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New Covid restrictions could see bus, tram and train services reduced in Greater Manchester

Tram operators Metrolink is among those considering a return to a reduced timetable to help cope with staff shortages.

<p>A Metrolink tram in Manchester Credit: Shutterstock</p>

A Metrolink tram in Manchester Credit: Shutterstock

Transport services across Greater Manchester could be cut to help operators cope with staff shortages while more people are expected to work from home.

Metrolink is considering a return to a reduced Covid timetable – although bosses fear that fewer trams on the service would result in busier carriages.

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Bus operator Go North West will cut its services to 97% of pre-Covid levels.

And rail operator Northern, which introduced a new timetable from Sunday 12 December, has warned some services may be affected by staff shortages.

Northern has seen the largest increases in commuter trips across the country.

But it has experienced a 10% reduction in revenue since the mask mandate was introduced in England last week, regional director Chris Jackson revealed.

Speaking at the Greater Manchester Transport Committee on Friday, he said the fall in passenger numbers has been ‘significant’.

He said: “We await to see the impact of the ‘work from home if you can’ message from next Monday.”

How many people are using the trains?

Footfall at Manchester Piccadilly returned to ‘normal’ levels in November at around 80,000 per day throu the week and more than 125,000 on Saturdays.

There were 130,000 passengers using the station on the last Saturday in November – the highest figure since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.

Network Rail boss Daniel Coles said footfall has ‘held up fairly well’ since new restrictions were announced, but the figure is expected to drop from Monday.

The West Coast Partnership has now reintroduced a third train every hour from Manchester to London, bringing the service back to its full capacity.

However, the overall service capacity is still at 86% of pre-pandemic levels with journeys for business back to between 30 and 40% of previous levels.

Meanwhile, Metrolink is experiencing issues with sickness absence, some of which is Covid-related, as it catches up on delays in training new drivers.

Rochdale councillor Phil Burke, who is employed by Metrolink, asked for a new temporary Covid timetable to be put in place to deal with the staffing issues.

He said: “We’re receiving a lot of complaints now from residents who miss their connections due to trams missing, being delayed or severely delayed.

“We fully understand and appreciate this is not a Metrolink problem – it’s a Covid problem.

“Therefore, reducing the service to a 12-minute service across all lines will help alleviate some of the problems being faced by Metrolink and also their customers.”

What do TfGM say?

Responding to the request at the committee meeting, chief operating officer Bob Morris said Transport for Greater Manchester is looking at this option.

He said: “The difficulty we have is passenger numbers because if we reduce the frequency, the capacity goes down and then we tend to have a larger number passengers in carriages and we’re still trying to keep some space around. But it is something we will be looking at.”

Nigel Featham, managing director at Go North West, said the bus operator has been operating all of its services despite a 20% drop in passenger numbers.

He said: “We’ve had to conclude that we don’t quite have enough staff to maintain that so that’s going to come down slightly to 97% of pre-Covid levels.

“But that will definitely steady the ship and I expect you’ll see very predictable and reliable services now that we’ve done that.”

The bus company boss said some services might be cut further if government subsidies which operators still receive stop at the end of March as planned.