A landmark £50 million project to help kick start the West Midlands economy and cut traffic congestion and carbon has been officially launched by Local Transport Minister Norman Baker.
The Smart Network, Smarter Choices project will see a range of initiatives put in place to help people change their travel behaviour in favour of green options such as public transport, cycling and walking.
Mr Baker was at Sandwell Council House to launch the three year project which will see a package of measures introduced along 10 key routes across the West Midlands.
Measures will include better walking and cycling routes, road improvements, expert journey planning for families, schools and businesses and even free travel for jobseekers.
The project, which is being delivered by transport authority Centro and the region's seven local authorities, aims to better connect people to work, skills and training opportunities, helping to underpin the local economy.
Local Transport Minister Norman Baker said: “Traffic congestion is costing the West Midlands £2.3 billion a year. This project will play an important role in tackling that and supporting local economic growth, whilst also cutting carbon as more people switch to more sustainable ways to travel.”
Councillor Tahir Ali, cabinet member for development, jobs and skills, who attended the launch, said: “This is about having a joined-up approach to improving the choices people have in order to travel around the region in a greener, more sustainable way. Not only will this cut traffic congestion, it will help people plan their journeys more easily, improve access to work and training and improve the region's health, all of which will help the local economy.”
Measures will be tailored for each of the 10 routes but will include initiatives such as:
Â· Small scale road and junction improvements
Â· Better passenger waiting facilities
Â· Expert travel planning for families, companies and schools
Â· More mobile, online and real time passenger information
Â· Smartcard technology for cashless travel
Â· New or improved walking and cycling routes
The project also includes funding for an expansion of the award-winning WorkWise scheme which provides free travel passes for unemployed people travelling to interviews or starting new jobs.
During the launch Mr Baker met 18-year-old Sophia Shoukat from Tividale, who used the WorkWise scheme to help land a planning apprenticeship with Sandwell Council after spending more than a year unemployed.
Sophia said: “When you start a new job the cost of everything starts to add up, particularly paying for lunch and travel even before you get your first pay cheque. It would have been a real challenge for me to get back into work without the extra support from the WorkWise scheme.
“The new job means that I can be independent and support myself and I would recommend WorkWise to anyone who is currently looking for work.”
The project follows Centro's successful £33 million bid to Government's Local Sustainable Transport Fund and is supported by a further £15 million from local public and private contributions.
Cllr Judith Rowley, Centro's lead member for green and accessible transport said: “I am delighted that we have launched our Smart Network, Smarter Choices project which will help people make smarter, greener travel choices across the region.
“Getting more people to use public transport, walk or cycle can help cut traffic congestion and free up our roads for essential users like hauliers and bus operators.
“This project will not only help support our regional economy but can also bring substantial benefits for the environment as well as people's health.”
For more information visit: www.mynetwork.org.uk
For more information contact Centro Media Executive Peter Cameron on 0121-214-7802 / 07921000382 or email firstname.lastname@example.org