Coronavirus poses a long-term threat to the Metro system - this is why

Metro bosses have warned that they will face a ‘significant challenge’ to keep trains running because of the financial hit caused by the coronavirus crisis.

While services can continue in the immediate future, the loss of ticket fare income during the outbreak could have major long-term implications for the Tyne and Wear network.

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Transport chiefs will call on the Government to provide cash support to make up for the loss of fare revenue, which is responsible for a large portion of Metro operator Nexus’ funding.

Transport chiefs are appealing for help as coronavirus hits incomeTransport chiefs are appealing for help as coronavirus hits income
Transport chiefs are appealing for help as coronavirus hits income

Last November, it was estimated that Metro’s ticket revenue for the 2019/20 financial year would be around £1.2million below target – a figure which will have been further damaged by drivers’ industrial action, including two full strike days, in December.

Nexus says that passenger numbers are down 8% so far in March because of the impact of coronavirus, with a further drop expected as more people are forced to self-isolate or work from home in the coming weeks and months.

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Metro trains are now running to a reduced timetable, with all additional ‘short’ services running at peak times between Pelaw and Monkseaton/South Gosforth cancelled until further notice.

Main services between South Hylton and Airport or South Shields and St James are still operating as planned, though that remains under review.

John Fenwick, director of finance and resources at Nexus, said: “Fewer people are making Metro journeys because of the impact of coronavirus and that is going to continue for some time.

“Right now, our priority is to keep the Metro and other key services running and we have the financial resilience to do this.

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“In the longer term, because of the reliance we place on income from the fares we charge and Government subsidy, we will need additional financial support from the Department for Transport who are already aware of the significant challenges we face”.

In a letter to passengers and stakeholders this week, Nexus managing director Tobyn Hughes said transport chiefs are “taking every action possible to anticipate and plan to sustain vital services”.

He added: “The fall in demand we are starting to see will create a financial challenge for Nexus as a public body, although we are confident we have the cash reserves needed to keep services going for the immediate future.

“We are, at the same time, writing to government to ask its financial support so we may continue to provide good levels of accessibility for the local area and its essential workers.”

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Shields Ferry services are expected to be reduced because of the pandemic, potentially suspending evening crossings or only operating for parts of the morning or afternoon.