West Midland drivers must be persuaded to leave their cars at home to make vital inroads into the £2 billion plus cost of congestion on the region’s roads, says Lord Snape of Wednesbury.
The Labour peer, a former chairman of Travel West Midlands, called for more measures to attract commuters onto public transport – including tougher London-style penalties for motorists who use bus lanes.
And he urged West Midland councils to quit endless infighting and adopt a ‘Manchester-style’ approach to transport issues to usher in new improvements to the region’s road and rail network.
He called for a new approach to investment in the Midland Metro tram system, including bringing light rail costs down, to enable a further expansion of the network.
Lord Snape, one of the keynote speakers at today’s Base Birmingham conference on a sustainable, low carbon agenda and other transport and industry-related issues, said: “I hope that there will be a long-term commitment to the whole principle of better public transport, leading to carbon reduction in the West Midlands.
“But you cannot force people out of cars. We have to persuade people to leave their cars at home – there is a pretty modern bus fleet in the West Midlands, but there is a lot more to do.
“I am not going to leave my car at home to sit in a bus in a traffic jam. We need proper bus priorities and proper bus schemes.”
Lord Snape said public transport needed to offer a ‘quick and reasonably-priced alternative’ to motoring – and advocated a clampdown on bus lane infiltrators.
“Where is the incentive to leave your car at home? I think there should be tougher measures for drivers who use bus lanes (in the West Midlands). It is far more rigorously monitored in London.
“Who would drive in London these days? I would be happy to see more penalties in Birmingham to deter people from using bus lanes.”
Lord Snape said much of the congestion on West Midland roads dated back to the design of the network in the mid-1960s – and said research in 2009 had quoted a cost of £2.5 billion.
“The cost of congestion in the West Midlands is estimated at £2.5 billion in time lost, delays caused, cost to business etc, and it is likely to have increased since then.”
The Labour peer suggested more investment in the Midland Metro light railway system would help ease congestion – and hailed Manchester’s Metrolink light railway ststem.
“Manchester councils are much better at co-operating. People here think that Birmingham wants to rule the roost, that the Black Country want to go their own way, that Walsall is a republic all of its own.
“We have to fight like billy-ho to get an extension from Snow Hill. I think we should go much further in adopting a Manchester approach. There has certainly been a more regional approach there than we have ever been able to achieve in the West Midlands.
“There is a lot to be said for bloody-mindedness but it does not always play to our benefit.
“The original concept 25 years ago was for four different tracks, three in the immediate conurbation and one in Coventry. But here we are adding little bit-sized bits to one line.
“The problem is that Metro systems are pretty expensive and much more needs to be done to bring light rail costs down.
“Part of the problem is that decisions have been taken in Whitehall on local transport – people spend time discussing ideas and then being vetoed by the Treasury.
“The message is ‘get your act together, back Centro and let’s encourage a public transport carbon reduction programme in the region.”
Lord Snape was addressing some of the key transport issues at this week’s Base Birmingham conference, billed as a ‘public and private sector event to unlock the potential of a Smarter, Sustainable Birmingham.
Base, which stands for ‘business and a sustainable environment’, comes to Birmingham following a series of award-winning events in London, Glasgow and Leeds City Region, which have proved successful catalysts for local authorities and businesses to realise the opportunities for growth which spring from the sustainability and low carbon agenda.
Keynote speakers lined up included Professor Andy Gouldson of the Centre for Low Carbon Futures and former Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone.