Star comment: We must make public transport attractive to get people out of cars

Anyone who has taken a train in recent weeks is likely to have had a highly unusual experience.

Passengers are returning to trains after spending most of last 18 months at home or in their cars
Passengers are returning to trains after spending most of last 18 months at home or in their cars

No delays, no overcrowding and no cancelled services – it's been refreshing to see and not what rail passengers have become used to in a country where the train is usually causing the strain.

Naturally, much of the improved service can be put down to the fact that user numbers have plummeted during the pandemic, but don't be fooled into thinking that the situation will continue over the long term.

Passengers are already starting to return to our railways, and with social distancing likely to be eased in the coming weeks, it may not be long before we are once again faced with packed platforms and the dreaded rush for seats.

It means that those in charge of the railways face a massive challenge in making sure we don't return to the pre-pandemic state of play once passenger numbers start rising sharply.

Fortunately, some novel schemes are set to be unveiled in our region that could improve the passenger experience for years to come.

One will see robot guides trialled at the region's busiest railway station, while other schemes will look at how using technology can improve services on other modes of public transport, including buses and the Metro.

The idea is to harness 5G for the benefit of passengers, and with the technology developing at such a rapid pace, there really is not a day to waste.

With the climate emergency getting more and more acute, we need to find ways to encourage people to turn to public transport in greater numbers than ever before.

The alternative is that more of our local authorities will be following the example of Birmingham Council, and implementing punitive measures such as the widely unpopular Clean Air Zone.

Punishing car drivers, many of whom have no choice but to use their vehicles, is not the best way to help our environment.

Instead we need to make public transport – and particularly our rail network – a genuinely attractive alternative.

There is a lot of work to be done for that to happen, but utilising the latest technology is a step in the right direction.

Scientists in the West Midlands have played a major role in the battle against coronavirus.

Since the start of the pandemic, our experts were involved in everything from key testing research to the development of the vaccines.

Now a new study may well have finally explained the reasons for long Covid.

According to the University of Birmingham-led study, many patients with coronavirus produce immune responses that attack their body’s own tissues or organs.

As we now know, this can result in people suffering a variety of symptoms for months after the initial infection.

Crucially, the next stage of the study will examine how certain antibodies present in people with long Covid could be targeted for treatment.

There is no doubt that we will still be learning new things about Covid for many years to come, and it is impossible to predict with any degree of certainty the direction the virus will head in.

We can be sure that our scientists will continue to strive towards delivering improvements and innovations in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of Covid patients.

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