In an unexpected move it has been confirmed that Transport for West Midlands are to take direct control of operating Midland Metro from October 2018 when the current contract with National Express comes to an end. It is reported that this will enable all the profits to put back into expanding the network.
National Express have operated Midland Metro since it opened in May 1999 and its current contract is due to expire in October 2018 but rather than go-ahead with a tendering process the West Midlands Combined Authority have made the decision to operate the network themselves through their transport arm, Transport for West Midlands (TfWM).
Cllr Roger Lawrence, WMCA lead for transport, said: “Metro is a fundamental part of our future plans not only for transport but for the West Midlands economy as a whole. It is a proven catalyst for economic growth and is critical to best connect and feed into HS2 so we can reap the maximum economic benefits possible from the high speed rail line. That’s why Metro is embarking on an unprecedented period of expansion and we believe bringing services in house will provide the extra flexibility and adaptability needed to meet this exciting new chapter while generating millions of pounds for the benefit of passengers and taxpayers. I’d like to thank all National Express staff for operating the Midland Metro for the last 18 years. Through their hard work and dedication, tram passenger numbers have grown significantly and they have been nationally recognised for the high level of customer service they provide.”
Existing National Express staff will be transferred over to a new subsidiary company – Midland Metro Ltd – which will be wholly owned by WMCA. This will ensure that existing skills and expertise are retained to help ensure that Metro’s 99% reliability and its other strengths are taken forward.
Making this decision is said to allow TfWM to introduce new lines, trams, technology and operational practices safely, efficiently and with the best value to the public purse. The first savings will be made by not going through a re-tendering process which would have cost several million pounds.
Laura Shoaf, managing director of TfWM, said: “The end of the existing concession provides us with an ideal opportunity to change the way we operate services to better meet the needs of passengers, the wider community and ultimately the economy. If we didn’t do this and instead outsourced operations to a private company at a time of such major expansion then it would be extremely difficult to accurately define the scope of services required from the operator. That would lead to continuous and expensive commercial negotiations to agree the price for the delivery of those network changes. So while bringing operations in house is not without risk we believe those risks are far outweighed by the advantages and that ultimately the move is good for passengers, good for taxpayers and good for the future prosperity of the West Midlands.”
WMCA believe that once the expanded network is completed – which will see the network triple in size over the next decade with passenger numbers increasing to more than 30 million – profits of around £50 million will be made over the first 11 years and this will now be directly ploughed back into Midland Metro for the benefit of passengers and the local economy.
Colin Saward, recently appointed General Manager of National Express Midland Metro, commented: “It’s disappointing we won’t get the chance to run the tram service when our current contract is up next year. But we appreciate TfWM’s reasons for taking services back in house when the network is about to change so much. We will continue to work closely with TfWM to ensure a safe handover that is as smooth as possible for passengers and staff.”