It was on my morning tram to work once again that I had a remarkable experience. The next stop was Piccadilly and, having become lost in the music I was listening to, I was startled when it occurred to me what was outside the window to my left. We had been going round the same corner, at some speed, for five minutes.
The speed, the noise, the unrest of the passengers, grew and grew. Fear and dizziness had gripped us all, often spilling into blind panic, and occasional foaming mouths. The resulting build-up of drool and froth all over the floor left the tram slightly dirtier than normal. After an hour, I decided that no help was coming. On my own initiative, I battered down the doors of the tram using a fellow passenger’s zimmer frame, leapt to safety, and was a mere 80 minutes late to work, earning just four small canings.
But in spite of the ordeal being over, I had questions that needed answering. Phoning Metrolink central office in Kuwait, I was informed by Linda, a bubbly and gravelly voiced 39 year-old, that my tram must have been diverted onto one of the new penal lines recently introduced to the Metrolink network. There are various points around Manchester at which a tram can be diverted, the process is automatic, and it always works the same way.
Using several years’ worth of CCTV footage, alongside police and housing records, the city council and Metrolink have worked to calculate which trams in a given place at a given time will likely contain the highest proportion of criminals and miscreants. When these services reach the allotted point, they are taken off their advertised route and required to circle a small pillar at high speed for hours at a time. As I had experienced, this process causes severe nausea and a near-total breakdown of the individual’s morale.
Worse still are moments when the tram stops for several minutes, with no information offered to passengers aside from occasional empty reassurances from the driver, which do nothing to quell the sense of confusion and anxiety. This is, admittedly, much like a normal journey, but with the added horror that only comes when the tram starts moving – the realisation that freedom is very far away indeed. After several hours (although the exact time period is never fixed), the tram is released to complete its journey. Upon disembarkation, all passengers are thoroughly disoriented, delinquents and responsible citizens alike.
That last point seemed to me a noticeable flaw in the system, which I raised to Linda. She immediately told me that this was in fact a conscious choice made by the council. Given the cuts in police numbers over the last few years, the council are looking to make up any shortfall, and are hopeful that the threat of being punished unfairly will radicalise passengers against even the mildest public irritants. It’s a concept inspired in part by David Cameron’s Big Society, and in part by the tactic of blaming workers for the inconvenience of a strike rather than their working conditions. They predict the consequent wave of vigilante justice will help reduce crimes figures at the most drastic rate since the reintroduction of public boiling in 1955.
On my way home that evening, an 11 year-old boy started playing music loudly to his friends. Within five seconds, a well-to-do mother had viciously clobbered him with her baby, who had himself been annoying the other passengers by crying loudly. The whole spectacle was met with murmurs of approval by commuters and vertigo sufferers alike. As I looked out of the window, I wondered whether I should start taking the bus instead, only to spot three circling a pillar, at a pace almost as dizzying as my experience that morning.