A guest post by Josh R reviewing the new iPhone app for Manchester’s Metrolink tram system – if you’d like to write an article for Manchester Transport blog, or share some photos, then please get in touch.
I like trams and I like apps. I’m lucky enough though to rarely need the Manchester Metrolink for commuting or getting around, as I have a bike and live in the city centre. Nonetheless, the expanding tram network in Greater Manchester is a key mode of transport for many people living in the suburbs of north and west. Despite this, live information about how the tram is running is something that has traditionally been a pain to get hold of, as most tram stops have no platform indicators and the TfGM website is not mobile-optimised.
The official Manchester Metrolink app by mxData seeks to address this by bringing info about the tram to your fingertips. It’s been on the iPhone app store for a while, but was launched this morning with press releases and – bizarrely – QR codes in the Manchester Evening News.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite live up to the hype.
The app does conveniently include a copy of the map, including the proposed or confirmed extensions. However, it looks a bit like a downloaded PDF: the map key is on the bottom-right of the screen; the icons are too small and subtle unless you zoom in. At this rate, you might end up at Chorlton for the Trafford Centre bus link (when it actually connects at Stretford) or not realise that Mosley Street is a ‘one way’ station: trams only stop when they’re heading out of the city centre.
A ‘surprise’ feature is that you can click on each station icon – but not the name – to get a bit more info.
Well, you can see where it is on the map, but you can’t find out anything about station facilities (parking, bike lockers, etc) nor can you plot a route directly from the map view. You can assign somewhat superfluous pre-defined ‘tags’ to stations, i.e. associate Market Street with “social”, but this has little purpose except to remind people where they might live or go out.
The routing is pretty straightforward and competent, but given that the Metrolink can be traversed end to end within 45 minutes it’s hardly a challenging job, and mxData boast that it’s the “world’s fastest route planner”. You can, helpfully, find the nearest tram stop to your current location, but there are no supplementary walking directions or point-to-point mapping: this is strictly tram-only.
Tapping the line displayed is another hidden feature that takes you to the live travel info.
However, this is where the Metrolink app really disappoints. What people want to know is whether the tram on their part of the route is running on time and when the next tram is going to arrive. Presently, the ‘live’ travel info is little more than a formatted feed from the TfGM website, which isn’t even specific to the suggested journey.
This is the most disappointing part of the app. You’re presented with an unhelpful screen of all the information that TfGM feel they need to throw at you, with little delineation of what’s specific to your journey. In fact, it’s the same screen as the generic live travel info. It does tell you the current frequency of trams, but no information about when the next tram is due.
Contrast this with most London Underground apps. It’s easy to call up a screen that shows you whether there is a good service or otherwise on all lines through a simple colour-coded list.
This isn’t entirely the app developer’s fault. TfGM admit that this information is simply not available, but do say that they “are also planning to roll out a new tram management system… which will ultimately lead to real-time passenger information at all stops”.
This can’t come soon enough.
Ultimately, the app is more Meh-trolink than Metrotastic. Thankfully, it’s free and that means it’s worth downloading because it does have a map of the Metrolink stored on it and the route mapping is adequate. However, it feels very much like a first draft and, given the blaze of publicity, somewhat underwhelming. I probably won’t be tapping on the Share button any time soon.
Unfortunately the version for android is pretty useless as well. TFGM, and it’s predecessor GMPTE have never really grasped the concept of real-time information for any services have they? either bus or metrolink.
It’s even worse than the reviewer describes. Testing it out this morning, I quickly discovered that the so-called live updates were two days old and offering info on problems with last Saturday’s (the 23rd July) trams plus forthcoming info on events for the Ben and Jerry’s Sundae Festival, which was a day old by then.
The route search has no way of clearing previous searches, so the trial I did of Piccadilly to St Werbergh’s Rd is stuck on my app until I input a new one. And you also can’t clear clicks on station names so the test click I did on Ladywell is still pulsing when I log on.
The only thing I really liked was the map, with the ghosted-out lines that have yet to become active. The rest was indeed “meh” as it’s nigh-on useless as a real-time travel app. It needs a serious amount of tweaking.
Louise is right – the time-stamp of the travel info seems current, but in fact the information was last physically updated yesterday!
Poor show, given the transport problems on the trams even just this morning.
It’s good that they have made it available on a number of platforms: iPhone/iPad, Blackberry, Android and Nokia, not so good that some version aren’t up to date.
Tried the Nokia version from the OVI store and it doesn’t recognise the Chorlton line. Search for a station beginning with C and you’ll only get Crumpsall and Cornbrook. Probably a case of more emphasis on the iPhone version, as that’s the place to be in the app world.
In summary, the app is probably like the Metrolink network: work in progress and should be better once it’s fully completed.
Got the app on android, disappointed to see it’s a carbon copy of a london tube app I used last week – albeit with a different colour scheme and pdf of manchester instead of london.
Was kinda hoping for a google maps mashup plotting met locations and some kind of status reports, ah well.
Not a mention of how useful such apps are for disabled travellers and how appalling the app is in that respect. No mention of the lack of beta testing by users either. Otherwise a reasonably fair review. Oh fares, now there’s a thought! How can a review not mention the fact you can’t even get journey fares on this app?
Spot on – I forgot to note that down as a thing to comment on. It is silly that you can’t see fares, though for some reason, fare data across TfGM is impossible to get hold of as it’s “commercial sensitive”.
Why they are giving in iphone only . they have to make it for all phones
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This app is now available on Android, so I thought I’d give it a go. As a long suffering user of the Metro it infuriates me how there is often no information as to what is happening when you are waiting for a tram unlike, say, London where an electronic display board keeps you informed.
Firstly I was dissapointed that the app has no live data; so my main reason for installing it was gone already. There is a journey planner, which may be of use to people visiting Manchester, but little I would imagine to those who use it on a regular basis. What I did like is that it gave an estimate of the time a route would take, but again without live data, this is only what is supposed to happen, rather than what will.
The app itself seems very clunky and slow. The map seems like a PDF and is difficult to move around even on a relatively fast phone like an HTC Desire.
All in all, I’m not sure who this app is for. The map is of limited use; it is slow and the basic tram running information available can easily be obtained by clicking on a bookmark to the Metrolink webpage.
If live data is one day available, this app will be well worth having. But I suspect that day may be some time off as the electronic display signs at the stops have been there for almost a year and are yet to be activated. Why this is taking so long, I really don’t know. Until that day comes, this app will not be on my phone and I will continue to stand at my stop wondering when, or even if, my tram will come.
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