Metrolink passenger levels not expected to recover for several years

Passenger numbers on the Metrolink are not expected to return to pre-coronavirus levels 'for several years' as concerns remain over its long-term future.

Metrolink came close to being mothballed last spring as the tram network’s monthly income plummeted from £6m to below £1m after the first national lockdown.

Several government bailouts agreed throughout 2020 allowed services to increase in frequency, albeit with social distancing and compulsory mask-wearing in place.

But since then patronage has dropped to its lowest since June, with the number of trips being made on the network currently averaging 15 per cent of pre-Covid levels as of mid-January.

After the latest national lockdown was announced on January 4, Metrolink bosses are predicting a funding shortfall of around £64m for 2020/21.

A report to Greater Manchester’s transport committee says a package of support from the government has been agreed which will cover the costs in full.

“However long-term funding remains uncertain,” says the report written by Danny Vaughan, head of Metrolink at Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM).

“Even in the most optimistic of scenarios, as restrictions on public transport are eased, Metrolink patronage and therefore revenue is unlikely to return to pre-COVID levels for several years.”

Greater Manchester’s move to Tier 4, as well as the latest lockdown, has meant that there will be no significant changes to Metrolink services until later this year.

Work to prepare the system for 27 new trams – the first of which arrived in November – to increase network capacity and pave the way for more double trams will continue.

There were an average of 181 incidents of crime and antisocial behaviour reported to Metrolink in 2020 – lower than those recorded in 2019.

But reports of criminal damage have escalated above the previous year with platform shelters, ticket machines, tram seats and cycle hubs affected across the network.

“This correlates to second lockdown, the lead up to the festive period, bonfire/Halloween events and school holidays,” the report adds.

Manchester city centre stops Victoria, Cornbrook, St Peter’s Square, Piccadilly Gardens and Picaddilly remain the hotspots for antisocial behaviour, while ‘tram surfing’ is still an issue.

The report says most passengers are wearing face coverings, with compliance levels still higher in morning peak hours at around 85 per cent.

Since last June officers from the Travelsafe partnership between TfGM and Greater Manchester Police have made 5,200 face-covering interventions.

A total of 18 fixed penalty notices of up to £100 for non-compliance have been issued by GMP to date.

But the recent rise in Covid-19 cases has meant that more Travelsafe and GMP staff are having to self-isolate, according to the report which will be considered by the regional transport committee’s Metrolink subcommittee on Friday.

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