The number of people using the Midland Metro has jumped by almost a third, hitting record levels after the tram system was extended into Birmingham city centre.
Metro bosses say they are on track to carry seven million passengers over the 12 months to the end of May.
Major investment has seen the Metro depot at Wednesbury refurbished and work is now under way to link the line to Wolverhampton railway station.
Passenger figures jumped from five million in 2015 to 6.6 million in 2016 after trams returned to Birmingham city centre for the first time in more than 50 years, initially going to Bull Street and then to the redeveloped New Street station.
New figures show that taking the trams through the heart of the city’s shopping district to the station and its Grand Central retail complex had a dramatic effect on the number of people riding the Metro, helping to generate a 32 per cent increase in passengers on the network.
The latest forecast for the 12 months from the start of June last year, when the extension to New Street opened, and the end of May this year, shows passenger numbers are on track to break the seven million mark – up by more than two million on 2015.
It follows £128 million of investment which has also seen the introduction of a new fleet of 21 Urbos 3 trams on the network, which is owned by the West Midlands Combined Authority and managed by its transport arm – Transport for West Midlands.
The tram network is expected to triple in size over the next decade as part of the combined authority’s long term transport strategy, with passenger numbers forecast to grow to more than 30 million.
Councillor Roger Horton, lead member for rail and Metro on the WMCA’s Transport Delivery Committee said the growth should be seen as an endorsement of the city centre extension.
“These future tram extensions will be a catalyst for economic growth and jobs and will significantly improve people’s ability to travel between key destinations in the West Midlands, including the forthcoming HS2 stations,” he added.
Colin Saward, managing director of National Express Midland Metro which operates the system on behalf of TfWM, said: “We are delighted to welcome these millions of extra customers on board.”
In Wolverhampton work has started preparing for an extension through the city centre as part of the £51.8m Interchange project.
Meanwhile a business case is also being prepared to extend the Metro from Wednesbury to Brierley Hill.Subscribe to our Newsletter