Metrolink future ‘uncertain’ as government funding ends

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Metrolink’s future is ‘uncertain’ as government funding ends and passenger numbers plummet, transport bosses revealed today.

During the Covid lockdowns, Metrolink received a £278m government bailout due to falling passenger numbers from 45.6m to 30.6m in the last twelve months.

This bailout included a £124million recovery grant between March 2020 and April 2022, including an additional £20.5million payment to help the service until October this year.

However, as the service continues to experience falling passenger numbers, energy bills reaching unprecedented costs and government funding coming to an end, transport bosses have admitted that Metrolink’s future is uncertain. “not clear”.

Dr. Neil Clifton/Wikimedia Commons

Earlier this year, Metrolink boss Danny Vaughan warned he couldn’t rule out fare hikes or service cuts, telling the Manchester Evening News that soaring electricity prices would lead to a £6 million increase in operating costs this year.

Vaughan said with other bills and passenger decline factored in, it would result in losses of up to £40million.

Roger Jones, the former chairman of the bus services committee, said there could be an argument for cutting some timetables if the money can’t be found, but said better direction would be to cut tariffs to increase subsidies.

He said: “Metrolink has never been properly subsidized, so fares are higher than we would like. If the government doesn’t make up the deficit, we have to find money through council tax or elsewhere.

David Dixon / Geographer

Referring to Andy Burnham’s plan to bring the region’s buses back under public control, Jones added: “If one of the purposes of lowering bus fares is to attract more passengers, then perhaps we need to be doing the same with trams.

“I think we all accept that if trams could receive the same subsidy as trains and buses, fares would be much lower. But we shouldn’t start cutting Metrolink, it’s taken us so long to expand the network, the last thing we want to see is a reduction.

Meanwhile, the government has said operators must “develop efficient and financially viable networks in light of changing post-pandemic travel habits”.

Transport Commissioner Vernon Everitt said they remained in “ongoing dialogue” with the government over funding for Metrolink and were grateful for the money already received.

David Dixon / Geographer

He said: “The current funding scheme runs until October and it is still unclear what will happen after that. What is clear, however, is that we will need additional support as we ourselves take steps to bring more people into the network and put it back on a solid financial footing.

“We have already seen encouraging signs in terms of passenger numbers, particularly for leisure travel, and we must continue to offer frequent and reliable transport services as a sustainable alternative to car use in our region by full growth.

“We are taking decisive steps to attract more users through the creation of the Bee Network. Single bus fares are capped at just £2 for adults, and we will also launch a major new campaign to promote the benefits of public transport.

“We will work with employers to help promote that too. In just over a year, we will see the first franchised bus routes in operation and we will begin to integrate our value-for-money fare offering across Metrolink and buses to make everything easier to use.

“We will also integrate the local rail network there in due course.”

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