Metro Futures in Westminster
Researchers from Open Lab were part of the Metro Futures team which presented their consultation project to MPs at a Parliamentary Reception in Westminster.
The event was hosted by Nick Brown MP, whose Newcastle upon Tyne East constituency is served by the Tyne and Wear Metro. He was one of the speakers at the event, along with Andrew Jones, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport. As well as promoting the extensive consultation with the public over the design of new Metrocars, the event showcased the design ideas that came out of this.
Tobyn Hughes, Managing Director of Nexus, which owns and manages Metro, explained the consultation process, which consisted of three strands, by Open Lab, Nexus and transport watchdog Transport Focus. The current Metrocars have been in use since Metro opened in 1980, so any new designs could also be expected to be used by Metro passengers for decades to come.
Open Lab researchers held drop-in ‘pop-up labs’ across the region, ran workshops with schools and encouraged people to share their ideas on the Metro Futures website. Local people were also invited to join the consultation process in a series of four design weekly workshops, where they recorded and shared their experiences of using Metro, agreed important issues for consideration in new trains and developed ideas to address them.
One of the pop-up labs in South Shields was attended by students at South Tyneside College, who then completed a project to suggest how digital displays, personal digital devices and data networks might be used on Metrocars in 2026. They then presented their ideas, which included touchscreen windows, a passenger app and facial recognition systems, to researchers at Open Lab.
Open Lab’s consultation sits alongside market research by Transport Focus and surveys conducted by Nexus.
Some of the most popular ideas to come out of the consultation include London Underground-style linear seating, more room for luggage and wheelchairs, and real time travel information on trains and platforms.
There were also suggestions for solar panels on trains, space for bikes and even “some way of defining the middle of the double seat, because some people take more than their fair share of the double seat.”
The reception was attended by MPs, local politicians, transport experts, passenger organisations and transport providers, who were able to discuss the findings of the consultation with the researchers. There was widespread recognition of the innovation and effort put in to the process.
Dr Simon Bowen, who is leading Open Lab’s contribution to the project, said:
“The audience was impressed with our means as well as our message – the methods and tools for public engagement, and the insights that resulted from them.”
The next step for the Metro Futures project will be for Nexus to secure funding from the DfT to build the new trains. At this point the results from the consultation will help to shape the designs for the new Metrocars.
Author: Mark Sleightholm