Transport issues in the West Midlands have a major impact on society and need urgent attention, an expert said yesterday.
Transport has a key role in creating sustainable economic growth and regeneration and in ensuring vibrant communities, according to Dr Andy Southern, managing director of Atkins Transport Planning and a member of the Atkins Highways & Transportation board.
Dr Southern, who has 25 years' experience of the sector, with emphasis on developing transport strategies and evaluating policy, was speaking to business leaders at the Breakfast Connection event at the International Convention Centre in Birmingham.
He said surveys had shown reducing traffic congestion was a major priority for people in the West Midlands, ranked only behind better public transport. The same surveys indicated that road maintenance was also a higher priority in the West Midlands than nationally.
Dr Southern said car use was growing in the UK while public transport use was down.
Dampening the rate of growth of car journeys was not enough to deal with the congestion problem. That was why the Government was "warming" to the idea of road use charging, even though that might be "unpalatable" to many people.
With Birmingham a prime contender to pilot a scheme, it would mean access to a share of £ 18 million in pump- priming funds to explore the possibilities and £200 million a year to launch.
Dr Southern said the West Midlands should be up for such a challenge and the indications were that it would be.
Birmingham City Council was edging towards such a decision. But the West Midlands had to show it was " serious" about wishing to test the concept.
A scheme, which would probably take two years to develop, could involve elements of charging for the motorway box around Birmingham, improving demand management and high-occupancy lanes on motorways.
He said the precise plan would have to be "carefully thought through".
Dr Southern went on: "The key will be to take along residents, business and transport operators to make sure there are some real benefits to be had."
The Government was essentially operating a "carrot and stick" approach, but the carrot was real "if the West Midlands is clear what it is seeking to get out of this".
Atkins is part of the Birmingham-based Atkins EDF Energy Consortium, one of four bidders shortlisted for the prestigious 25-year, £2.2 billion PFI contract to maintain all the roads and street lighting in Birmingham.
The consortium has now reached the Invitation to Negotiate stage.
Atkins, one of the UK's major highways companies, employs around 900 people in the centre of Birmingham and already manages more than 7,000 miles of roads in the UK.