When Metro was introduced to Tyne & Wear in 1981, it was the first light railway in the UK. It came about following a growing angst around the slow and unreliable services offered by Diesel National Rail trains, and was heralded as a golden gem of the North East.
However, the Metro's operator, Nexus, is facing a multi-million pound budget crisis. This arose from multiple overhead line failures in May costing the company £300,000, and also the necessity to pay out £500,000 for staff overtime and a drop in fare revenue totalling £1.2m.
Another issue facing the organisation is the reduction in the levy paid to the Metro by the local council, which has been cut eight times since 2010.
Nexus serves as a body which administers government funds in the Tyne and Wear area, so the financial effects will influence travel in the immediate future. Nexus can only guarantee that the public transport services they provide can only be protected from cutbacks until 2021. This includes the Metro, some bus routes, as well as the Shields Ferry. Annual numbers of Metro users is around the £40m mark, which demonstrates the critical impact service changes could have on those commuting to work, education, or just into the city.
Whilst Nexus is planning to use their cash reserves in order to meet the budget shortfall, the leader of Gateshead Council warns that this move is "unsustainable" and feels a dialogue between regional leaders and the Department for Transport is crucial to resolve the crisis.
The issue can be seen as the uncertainty surrounding future Government funding, and it can risk the slower journeys, declining passengers and an increase in failures.
John Fenwick is the Nexus Director of finance and resources, and made this statement regarding the organisations' ability to survive in the face of these severe financial pressures:
"Reserves are sufficient to protect services in what remains of this year and next year. There is probably a question of how sustainable that is thereafter.”
It's been suggested that solutions to alleviate the financial burden can include scrapping discounted travel fares, including that for the elderly and the disabled. However, this proposition has been criticised as it will likely serve to deter the most vulnerable in society from accessing mobility in and around the city.
Financial pressures resulting from the £4.1m deficit seems to be leaving the future of Nexus' Metro on an unstable track.
Featured Image: Wikimedia Commons