Friday, January 17, 2020

Look to the future

As I wrote earlier this week, Birmingham's plan to ban through traffic from the city centre is certainly bold, but its success hinges on significant prior upgrades to the public transport network. Cardiff Council have since announced their own ten-year strategy (similarly prompted by concerns over air quality) and, while a proposed £2 congestion charge inevitably made the headlines, it also includes a raft of planned improvements to a public transport infrastructure that they readily concede is "creaking".

New rail stations, new tram-train lines, swifter bus routes, cheaper bus tickets and segregated bike lanes are all in the mix - as is the long-awaited new central bus station, though that won't open until 2023, eight years after its predecessor (in the ideal location, adjacent to Central Station) was demolished.

All laudable proposals, but the council must now deliver - and to do that, they need to commit considerable financial resources. The general environmental imperative is clear, as is the local justification, but the severe budgetary constraints within which all authorities are having to work mean that realising the plans will not be easy. All of the money raised by the congestion charge would be ploughed back into public transport - but the council are proposing to exempt those who live within the city (at least initially), an overly generous move that will deny them additional much-needed revenue.

It's also worth dwelling on their acknowledgement that the existing infrastructure is no longer fit for purpose, designed to cope with far fewer people than it currently does. The danger is that the council constantly play catch-up and that the ten-year strategy results in a network that only meets today's needs rather than tomorrow's. With the city continuing to expand east and west and new housing estates springing up all over, demand is only going to increase and the council must make sure that their plans are futureproofed.

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