Sustainable travel plays a fundamental role in Centro’s work, giving us the chance to improve journeys, health and the economy by helping people make informed decisions about the way they travel.
The government’s announcement of the Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF) in 2011 presented the West Midlands with an opportunity to cut congestion and support the region’s growth during challenging economic times.
Centro successfully bid for £33m from the LSTF, which represented the largest single allocation awarded anywhere in the country. The funding was supported by £15m of public and private contributions to launch the Smart Network, Smarter Choices (SNSC) programme. The three-year scheme introduced a package of sustainable travel measures aimed at boosting the economy, cutting carbon and connecting residents to jobs.
Since launching the project, which is being run in partnership with the seven West Midlands district councils, a range of complementary infrastructure and behavioural change initiatives have been targeted along 10 of the region’s key routes.
The scheme has helped us achieve some of our aims, but we have a long-term commitment to build on the work already in place and continuing to cut the congestion that currently costs our regional economy more than £2bn each year.
We have been looking at ways to continue this work and have already secured a further £6m from the LSTF to continue running Smart Network, Smarter Choices in Birmingham, Solihull and the Black Country until March 2016.
Funding for 2015/16 will focus on providing sustainable travel support for people living, working and studying in the region, backed by wider investment in the West Midlands through schemes funded by the Local Growth Fund and local contributions.
The project will support sustainable travel in key areas of employment, education and regeneration. To maximise the benefits available through this investment, the areas targeted are directly linked to the region’s Strategic Economic Plans.
While continuing with successful schemes, we will adapt how we work and trial new initiatives to take advantage of the lessons learnt during the first two years of SNSC.
New cycling infrastructure has been put in place and thousands of residents have taken part in cycle training, maintenance courses or led rides. But if we are to see bigger numbers of cyclists on the roads, we need to educate other road users.
That is why, as well as providing free training sessions for residents, we will also be offering courses for Heavy Goods Vehicle and Passenger Carrying Vehicle drivers, which give them the chance to experience first-hand some of the challenges faced by cyclists.
To help ensure that young people are able to access the skills and training they need to move on to the next stage of employment or education, we will continue to provide a package of support for those at key stages of their lives.
Transitional support will be targeted at students in secondary schools, colleges and universities to give them the information they need to make smarter travel choices when moving into employment or a new stage of education.
This will not only help play an important role in supporting economic development but help create the next generation of sustainable travellers.
Work with businesses will be adapted to help them take advantage of the support available through online applications and webinar based learning sessions. Our WorkWise scheme, which provides free travel support and tickets for unemployed people travelling to interviews or starting new jobs, has continued to be one of our biggest successes.
Having already helped more than 11,500 jobseekers back to work, exceeding our target of 7,500, WorkWise will again form part of our programme for 2015/16. This will include a renewed focus on supporting young people not in education, employment or training and those travelling to apprenticeships. The offer has been expanded to all of the region’s jobseekers, making the process simpler and allowing us to help even more people.
Sustainable travel is directly linked to the future economic prosperity of our region. The work we do also directly supports the capital investment being made in the region. Promotion of sustainable access to and from key developments, such as Birmingham New Street station or Birmingham Airport, will help ensure our work remains important over a longer time period.
As well as helping boost sustainable economic growth, the programme is supporting efforts to improve health and reduce harmful pollution – both real problems in the West Midlands. Sustainable travel projects support better health outcomes and are helping to bring down pollution levels in our urban conurbation.
Investment also provides great value for money, generating £10 of benefits for every £1 spent. So, sustainable travel must form an integral part of future transport planning through the region’s strategic plans, with the government making a provision for funding in future bidding rounds.
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