A network of electric buses criss-crossing the city are the centrepiece of a new plan designed to save the city from gridlock due to massive growth in population and car ownership.
Birmingham City Council leader Sir Albert Bore has outlined a radical 25-year plan for a historic change to the city, with a 200-mile network of 11 Sprint rapid-transit lines – a hybrid between a bus and tram service – the centrepiece.
Birmingham’s new Mobility Action Plan also includes a new London tube-style map will help visitors and commuters around the network of buses, trams and trains to give Birmingham a a genuine integrated transport network.
A more integrated Oyster Card style fare system will also simplify payment for public transport in future.
Currently half of the 3.3 million journeys taken in the city each day are by car, compared to rates as low as 15 per cent in cities like Osaka or Stockholm.
But with Birmingham’s population expected to grow, planners estimate that by 2031 there will be an extra 80,000 cars on the road bringing the network grinding to a halt unless action is taken now.
With a one-mile extension to the Midland Metro costing £125 million, planners are also conscious that developing more tram lines will be too costly. Instead, a more affordable alternative, the Sprint rapid-bus system will be developed, with the option to upgrade them to trams if or when cash is available.
And cutting-edge technology is being developed to run them at a fraction of the cost of diesel. Already electric-conductive charging points in bus lay-bys are being used in Genoa and Turin, slashing fuel costs by 80 per cent.
The city of Noord-Brabant in Holland is developing the ATC Solar Curve Bus Stop under which solar panels built into bus shelters provide the power.
Plans are also being developed to encourage more walking – such as by making the busy school run safer, and encouraging cycling.
Sir Albert, who ordered the plan, said: “Having an efficient transport system is a vital part of meeting our plans to move the city forward.
“Whilst we have had successes, in general Birmingham is lagging behind many UK and European cities in its thinking.
“This is a transport plan, not for tomorrow but for over the next 25 years. We need an integrated transport system in Birmingham which we all need to agree on.
“This is why we are putting out this consultation document. Once this plan is agreed across the businesses and residents of Birmingham then we need to put in place funding programmes that will allow us to implement the plan over the coming years.
“This is precisely what countries such as France and Germany have done over the last 20 years, and which is why their transport infrastructure is so much better than ours. We need to do better in Birmingham and this plan will allow us to deliver a transport system comparable to other cities in Europe.”
But the plan will not be implemented over night. Even with the Sprint system being much more affordable than a metro, it is estimated that it will still cost between £1 billion and £3 billion to develop all 11 lines proposed.
Development will include extending bus lanes, improving waiting areas and creating a series of interchanges around the outer and middle ring roads which would link with train and tram services, cycle routes and even park and ride facilities - designed to make it as easy as possible for people to change.
Coupled with that will be a new charging system and smart card under which people will be charged for the journey from a to b, not by the number of buses or trains it takes – similar to the London transport charging system.
Simon Statham, associate director of transport consultants WSP and one of the architects of the plan, said: “This is not just about transport, trains and buses, it’s about how transport can enrich and enhance people’s lives. It’s about health and education.
“Something needs to be done. There are 3.3 million trips per day, most of them by car and a quarter of them less than a mile. This will rise to four million by 2031. The transport system as it stands cannot cope with four million trips.”
Perhaps signalling the austere nature of public finance it is assumed that there will be little, if any, new investment in the city’s local Metro or rail networks beyond what is currently planned.
An exception to this would be the reinstatement of passenger services on freight only Camp Hill Chords, Tamworth and Sutton Park rail lines - included in the Action Plan.
Centro has been trying to get the line reopened since 2007, and last year made a renewed bid for £150 million Department for Transport funding – with the ambition to get started on work in 2019, to be completed in time to feed in to HS2. So far the Government funding has remained elusive.