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We need financial support too, say city transport authorities

Urban Transport

Andrew Forster
03 April 2020

The Urban Transport Group has asked the Government for financial support for its member authorities as passenger numbers on trams and metro systems slump in response to the Government’s Covid-19 travel restrictions. 

The focus of the Government’s transport assistance has so far been on train operators, which have been taken under greater  state control (see below), and bus operators, who are receiving financial support. 

The UTG represents seven public authorities: Transport for London; Transport for the West Midlands; Transport for Greater Manchester; Merseytravel; Nexus; South Yorkshire PTE; and West Yorkshire Combined Authority.

TfL manages almost all of London’s public transport and takes the revenue risk. Its annual fare revenues are about £5bn. It also receives revenue from the congestion charge, the ultra-low emission zone and low emission zone, all of which have all been suspended because of Covid-19. 

TfL’s initial estimate was that the virus would lower fare revenues by £500m (LTT 20 Mar) but the loss is now expected to be greater because the disruption to society looks set to continue for months.

Transport for the West Midlands operates the Midland Metro light rail network, Greater Manchester operates the Metrolink light rail system, and Nexus operates the Tyne and Wear Metro. Merseytravel manages the Merseyrail network and takes the revenue risk on its operations.  

“We are taking unprecedented hits to our revenue while continuing to make payments for services that are not being provided,” said the UTG. “Nor do we benefit from any additional financial support for the bus or rail sectors.”

Although the Government has provided English councils with £1.6bn to respond to the crisis, the UTG said none of the funding would flow directly to its members. They will instead have to hope that councils pass some of the funding to them. 

“We have significant financial exposure on metros, trams, light rail, heavy rail and concessions, as well as experiencing a loss of income in other ways such as from shelter advertising and in our role as landlords.”

The group has written to the DfT and the Chancellor requesting financial support. 

The UTG also wants the Government to give local transport authorities the freedom to spend transport funds that they do have on responding to the virus. 

It has asked for “legal comfort and support” to keep services running through “clear legal guidance and greater freedoms and flexibilities to pool currently separate funding pots so that finance can be best directed to the overall task of responding to this emergency in the most appropriate way locally”.

The UTG said that, outside London, it was “particularly concerned that the short-term viability of bus services is already under threat”. 

“As a result, we face the very real possibility of, in different areas and at different times, operators ceasing to provide any services overnight, or rapidly scaling back to below the level of service that is necessary for the provision of a critical public transport network for essential users. 

“The deregulated framework for bus service provision outside London presents major challenges for transport authorities to step in and provide services directly or coordinate what services are still being provided by the private sector to ensure a coherent network overall.”

The UTG’s members are holding regular virtual meetings to discuss developments. Its bus group is meeting daily. 

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