Leaders in the North East have called for the Government to provide urgently needed cash support to protect the Tyne and Wear Metro during the Coronavirus pandemic.
They have warned the local rail network faces a financial crisis which will see lifeline services cut and jobs lost if the Government does not step in.
The Metro is continuing to operate to allow NHS workers and other key workers to get where they need to be but has seen passenger numbers fall by 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 faced a financial crisis as a result.
The Metro usually meets two-thirds of its cost from fares and advertising income, with the rest of the balance coming in from Government subsidy.
Cllr Gannon has said Nexus would need £10 million before July to cover the shortfall in passenger numbers
What did the officials say?
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.”
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.”
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