North East political leaders urge Government to bail out Tyne and Wear Metro
Political leaders in North East England today called on the Government to provide urgent cash support to protect the Tyne and Wear Metro, and with it local jobs and public services.
They have warned the local rail network, which normally carries 36 million passengers a year, faces a financial crisis which will see lifeline services cut and jobs lost if the Government does not step in.
Metro is continuing to operate to allow NHS and other key workers to move around, but has seen passenger numbers fall more than 90% as a result of the Coronavirus crisis.
Councillor Martin Gannon, Leader of Gateshead Council and Chair of the North East’s Joint Transport Committee, said public body Nexus, which operates Metro, faced a financial crisis as a result.
Cllr Gannon said: “The Government has bailed out the rail industry and bus firms, but seems reluctant to do the same for Metro, despite it forming the backbone of our local public transport networks.
“Metro plays a huge role in the local economy but we urgently need the Government to confirm in writing that it will provide financial support in the same way that it has been prepared to do for bus and national rail operators.
“Failure to do so could lead to long-term service reductions and job losses, at a time when North East England has never needed Metro more.
“We have already taken swift action with Nexus and our county councils in Durham and Northumberland to support bus companies in our region by guaranteeing £53m in future payments, which the Government has backed with its own commitments.
“I welcome this quick response but in committing millions of pounds of public money into sustaining bus networks, Nexus itself now faces an enormous challenge keeping Metro going, not just for key workers today but in the long term for millions more people who will need it as our economy recovers.”
Metro normally meets two-thirds of its operating cost from fares and other revenue such as advertising income, with the balance coming in Government subsidy.
But Cllr Gannon said Nexus would need £10 million before July to cover the shortfall in passenger numbers, and further support after that depending on the pace of the recovery.
He added that Metro, and other similar networks in city regions across the country, needed commitments like those made by the Government for national rail franchises.
“Metro carries 36 million passengers a year and has time and again proved its importance to North East England, with every journey worth £8.50 to the local economy and our communities.
“After 40 years as part of everyday life we must not allow services to be cut back and jobs lost in the future because the Government failed to act at a time of crisis.”
Cllr Gannon has written to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps urging him to confirm immediately that Metro will be protected from the financial impact of Coronavirus.