the intu Trafford Centre terminus of the proposed Trafford Park route.

Outside the outer circle is Zone 4. This covers Metrolink lines north of Derker up to Rochdale, the final few miles of the Bury line and its Altrinchamian neighbour south of Brooklands, and the Manchester Airport line south of Roundthorn. For Zone 4 to Zone 1 journeys, the all-zone ticket comes into play.

Zonal Fare Examples

Please note that any fares denoted in brackets are child and concessionary fares. Any acknowledgement of persons living or dead in each of our model examples are purely coincidental.

A Single Zone Fare: Edge Lane – Droylsden

  • Single Fare: £1.40 (70p);
  • Daily Travelcard: £2.60 (£1.30)/£1.80 (90p);
  • Seven Day Season Ticket: £10.20 (£5.10);
  • 28 Day Season Ticket: £35.00 (£17.50);
  • Annual Season Ticket: £400.00 (£200.00).

Instead of being calculated from Edge Lane to Droylsden town centre, the fare for this modest trip would be a single zone journey. At one time this would have been measured between stops, almost like a bus fare stage. With a single zone journey at £1.40, s/he could travel to Ashton-under-Lyne on the same ticket.

By January 2019, a single bus fare between Edge Lane and Cemetery Road may be the same as the Zone 1 tram fare, or slightly more expensive. Getting to Ashton-under-Lyne from Edge Lane on the parallel 216 route is around the £3.00 mark for a single fare. For £1.80 (or £2.60 during the peak hours), you could get to Ashton from Droylsden by tram. And make as many journeys within that zone. With Ashton trams set to operate every six minutes by the end of January, could we see a price war?

Therefore, on your Zone 1 travel card you could go from Edge Lane to Droylsden town centre, have a quick one in The Silly Country, then continue to Ashton-under-Lyne. After getting a few bits from Bargain Buys or Wilko, you could return to your home in Edge Lane.

Then you remembered you had a Date Night at Cineworld. With a return fare, you would have had to buy another return; instead, you can use your Zone 1 travel card and make two return journeys. So, come 6pm, you take the tram to Ashton West and meet your partner outside Five Guys. Then you watch that Laurel and Hardy film starring Steve Coogan and return to Edge Lane after the film.

A Two Zone Fare from Manchester city centre: Victoria – MediaCityUK

  • Single Fare: £2.80 (£1.40);
  • Daily Travelcard: £4.20 (£2.10)/£3.40 (£1.70);
  • Seven Day Season Ticket: £17.00 (£8.50);
  • 28 Day Season Ticket: £58.00 (£29.00);
  • Annual Season Ticket: £650.00 (£325.00).

Meet Elise Tribe, a runner at BBC’s MediaCityUK studios. Ms. Tribe has an apartment beside Manchester Victoria station. She settled in Manchester city centre after studying in the University of Manchester and worked on an exciting new children’s television series called Salvador!. She could either take the 50 bus or cycle, but she chose the tram. The zonal fares are attractive enough for casual travel.

With electronic options available, she could top up her GetMeThere card as well as paying by cash. She looked at getting the train from Victoria to Eccles but she thought they were unreliable and overcrowded. Which put paid to her notion of cycling from Eccles to MediaCityUK.

A Two Zone Fare for a journey outside Manchester city centre: Ashton-under-Lyne – Etihad Campus

  • Single Fare: £2.40 (£1.20);
  • Daily Travelcard: £3.40 (£1.70)/£3.00 (£1.50);
  • Seven Day Season Ticket: £14.80 (£7.40);
  • 28 Day Season Ticket: £50.00 (£25.00);
  • Annual Season Ticket: £570.00 (£285.00).

If you are travelling from Tameside and happen to support Manchester City Football Club, The Blues’ good luck seems to have rubbed off on you in the tram fare stakes. A journey from Ashton-under-Lyne to the Etihad Campus will offer you a better deal than the local buses. A return journey on Saturday afternoons will cost you £3.00. Which, compared with a single bus fare, is like being able to travel to the Etihad Stadium and return home for free.

Imagine if Joe Hartford, Lesley Hartford, and their two City mad children went to see The Blues. A Family All Zones day travel card is £7.10 outside the peak hours. Family members could drive to the park and ride site at Ashton Moss then continue their journey to the Etihad.

A Three Zone Fare for a journey to Manchester city centre: Oldham – St. Peter’s Square

  • Single Fare: £3.80 (£1.90);
  • Daily Travelcard: £6.00 (£3.00)/£4.20 (£2.10);
  • Seven Day Season Ticket: £24.60 (£12.30);
  • 28 Day Season Ticket: £81.00 (£40.50);
  • Annual Season Ticket: £930.00 (£465.00).

If you look at single fares from Oldham to Manchester, £4.20 for as many journeys along that route seem good. During the peak hours, £6.00 a day is less so, especially as a FirstDay ticket (£4.80) offers you the freedom of every First Greater Manchester bus from Huddersfield to Warrington.

Where Metrolink has the advantage over bus in Oldham is speed. Though slower than the previous rail service (due to increased stops), it remains a sound traffic free option. Unlike the East Manchester Line, there is very little on-street running. As buses can be bogged down by traffic, Metrolink’s six minute frequency may be remembered more long after the price. (I think John Ruskin said something similar but he didn’t compare public transport modes in Greater Manchester).

A Three Zone Fare for a journey outside Manchester city centre: Altrincham – Eccles

  • Single Fare: £3.20 (£1.60);
  • Daily Travelcard: £4.60 (£2.30)/£3.80 (£1.90);
  • Seven Day Season Ticket: £19.80 (£9.90);
  • 28 Day Season Ticket: £67.00 (£33.50);
  • Annual Season Ticket: £740.00 (£370.00).

For avoiding the city centre, you are rewarded with cheaper fares on a three-zone journey. At present, it is possible if you travel from Queens Road to Bury. Or Wythenshawe Civic Centre to Eccles changing at Cornbrook.

Supposing you live in Altrincham, you might fancy a trip to The Lowry. Years ago you could have caught the 247 which took a long route via Partington and Flixton via The Trafford Centre. Today, tram offers a faster option, and a £3.20 single would give Arriva and Stagecoach a run for their money. Instead of two buses and iffy connections, two trams (both every six minutes) will get you to the show in good time.

An All Zone Fare

  • Single Fare: £4.60 (£2.30);
  • Daily Travelcard: £7.00 (£3.50)/£4.80 (£2.40);
  • Seven Day Season Ticket: £30.00 (£15.00);
  • 28 Day Season Ticket: £98.00 (£49.00);
  • Annual Season Ticket: £1,110.00 (£555.00).

For full access to the Metrolink network, the day tickets and season tickets are a must. Even more so if your usual journey is Ashton-under-Lyne to Altrincham rather than Piccadilly. If you live beside a tram station, well you are laughing.

Sometimes, a tram journey might be the greatest part of a longer journey. You might choose to catch a bus from Mossley and continue to Eccles on the tram from Ashton. The single bus fare can be more expensive than a Metrolink Zone 1 single. Therefore a multimodal ticket shouldn’t be ruled out such as System One Travelcards‘ AnyBus and Tram (off-peak) day ticket at £7.00.

At £98.00 for 28 days it seems a bit steep for a single mode season ticket. System One Travelcards’ AnyBus Adult equivalent is £65.00 (via the GetMeThere pass) and offers better value for money per mile. Should you choose to combine your bus journey with a tram journey for 28 days, System One’s AnyBus and Tram Adult at £120.00 (again via GetMeThere) should be considered.

In conclusion

Unless your tram journey is a quick hop from Ashton-under-Lyne to Ashton West, short distance passengers within a single zone probably have the better side of the bargain. For occasional passengers, the single zone fare from Ashton-under-Lyne to Droylsden (Edge Lane) represents a better deal than a parallel journey on the 216 or 217 routes.

Where Metrolink will make more of their money is on medium to long distance fares. Many of the passengers that use the tram to Manchester city centre may take a three-zone journey. On longer journeys, the bus is a more attractive value-led option, so long as you are a regular user. For occasional users, System One Travelcards’ AnyBus, and AnyBus and Tram day saver tickets (off-peak only) may be a better option.

As for Metrolink’s own day saver tickets, £4.80 outside the peaks can be a little pricey. Especially as you can add bus travel to and from a non-tram served area for another £2.20. Savings can be made if you travel on a weekend: another £1.80 can give you travel after 6pm on a Friday, then all day Saturday and Sunday till the last tram.

Overall, we like the zonal approach. For the best part of 40 years, Tyne and Wear have had a similar system known as Transfare, which is based on Metro zones. Like many parts of mainland Europe, it allows travel on buses as well as Metro trains without financial penalty for changing modes. It also covers The Shields Ferry.

We would like to see the creation of a similar system for Greater Manchester’s bus and train routes. That we hope could form part of Andy Burnham’s proposals to reform Greater Manchester’s bus routes.

S.V., 15 November 2018.

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