Metro lost £1million a week at height of lockdown - fears for 'serious consequences' if transport funding cut
The Tyne and Wear Metro was losing almost £1million every week at the height of the national coronavirus lockdown.
At its lowest point the light rail network was seeing just five per cent of its usual passenger numbers, as measures to halt the spread of COVID-19 took their toll.
And while usage has recovered since then, transport bosses still face a battle to balance the books as fare income, one of the main streams of the service’s funding, remains depressed.
“Initially during lockdown the loss per week was about £900,000,” said Paul Darby, deputy chief finance officer at the North East Combined Authority (NECA).
“As we’ve come out of national lockdown Metro is still running an operational loss of about £500,000 per week.
“That rate of recovery has stalled as we’ve imposed more local restrictions from late September.”
Mr Darby was speaking at this afternoon’s meeting of the North East Joint Transport Committee’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee, which was held by videolink and broadcast via YouTube.
A series of agreements with the Government had seen grants allocated to cover Metro’s ‘COVID-related net losses’ from March 16 up to to October 26.
But it was not until last week that North East transport bosses were told a fourth payment had been confirmed to tide Metro chiefs over until January 18, with further deals expected to cover more of 2021.
In normal years, Metro’s funding from ministers is roughly matched by its income from ticket sales, with a small top up from the region’s local authorities.
Financial planning for 2021/22 is currently working on the assumption Government aid will continue at current levels, but the prospect of cuts has been raised if future cash does not materialise.
Newcastle City Councillor Greg Stone said: “We can see there’s some serious consequences in terms of potential cuts to public transport, which I don’t think anyone wants to see.
“None of the authorities are keen to spend more money than they have too, but I don’t see how we can go on unless we have cuts to services.”