Greater Manchester’s tram network is to benefit from a further funding boost as the Department for Transport looks to back regional operators building up services ahead of September’s spending round.
With Government keen to encourage workers back to the office, and ramping up ‘back to school’ messaging, bus and tram services across the country are to receive £256m to help them build services up in the coming weeks.
As with its counterparts, Metrolink’s ticket revenues have fallen precipitously since the start of March. Metrolink is one of five light rail networks to be supported by up to £37.4m over the next 12 weeks, meaning that over the Covid-19 pandemic it will have been supported by £44m.
Andy Burnham, mayor of Greater Manchester, said: “Getting the cities going again will be crucial to the recovery of the UK economy. As people think about returning to the office, it is vital that we are able to offer them a Covid-safe public transport service to build the confidence on which any recovery will have to be based.
“That’s why I am pleased that the Government has removed the uncertainty that has been hanging over Metrolink. But this latest deal only covers the next 12 weeks and I would ask the Government to consider making a clear commitment to cover all losses up to the end of the financial year so that we can plan for the city’s recovery with more certainty.
“Until the pandemic hit, Metrolink operated without subsidy, with its revenues used to operate the network and repay the borrowing used to fund its expansion. Given the huge drop in ticket revenue, and without sufficient support from the Government, we would have a deficit running into tens of millions of pounds this year and next.
“I am grateful to the Transport Secretary for once again showing he is prepared to listen to us and for providing this support. But what we are asking for going forward to support the country’s largest tram network is a drop in the ocean compared to the transport package for London. The success of the Northern Powerhouse depends upon sustained investment in transport – both now and into the future.”
Metrolink’s support of £44m makes it comfortably the largest regional light rail network package, with Tyne & Wear Metro second on around £24m. Metrolink is used to generating £6m a month in ticket sales, but that number fell to less than £1m during the pandemic.
Transport minister Baroness Vere said: “As we continue to open up the economy more people are using public transport and need sufficient service levels in order to travel safely.
“This extension of funding pushes our overall support past £700 million and means people across the country will have access to the transport services they need.”