Metrolink's free wi-fi is permanently withdrawn

Date published: 27 January 2021

The free wi-fi which was offered onboard Metrolink trams has been permanently withdrawn as a cost-saving option.

Free wi-fi had been offered to Metrolink passengers since 2015, recently covered by costs from commercial sponsorship.

It was switched off at the start of lockdown last year and placed under ‘long-term review’.

After withdrawing the service last year due to the pandemic, the issue was discussed on Friday (22 January) at a meeting of the Rail and Metrolink Committee of the Transport for Greater Manchester Board, where the decision was made.

According to the Head of Metrolink at TfGM, Danny Vaughan, the free wi-fi was accessed by 5% of tram users during 2019/2020.

Stephen Rhodes, TfGM’s Customer Director, said: “We are currently focused on enabling safe travel for those who need to and supporting the region’s economic recovery from coronavirus and, as with other public sector organisations, it is vital that this is where our efforts, resources and limited finances are targeted.”

“In light of the significant loss of revenue and financial constraints put on us by the coronavirus pandemic since then, a decision has been made to permanently remove the free Wi-Fi on Metrolink following a review of the costs and benefits.

“We estimate this will enable us to make savings of around £300k a year in addition to avoiding the required cost of upgrading our infrastructure – which could be in excess of £1 million.”

Councillor Phil Burke, spokesman for transport at Rochdale Borough Council and Rochdale Borough Council’s member on the Transport for Greater Manchester Committee, said: “Right now Metrolink is focused on enabling safe travel for those who really need it and has incurred significant financial losses during the pandemic already.

“With reduced passenger numbers at present it’s even more important that resources are targeted appropriately, and the vital Metrolink service is maintained. I understand the disappointment of passengers who enjoy free wi-fi, but its use has been declining in recent years due to cheaper and in some cases unlimited personal data allowances, so we must look at the bigger picture.”

Under the wi-fi section of TfGM's Metrolink performance notes, the report read: "Metrolink and Free Bus had been providing free at the point of use wi-fi to passengers since 2015, with the costs of operating the service largely covered by commercial sponsorship from March 2018 to October 2019.

"Whilst there could be potential for a new sponsorship deal to replace the previous arrangement, commercial advice is that this is unlikely, at least in the short-term, as patronage and therefore advertising reach is significantly depressed by the Covid pandemic.

"Usage levels had declined year on year since 2017, in line with the increased availability of cheaper, and in some cases unlimited personal data allowances, with this trend expected to continue in the future.

"Due to the financial challenges faced by TfGM and Metrolink during the pandemic, the wi-fi service was placed under review.

"Since the switch-off, there has been very little customer feedback around the service, and of those received, none of those customers commented further when an explanation was provided."

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