Call for support of public transport as Metro passenger numbers remain at 60% of pre-pandemic level

Metro, bus and rail provided a ‘national service’ at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, even if they only carried one passenger, according to transport chiefs.

Wednesday, 16th June 2021, 6:11 pm
Metro passenger numbers remain at around 60% of pre-pandemic level

Bosses have warned it could take networks ‘decades’ to recover from the slump in traveller numbers caused by the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent lockdowns.

But it also demonstrated public transit options remain vital to ensure key areas of the economy and other public sectors could continue working.

“I think a lot of people are very proud of how we managed to keep it going,” said Tobyn Hughes, managing director of Transport North East and Metro operator Nexus.

“During the first lockdown, patronage evaporated to about five per cent, but every Metro, bus or train that had even one passenger on it was providing a national service.

“Who was travelling in those times on public transport [apart from] the people who really really needed to?

“Nobody was supposed to go out unless they were working in the hospital or another key worker – if they had a car, they absolutely would have been using it.”

Hughes was speaking at this morning’s (Wednesday, June 16) meeting of the North East Joint Transport Committee’s Audit Committee, which met in person in Gateshead for the first time in more than a year.

Passenger numbers on Metro services have reached between 60-65 per cent of their pre-pandemic level, although it still requires millions in government subsidies to keep running.

But since the Government began rolling back restrictions in April, weekend use has been higher and in recent weeks has even exceeded pre-COVID figures.

Hughes claimed public transport will remain particularly important to the North East’s economy compared to the rest of the UK, due to the low numbers of people who are able to work from home either all or most of the time.

And he predicted this will become an even greater factor as other health risks begin to outgrow coronavirus.

He added: “There’s a greater risk than the risk of infection on public transport, the risk of polluting people as you drive by in your car.

“If you can avoid it, you should be using sustainable public transport.

“Transport operators have invested a huge amount in making public transport COVID secure, people should be reassured it’s a very safe way to travel, and where they can do, it’s the right way to travel.”