Where do the mayoral hopefuls stand on transport and road safety?

Filed under: Elections

With less than a week to go until the West Midlands Mayor election on Thursday 2 May, we’ve been paying close attention to the mayoral candidates and their stances on active travel, public transport and road safety. We’ve also had the chance to unpick some of the manifestos with candidates.

Candidates standing in the election are:

You can check what they think about transport on our policy comparison table on Google Sheets.

Better Streets for Birmingham’s manifesto asks of the mayoral candidates

Ahead of the election, Better Streets for Birmingham submitted a range of asks for manifesto pledges:

  1. Retain the Walking and Cycling Commissioner role and appoint somebody within the first 100 days
  2. Commit 25% of upcoming City Region Sustainable Transport Settlement (CRSTS2) funding to active travel schemes
  3. Make sure that transport projects take an integrated approach including walking and cycling
  4. Create a fund for local authorities to prioritise pedestrians and cyclists at junctions
  5. Use the devolution deal to introduce a regional ban on pavement parking and digital experimental traffic orders which allow day-to-day variations for experimentation
  6. Retain fixed penalty notices for speeding and other driving offences in the region
  7. Proceed with bus franchising
  8. Stop funding road-widening and vehicle capacity projects from devolved transport money

You can see whether candidates met these asks at the bottom of our comparison table on Google Sheets.

Interrogating the manifestos

Following the publication of three manifestos (the Lib Dem, Reform and Independent candidates have not published one), we delved into the detail and challenged candidates on the contents.

Siobhan Harper-Nunes (Green Party)

You can read Siobhan’s manifesto online and compare her policies against other candidates on our comparison table.

What does walking and cycling around Birmingham look like in 2028 following a Harper-Nunes mayoralty?

Fixing years of underinvestment in this area takes time, so it’s hard to promise that everywhere is a utopian vision of perfect urban planning after just 4 years. However, there are significantly more safe cycle routes, with more thought given to connectivity between the places people want to go to and doing the first part of a journey on foot or by bike, then switching to train, bus or tram, as is frequently the case in the best European cities. The work we’ve done on ensuring that pedestrians are at the top of the hierarchy is visible in many places, with better and wider pavements. Crossing roads is easier and quicker at most junctions, plus there are more facilities in walking and cycling distance, so lots more people are walking and cycling to schools, work, shops and leisure facilities.

25% of government funding for active travel means there will be a lot of work to be done to build infrastructure. Most of this work is undertaken by local authorities which have struggled to finish projects on time. What would you do as Mayor to fix this?

I would work with Local Authorities to work out what the blockages are. I would want to ensure that work is done using local supply chains and local companies employing people from the area. Unlike rail and tram projects, active travel infrastructure doesn’t require as much engineering work, so I would want to see evidence that all projects come with clear realistic deadlines and project plans. It’s also important to ensure that meaningful consultation is done well with residents. Plans will include lots of door-knocking and community face to face engagement, so that we get things right and are less likely to be challenged later.

What would you do to fix the issue of pavement parking, which adversely impacts people using wheelchairs, prams and the blind, in the region?

I would be happy to introduce pavement parking bans. I think that it would be popular with the majority of people, so I would be happy to have the powers to do this regionally. However, like all the work I do, I want it to be done working with communities in order to take them with us. By ensuring that it’s well publicised and engaged with, we are more likely to ensure compliance, which makes the whole thing a lot easier. If national government brings it in, which they could, it’s all an academic point in any case.

What would be the benefits of having a publicly-owned bus company?

The Green Party has long been in favour of this. Profits from running it are reinvested in the service, or taken as a surplus into the Combined Authority or constituent authorities to help fund other services, instead of going to shareholders. It also avoids and cuts the bureaucracy of the franchising model, and so cuts costs. Some of the best operators in the country are the few remaining municipally owned bus operators. E.g. Nottingham City Transport and Lothian Buses.

During hustings, you’ve suggested you would not prioritise a replacement for HS2 to Manchester – how would you look to increase capacity on the West Coast Mainline?

I think there are a couple of questions we need to ask. Do capacity increases need to be designed for high speed rail? Are there cheaper and less disruptive alternatives to do this? When you look at how difficult and time-consuming it is to get around within the West Midlands, should we not be focusing on improving that as more of a priority. For a lot of people, it’s already quicker and easier to get from Birmingham New Street to London Euston or Manchester Piccadilly than it is to get from their house to the station to start with. Even allowing for the argument that HS2 releases capacity for local services, the main priority has to be given to areas that have little or no rapid transport connectivity now.

You’ve committed to Vision Zero – When do you want to achieve this and what actions will you take to make it happen?

I am committed to this vision, but I am less keen on setting some future targets than on getting on with making roads safer now. The Cycling and Walking Commissioner is a key role, which is why it’s essential that the right person is in place as quickly as possible. The determination to do it and the correct approach towards prioritising road safety will be in place from day one if I am elected. However, a more serious and achievable target would be to aim for zero deaths and serious injuries by 2032.

Richard Parker (Labour)

You can read Richard’s manifesto online and compare his policies against other candidates on our comparison table.

What does walking and cycling around Birmingham look like in 2028 following a Parker mayoralty?

Our vision is that everyone who wants to can walk and cycle and that more people are making those choices. A properly resourced Police service (with the support of a Labour government) is prosecuting more dangerous drivers and our roads are safe for all.

Over the past few years, the West Midlands has had more active travel funding than it has the capacity to process. In your manifesto, you want local authorities to take on delivery of local projects where they can. Birmingham City Council has systematically failed to deliver active travel projects against funding deadlines. What will you do to address this?

Planning delays are a major issue – we’ll support Local Authority planning teams including with capacity. We are also starting the process of freeing up the current Mayor’s unused grants. We would look to follow Tracy Brabin’s lead in West Yorkshire and devolve down to councils where possible.

Your biggest public transport commitment is to bring buses into public ownership. How will you deliver that without distracting TfWM from everything else?

Buses aren’t a distraction. Thousands upon thousands of people rely on them and are being let down every day. It’s holding our region’s economy back and forcing people into cars and taxis. If we aren’t franchising and carry on with the current system then we will be failing them too.

You’re not committing to appointing a Walking and Cycling Commissioner. This would make WMCA an outlier among the big combined authorities. We’ve felt the tangible benefits of having somebody accountable for this infrastructure and projects: pace, ambition and collaboration has increased since the role was introduced. If you are ruling out appointing a Commissioner, how will you keep up pace, ambition and accountability?

We haven’t ruled a commissioner role in or out. But relying on one person to deliver the change means we aren’t hardwiring it in. Currently the post is paid for by the mayoral office budget and we are looking to have key business as usual expenditure items like this covered within the Combined Authority envelope rather than being discretionary.

Your manifesto has a vague commitment to building more infrastructure. What does this look like and how will you pay for it?

We will work with local authorities and developers to ensure safe segregated cycling and walking routes are prioritised within plans and cyclists and pedestrians are prioritised at junctions.

Will you commit to looking into the retention of fixed penalty notices in the region to maintain and expand enforcement?

Yes, we commit to retaining fixed penalty notices. I will carry on the campaigns led by Labour Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) David Jamieson and Simon Foster after the Conservative Party’s Transport Secretaries and Chancellors took road safety money away from the West Midlands a decade ago.

What actions will you take to make our region’s roads safe? If a task force, how would this work?

We will look at the findings of the current WMCA road safety consultation and marry that with our commitment to working towards the Vision Zero by 2040 pledge. The Combined Authority team has our manifesto and is working on detailed delivery plans to present to me and my team should we be successful on May 2nd.

Andy Street (Conservative)

You can read Andy’s manifesto online and compare his policies against other candidates on our comparison table.

What does walking and cycling around Birmingham look like in 2028 following a Street mayoralty?

It is clear that we need to see a step change in active travel by 2028, not least because our 2041 net zero ambitions rely on significant improvements by 2030. Clearly the key to making that step change is consistent funding – which is why I will dedicate at least £60 million per year from the City Region Sustainable Transport Settlement funding to new cycling and walking infrastructure, to give West Midlands residents more transport choice. This equates to more than £20 per head of population in the West Midlands and is a costed commitment.

Another key commitment is to overhaul our existing Starley network, to make it much more area-focussed and approached from a holistic network point of view.

I want to ensure people feel safe on our streets and ensure families are protected from the selfish few who endanger others. Giving everyone in the West Midlands a real choice in how they travel will be a priority for me as Mayor.

So, this is about delivering real change.

You’ve got a shopping list full of projects in your manifesto, many of them are unfunded, some are just ideas. How will you prevent them from becoming 2028’s manifesto promises?

All of the projects in my manifesto are costed, with potential funding sources identified. I make it a point of principle not to make promises that I cannot deliver. I know how the system works and have a track record of bringing in the investment needed.

Local authorities have issues delivering projects which has been especially prevalent in Birmingham – what will you do to make sure spades are going into the ground as quickly as funding is being won?

For a start, I will set ambitious cycling and walking modal shift targets as part of the Transport for West Midlands Local Transport Plan 5 strategy. I will also put active travel schemes at the heart of transport decision-making and ensure it is prioritised over private vehicle capacity, in line with the agreed Local Transport Plan, to create a more liveable and sustainable region. Active travel schemes should enable modal shift, improve road safety and not increase motor vehicle speeds or capacity. I will also re-appoint a Cycling & Walking Commissioner to continue to drive the progress made on active travel in the West Midlands.

We need to increase delivery capacity, which means not only getting the funding but also developing the skills and talent in the region to be able to deliver on this. In Birmingham there is a genuinely acute issue in delivery capacity, so my goal will be to see how TfWM and the WMCA can support Birmingham City Council colleagues to continue to deliver on what should be a shared vison for active travel. As a convener, I will bring people round the table to work together, while seeing how TfWM can help unblock delivery issues.

Will you commit to making greater use of the devolution regulatory sandbox to retain fixed penalty notices, accelerating speed enforcement? (A regulatory sandbox means the region can ask the government to change some laws about transport in the West Midlands to trial new things)

The devolution regulatory sandbox that I secured from Government as part of our Trailblazing Deeper Devolution Deal gives us the ability to work with the Department for Transport to push the envelope in terms innovation on this important issue. We are leading the way on this – one example that has already happened is the pilot and evacuation of side road zebras. When it comes to fixed penalty notices being retained, it has always been my opinion that fines raised from people not following traffic laws in the West Midlands should stay in the our region, and not go to Westminster.

I have written to the Government about this – as has the WMCA – and we’ll continue to forcibly make this argument. I know that Tom Byrne, the Conservative candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner, is of the same mind and would back keeping fines here if elected.

In hustings, you’ve argued against franchising despite the ongoing TfWM review. What model is your preference for the West Midlands and why?

To be clear, I haven’t ruled it out at all – but my approach is not to write empty cheques for huge projects, or indeed negotiate with private firms in public. I trust WMCA officers to produce a franchising assessment in the summer which will allow us to make an informed decision on the best way forward, and as ever I’ll take a pragmatic and evidence-led approach. However, making such big decisions based purely on political ideology is potentially dangerously expensive, and you have to know where the money is going to come from before you commit to it. Taking the buses into public ownership in Manchester cost more than £140 million – with hundreds of millions of financial risk on top of that. You also have to consider that our region has the lowest travel card prices in the country, including specifically lower prices than Manchester.

Since you were first elected in 2017, more than 300 people have died on the region’s roads and over 40,000 people were injured. What actions will you take to make our region’s roads safe?

This is totally unacceptable. No single death on the region’s roads is normal or acceptable. However, it’s clear our region has a systematic problem with dangerous driving and road violence, which continues to tear communities apart. A joined-up, multi-agency approach is needed, but change needs to happen fast.

Last summer, I convened partners including Birmingham City Council, the Police & Crime Commissioner and the Chief Constable to push for meaningful change. We are seeing some progress, but it is too little and too slow. We must find practical ways to eradicate dangerous driving, to cut speeding and to bring those who make our roads dangerous to justice.

It is too easy to say that the responsibility only lies with dangerous drivers. This is an oversimplified view – we need to re-engineer our roads to design out the kind of speeding and menace that they currently allow. That means looking at how WMCA funding is used with council partners who design our roads and neighbourhoods so that they are safe for us all. Frankly, it also means no longer prioritising the convenience of traffic flow and traffic speeds over the need to live in safe communities. I’ll be working with colleagues at the highways authorities and policing to develop the right approaches to enforcement, engineering and education.

But it also means looking how the courts prosecute dangerous drivers and if our police officers have the resources they require to catch them.

For example, the police have increased enforcement activity through more road policing and using footage from dash cams supplied by the public, but we have to ask if they have the resources to handle the increasing volume of videos that are sent in.

One death on our roads is too many, and I will not rest until we have – as a society – addressed this issue with the resource it deserves.

Voting on Thursday 2 May 2024

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Martin Price

I'm the Policy Lead for Better Streets for Birmingham - getting into the detail of committee documents, strategies and political manifestos.

I'm a design consultant interested in system change for transport. I currently work in digital government and used to work in the transport sector.

I live in Northfield and want to see a Birmingham where people have different choices instead of driving everywhere.