RMT calls on government to get serious about levelling up and save the Tyne and Wear Metro.
RMT General Secretary Mick Cash has called on Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to step in and approve funds that will provide long-term stability to the struggling Tyne and Wear Metro.
The Metro, which carried 36 million passenger trips in 2018/19 and serves 60 stations in the North East, is forecast to lose around 75% of its revenue this year as a result of the Coronavirus. Although the Metro has had emergency funds worth £39 million to keep it afloat, it doesn’t benefit from the kind of long-term bailouts given to train formerly franchised operating companies.
Nexus, which runs the Metro in public ownership on behalf of the North East Passenger Transport Executive, has submitted a financial recovery plan to the government, seeking funding that will ensure the survival and expansion of the Metro as part of the North-East’s plans for recovery from the coronavirus.
RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said;
“We’ve welcomed the funds granted to keep the Metro going so far, but now it’s time for a longer term solution. This government has been falling over itself to throw money at its big business friends among the train operating companies.
“Now Nexus have put together a recovery plan for the Metro based on maintaining and expanding their service to support decarbonisation and economic recovery. If the government are serious about levelling up they’ll back this plan rather than defaulting to some tired and failed austerity nonsense about the need for cuts. That’s why I’ve asked Grant Shapps to back this plan today”.
Notes for editors
The full letter to the Transport Secretary can be read here:
Rt Honourable Grant Shapps MP
Secretary of State for Transport,
Department for Transport
Great Minster House
33 Horseferry Road
25 January, 2021
Funding support for Tyne and Wear Metro
I’m writing on behalf of our members who work on the Tyne and Wear Metro to urge you to agree a funding package which will ensure the longer-term sustainability of this vital service. The Metro is a regional success story whose continued health will be vitally important in supporting the government’s objectives of promoting economic recovery, ‘levelling up’ in the region and enabling greater mode-shift from private cars to help achieve net zero carbon emissions.
If your government is serious about these objectives, it’s vitally important that Nexus is properly supported with emergency funding that will enable it not just to survive but to continue its ambitious plans for expansion.
My union has long argued that dependence on fare revenue has been a time-bomb waiting to explode in public transport. It always left vital infrastructure vulnerable to shocks in demand and I believe we’re seeing the price of that mistake now. The Metro is forecast to lose around 75% of its revenue this year and passenger demand is likely to be suppressed by enduring changes to work and shopping practices, together with a loss of passenger confidence. How we approach this problem is of the utmost importance.
RMT welcomes the support already given to Nexus to support its services. Continued funding is clearly vital. But this funding needs to be tied to a vision of investment in and expansion of public transport, not made conditional on some rehash of the failures of austerity cuts. Any funding package that came with strings demanding cuts to services and a focus on reducing ‘operating costs’ would be completely counter-productive and would send public transport like the Metro into a spiral of decline. If we are going to win people back to using the Metro, in larger numbers, it will mean continuing projects to expand capacity like Metro Flow and the opening of new stations and to make travel more attractive. And as Transport Focus research clearly shows, it must mean a new recognition of the importance of staffing in rebuilding passenger confidence.
As Transport Focus report, passengers value the visible presence of staff at stations, on-board trains and engaged in cleaning and they are of the strong view that there are not currently enough staff at any of these points: ‘There is a strong sense that the ideal response to the pandemic would be to see more staff on trains and at the station, rather than less’. We have to abandon the failed orthodoxy that says staff are simply a cost to be minimised. This is not what passengers want.
We have a genuine opportunity now to rethink the way public transport is funded and to see the value of investment in expanding the capacity and increasing the resourcing of our rail networks. Your government has an opportunity to demonstrate that its talk about levelling up in the regions and investing in infrastructure represents more than soundbites.
I urge you to support the Nexus recovery plan, agree a proper funding package for a sustainable future and I look forward to your response.
General Secretary, RMT