I am pretty confident that Brummies have realised (no thanks to the now ennobled, former Council Leader, Mike (Lord) Whitby) that an underground system in the West Midlands will not happen. Ever.
Fine, ok, this isn’t London, we don’t need to copy somewhere else but create our own solutions right!
So we can have a Transport for London equivalent – I reckon it will emerge fairly soon now we have the reformed shadow Integrated Transport Authority, let’s call it Transport for the West Midlands for now.
We have the branding in the form of Network West Midlands.
So the network… well, we have the railways, the Midland Metro and an awful lot of buses. Let’s go through them in turn…
(1) the railways
These can be presented in a similar fashion to the Tube in London. We have the Cross City line from Lichfield to Redditch, soon to split at the southern end with destinations alternating between Redditch and Bromsgrove. Let’s call that CrossCity 1 (and make it the red line for presentation).
OK, CrossCity 2 – well, Wolverhampton to Birmingham Airport via New Street, all stops, always – that’s important. Regular frequency (min 4 trains/hour) and the same stops for familiarity – like the Tube! Let’s present it as the black line (in homage to the Black Country)
CrossCity 3? Easy – Stourbridge to Dorridge/Stratford via Moor Street. This line already operates but perhaps needs some regularisation of stopping patterns for ease of use and to give metro frequency and familiarity. Give this one the green line as a nod to the current operator, London Midland ;). Here we can extend the concept with CrossCity 3A (extended to Kidderminster), 3B (to Worcester), 3C (to Leamington Spa)
CrossCity 4. Now it gets harder as we need to start looking to the future. The obvious line is Walsall/Rugeley into Birmingham but it would be nice to get it across the city… There are also further options – a new commuter service to Tamworth via Coleshill Parkway and new stations (long hoped-for) at Fort Parkway, Castle Vale and Kingsbury; or, a new service through Birmingham Airport then stops to Coventry and finally Kenilworth and Leamington…
The point here is a more accessible set of local rail services for passengers – clearer information and branding, regular frequency, predictable stopping patterns, and a network concept of lines.
(2) Midland Metro
We are in exciting times on this one. Since its opening in 1999 there have been great expectations of a network growing out of Line 1. We are on the verge of the first expansion – it may not be vast but it is significant as Midland Metro extends from Snow Hill through the heart of Birmingham city centre to New Street station; even more excitingly it will then carry on to Centenary Square and the new Library of Birmingham. It may not be much in terms of new track, but an awful lot more people will see it and use it. And there will be a spanking new fleet of trams – happy days!
This will be a catalyst for Midland Metro, its relative invisibility to the majority of the population has been a hindrance, by running the lovely new CAF trams down Corporation Street I suspect they will become a lot more popular!
Midland Metro, and the SPRINT bus rapid transit network planned for the West Midlands, are at the heart of the long term growth of the public transport network across the conurbation. Cheaper to build and run than heavy rail, Metro and Sprint will be the forefront of getting high quality rapid transit to the majority of the population across the West Midlands conurbation.
Interestingly, Metro and Sprint will also be key to the wider local connectivity into both of our HS2 stations in central Birmingham and at Interchange next to the Airport. They will be key in connecting places like Solihull, Blythe Valley and Birmingham business parks, Coleshill – as well as more of Birmingham into both the city centre and the new major transport interchange to the east.
I only want to make 1 emphatic point here and then some suggestions… Buses are absolutely critically important in providing affordable transport to a great many people – they provide an invaluable lifeline and are provide vast social and economic benefits. We keep them completely de-regulated at our peril… they are too important to not set some kind of baseline for what services and standards we require.
In terms of the theme of this post, buses need to be integrated into the information networks that passengers can access to enhance their mobility options. So the network maps, the interconnectivity, the timetabling presentation, the journey options, the mobile apps and journey planners – buses must be fully integrated into the network.
In addition, the bus network (and I need to creditor my old Centro colleague, Jake Thrush here) needs to be split into two:
– high frequency bus corridors
– local buses (including demand responsive, community services, socially necessary services)
The former are halfway to Sprint and Metro serving the high demand major corridors and arterial routes, the latter provide the veins that ensure that everyone has access to mobility – which is absolutely vital.
So when we pull all this together we start to see the importance, and reason for, the integrated transport vision and necessity for decent transport for everyone. London gets hugely more money and powers to deliver this – it is about time that we saw similar largesse shared to the other major conurbations of Great Britain…