Birmingham City Council’s Transport Plan represents our vision for a zero carbon, resilient transport system that will help to ‘level up’ the city and remove the barriers that sustain inequality. Our plan is working towards the delivery of safe and attractive environments for active travel, and a high quality, sustainable public transport system fit for all users. Active travel and public transport need to be complemented by road space reallocation that supports a change in the way we move around the city and leads to the reduction of car travel. In addition, meeting the objectives of this Plan requires the introduction of policies that tackle the environmental and social cost of the use of private cars. Our work to achieve this aim is well underway and was put to the biggest test yet as the city welcomed the world to the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. Birmingham City Council’s vision was simple: To deliver a clean and green Games with public transport at its heart.
Air pollution leads to almost 1,000 premature deaths a year in Birmingham alone, and the Council was mandated by the Government to bring nitrogen dioxide levels within the legal limit in the shortest time possible. We sought to take swift and decisive action, which meant introducing a Clean Air Zone (CAZ) to our city centre. Our efforts to work towards a greener future in the way we travel in the city ahead of the Games saw the introduction of a Clean Air Zone, which began in June 2021 and is a key part of our commitment to improving air quality. All vehicles which are not compliant with the CAZ standards are charged a fee to drive into the zone. Unlike other zones in the country where private vehicles are exempt, Birmingham’s is the only scheme outside London to charge all non-compliant vehicles.
Since the Clean Air Zone began operating, the percentage of the most polluting vehicles entering the city centre every day has reduced from just over 15% in June 2021 to just over 7% in June 2022. This reduction has helped reduce the levels of the pollutant, nitrogen dioxide. The fact that these figures are higher than our modelling predicted, and are still rising, demonstrates that drivers of non-compliant vehicles are choosing other methods of getting into and around the city centre. Early indications show that nitrogen dioxide pollution is down by as much as 20% in some hotspots around the city centre. This will save lives and is a crucial step in reducing the city’s carbon emissions. Fundamentally, the purpose of the scheme is to address the issue of poor air quality which is directly and indirectly negatively impacting the lives of the people who live and work in our city. By addressing this issue, we remove a barrier that may be preventing people from achieving their full potential.
The revenues generated by the scheme are also helping support the delivery of a number of transport projects which are being delivered by the Council and Transport for West Midlands (TfWM). These projects include investing in the trial of hydrogen-fuelled buses, the rollout of fast and rapid electric vehicle charging points, further pedestrianisation of the city centre, additional investment in cycling infrastructure, expansion of the car-free school streets programme, and improvements to public transport.
The Clean Air Zone was just one initiative from Birmingham City Council ahead of the Commonwealth Games that aimed to achieve our sustainability objectives for the biggest event ever hosted in the city. To accomplish this, we worked in partnership with the Birmingham 2022 Organising Committee, together with TfWM. We undertook coverage, capacity, efficiency, reliability, and accessibility improvements across different transport modes. Overall, the Games provided a catalyst for investment in the region, promoting the delivery of a number of transport schemes. These included the introduction of ‘Sprint’ Bus Rapid Transit Systems, linking the city to neighbouring towns including Walsall and Solihull, as well as Birmingham Airport. Meanwhile, the West Midlands Metro was extended to Centenary Square and Edgbaston, while key improvements to railway stations at Birmingham University and Perry Barr continued to make public transport a more attractive proposition. The Games also prompted a keen focus on active travel, perhaps most notably through Birmingham City Council’s ambitious £50m ‘Birmingham Cycle Revolution’ programme. This saw the introduction of two ‘flagship’ fully segregated Main Corridor cycle routes along the A34 and the A38, which provided sustainable transport links between Birmingham City Centre and key locations including Alexander Stadium, Edgbaston Cricket Ground and the University of Birmingham. This heavy investment in cycling infrastructure was complemented by the West Midlands Cycle Hire Scheme which was introduced across the region in the 12 months leading up to Birmingham 2022.
The desire to reduce the number of people travelling to the Games by car, coupled with the practicalities of a lack of available parking at venues, demanded an aligned and collaborative communications strategy between local authorities, Games partners and the organising committee itself. This saw green transport methods clearly signposted to ticketholders through Birmingham 2022’s direct email communications and social media, as well as a journey planner on the Games website. The results speak for themselves. Statistics released by the Department of Culture Media and Sport show that more than five million people visited Birmingham during the two weeks from 25 July, a 200% increase on the same period in 2021.
The summer proved that the car does not need to be the first choice for every journey, and that Birmingham is able to welcome the world without compromising on its green vision. The onus now is to use this as a launchpad for continued investment, as well as collaboration with partners, to fully realise of the ambitions of the transport plan and clean air strategy.