We are starting to experience a ‘return to normal’ pre-pandemic levels of usage of public transport with all restrictions lifted, however there is still uncertainty around the transport system and people’s behaviours. During the pandemic we were actively telling people not to use buses, trams and trains. We have now seen vehicle numbers on our motorways return to above pre-Covid levels, where in comparison public transport modes are still at below their pre-Covid numbers. If this pattern of increasing private car usage continues, it is going to make it increasingly difficult to achieve our decarbonisation aims, alongside other targets such as road safety, congestion reduction, air quality improvement and active travel. Therefore, we need to attempt to mitigate this and encourage the behaviour change needed in order to deliver our goals.
Whilst car use is on the increase within the West Midlands 1 in 4 people do not own a car, for people such as these, public transport, active travel and alternative travel options (i.e. online deliveries) are vital for their ability to access work, education, training and leisure. Throughout the pandemic, there were a number of key workers who relied on additional public transport options such as transforming the Ring-and-Ride minibuses into NHS shuttles to get to their place of work.
We asked the public what they thought:
- People in the region are often dissatisfied with unreliability/inability for public transport to turn up on time (68% for bus, 71% for trains and 16% for metro).
- Many felt fares were too expensive (26% for bus, 51% for trains and 74% for metro).
- Other concerns were around general safety and antisocial behaviour, particularly on bus, and a fear of overcrowding/lack of ability to social distance.
- Although it is generally considered that car offers more freedom, dissatisfaction with car use is increasing due to increased congestion and a lack of parking provision, both of which are a consequence of a rise in car use.
Based on current analysis we aim to progress an intuitive joined-up series of networks with common branding, improved ticketing and consistent presentation, promotion of the system, passenger information and physical interchanges underpinned by Transport Innovation. Some of our recent transport innovation work areas are illustrated here; you can see we have not only used innovation to improve what we have today but also to put in place testbed and facilities to prepared for the future, for example the largest real-world testbed in the UK for automated vehicles and the largest 5G transport testbed which has supported numerous new innovative transport products and services.
TfWM do not directly deliver all the public transport services, with many of these privately run, however we do support much of the network through subsidies, providing infrastructure and influencing partnership agreements. Local Authorities and WMCA are also tackling significant infrastructure challenges including transport and housing land remediation to accelerate delivery of improved transport services. The devolution of powers and funding resources to the WMCA has enabled this to happen. Government have acknowledged through the Levelling Up White Paper (LUWP) that the short bidding timescales have historically been challenging and not delivered policy outcomes for transport and therefore we welcome the City Regional Sustainable Transport Settlement (CRSTS) which gives us some funding certainty for a longer period (5-years). Some of the CRSTS themes are shown below. We cannot solve the West Midlands Transport problems on our own, or grow the transport sector we rely not only on strong partnerships but on having a thriving Transport Innovation eco-system in the West Midlands.
We are delighted to announce that we have established a Transport Innovation Working Group to act as a catalyst for innovation in the West Midlands, making the West Midlands the first choice for developing Future Mobility products and services. The Innovative Transport Working Group will be a mix of innovation practitioners from the private, public, university and third sectors meeting about 4x per year to share good practice and ideas and stimulate new collaborative activity and better networked innovative transport community in the West Midlands. Between meeting there would be a regular e-mailing featuring funding, events and other opportunities.
The Working Group will launch in May and you can sign up to the mailing list early here.
Author, Chris Lane