METRO BAILOUT: RMT union urges government to save the Metro from making savage cuts
A rail union has urged the government to save the Tyne and Wear Metro from making savage cuts.
The RMT union has joined calls for transport secretary Grant Shapps to pledge a long-term bailout for the struggling rail network, with emergency funds to help it through the Covid crisis due to run out in just a couple of months.
A massive drop in passenger numbers has seen the Metro’s revenue plummet over the past year and ticket sales are expected to remain well below normal rates for the foreseeable future.
It is feared that, if the government declines to keep covering the Metro’s losses after April, the network will be forced into service cuts that could plunge it into a “spiral of decline”.
In a letter to Mr Shapps, RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “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 counterproductive and would send public transport like the Metro into a spiral of decline.”
The government has so far given the Metro £39 million in grant funding to keep trains running during the pandemic, with passenger numbers falling by as much as 95% at one stage and the network losing almost £1 million a week during the first lockdown.
The DfT has only committed to continuing that emergency funding until April and asked Nexus and other light rail networks to come up with proposals to put services back on more sustainable footing – which could lead to increased ticket fares and cuts to services.
It also emerged earlier this month that government transport officials had told local operators to base their recovery plans on the assumption that social distancing could end in April – a hugely unlikely prospect.
Mr Cash added: “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.”
Just over a year ago, RMT members staged a strike that caused the Metro network to be completely shut down just before Christmas 2019 amid a bitter dispute over drivers’ pay.
The DfT was contacted for a response.
Earlier this month, a government spokesperson said that future funding requirements for the Metro will be “assessed in due course”.
They added: “Once current restrictions are lifted, these services will also play an important role in our economic recovery.”
Words: Daniel Holland, Local Democracy Reporter
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