A leading think tank has called on transport authorities to help city centres bounce back by allowing flexible part-time season tickets for those who no longer go to the office every weekday.
It comes as West Midlands mayor Andy Street said the region’s public transport network is ready and waiting to safely carry more people as the return to the workplace gathers pace.
Writing for Transport Network’s sister publication the MJ, Andrew Carter, chief executive of the Centre for Cities, warned that while working from home may suit employees and reduces companies’ overheads, it starves the retail and hospitality sectors of customers, hollowing out city centres and potentially 'taking away much of what made them the exciting places that they were pre-COVID'.
He wrote: ‘If we care about saving thousands of retail and hospitality jobs and preserving the vibrancy of our city centres then we need to that ensure workers return for at least part of the working week.
‘Transport authorities can do their part by allowing flexible part-time season tickets for commuters, but public and private sector employers should also recognise that the choices they will make in the coming months will have consequences for the health of their local economies.’
Wolverhampton, August 2020
Following a weekly regional COVID-19 briefing hosted by Mr Street on Friday, Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) said the region’s bus, rail and tram networks were all running a comprehensive or full timetable ‘but there remains capacity to carry more people safely’.
However, TfWM, which is part of the West Midlands Combined Authority, appealed to commuters to stagger their working start times where possible to help the network manage demand in accordance with social distance guidelines.
Mr Street said: ‘Thanks to the hard work and dedication of our frontline workers and operators, we now have capacity to move more people on our public transport than we are currently doing – and to do so in a safe way.
‘Public transport is no longer just for essential journeys, and we want to reassure passengers that they can travel safely and comfortably.’
Julian Edwards, managing director of West Midlands Trains, said the operator is playing its part in getting people back to work by stepping up its timetable to more than 90% of pre-COVID capacity and running services with extra carriages wherever possible.
He said: ‘We’ve adapted our timetable so we can run trains with as many carriages as possible to maximise space and we’ll be adding even more services before the schools go back.
‘The message is clear – the West Midlands rail network is safe and open for business.’
Back to school challenge
TfWM said the next key milestone for transport is September, with schools reopening and more businesses opening their offices.
It is currently carrying out a huge planning exercise by looking at historical data and trying to shape services where it expects the highest demand from the public.
Travel advice to schools across the region will be issued in the coming weeks.