Rail the future of public transport in the West Midlands, says region's mayor
The future of public transport in the West Midlands lies in rail, the region's mayor has said.
Andy Street revealed Birmingham's "major mode of transport" is rail and is the only city with that accolade outside London.
As a result he says improving the rail infrastructure is key to driving the region's economy.
Mr Street, the West Midlands' Metro Mayor, made the comments as he addressed a panel of experts on the impacts of coronavirus on transport.
He said: "In Birmingham, now, the major mode of transport into the city centre is rail.
"We are the only city outside London where that is true. So the best way of getting people out of their cars is to invest in rail."
In February, he revealed plans to open up eight new Metro lines and 21 new rail stations in the West Midlands in years to come.
This could see a new train line run from Walsall to Wolverhampton and the existing metro line from Birmingham to Wolverhampton extended to the i54 business park.
The panel also heard plans to boost levels of cycling in Britain in a bid to address climate change and tackle emissions from cars.
Mr Street is enthusiastic about installing new cycling lanes in the West Midlands. But he says rail will play a more important role in the region over the next few decades.
"That's not to take anything away from cycling," he said.
"But in a region like this, even if we do well [with cycling], we will only get about five per cent of people cycling. The London figure is somewhere just north of five.
"In terms of rail share of commute, it is over 30 per cent. So we have to think about where we are going to put those cash sums around that critical public transport infrastructure."
His office, the West Midlands Combined Authority, is supporting councils in making bids for government funding to install new pop-up cycling lanes.
Individual bids for each council were set to be signed off yesterday.
He added: "Each local authority in the West Midlands - including the four in the Black Country - have made their bids and have all got proposed pop-up lanes.
"It has got to be done quickly."
Public transport usage in the West Midlands is understandably down due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But before the pandemic began, the region was seeing a rise in passenger numbers on trains, the metro and buses.
Mr Street continued: "We like to think a good job has been done throughout the crisis. We have run our transport - so metro, train and bus throughout - with sufficient frequency to enable social distancing to be observed.
"And actually we have had a good response from the public in seeing that has been done."
He added: "I have an utter and defiant belief in public transport for the long term future for our big urban areas.
"Frankly it is the only way that big, dense, city regions can function well in the future.
"If you have seen the economic success of London over the past 40 years, there is no question that incredibly heavy investment in transport has been part of that success.
"We have seen across the world, productivity of cities is correlated almost perfectly with investment in public transport."