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CONGESTION INDIGESTION

02-06-2007

It looks Manchester has trumped Birmingham by becoming the second city after London to line itself up for a congestion charge. Dionne McCarthy wonders if we’ve had a lucky escape.

I am not yet sure where I stand on congestion charges, but I do know that the West Midlands alone is responsible for the release of over 43.1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per annum, a large proportion of which is a result of car pollution, and so from an environmental stance surely something has to be done?

But what would this mean, leave the safety of my warm, comfy car for a packed, sweaty and scary bus ride into the city? Or to wait, freezing on the side of the tracks for the dreaded message to tell me the train has been cancelled - as they so often are during the winter months, usually due to a single leaf on the line.

The British love affair with its cars is still very much alive and well in the Midlands, and its true that many of us would choose a traffic jam over a train ride if it means spending some time with our beloved car.

Heating on, CD playing - its my morning ‘me’ time, I can relax, wake up and prepare for the working day without worrying whether the crazy bearded man scanning the carriage has chosen me to talk to today, or if I’m going to be buried under an armpit for the entire duration of my journey.

And travel in and out of Birmingham is still relatively free flowing if you compare us to London; avoiding the motorways I manage to commute daily through the centre in rush hour without much trouble.

So what will it take to get us Brummies out of our cars and back on the buses?

There are several issues that need to be addressed, the first being the terrible state of our public transport. We have a long way to go before I would feel happy ditching my car for a bus or train ride to work.

It might be that I could get there in half the time by train but the reality is that in the Midlands it’s so unreliable, you could never be sure. This weeks chaos on the Midland Metro in the Black Country only further goes to prove just how easily upset the transport network is.

And then there’s overcrowding on rush hour trains. Standing on the platform, watching people squeezing themselves into tiny gaps, the doors barely able to close behind them, is a frightening scene, and so if it means adding half an hour to my journey in order to have my personal space and feel safe, I can live with it.

Public safety also has to be a consideration. As a woman travelling alone I just do not feel safe on much of the city’s public transport. Vandalism, mugging and attacks are all commonplace on buses and trains throughout the Midlands and the prospect of catching a bus after dark is a little daunting.

So what is the solution? We are an ever-growing population with increasing wealth, and the future will only see a rise of cars on our roads. Curbing the problem of congestion now will massively help to reduce pollution but the investment required to prepare us for the change is huge and feels far off.

It is simply an unrealistic proposal at this time for the Midlands. London has an amazing inner City transport network and its train and bus travel is always going to be a more reliable, faster and cheaper alternative to car travel.

Until we can be offered the same alternative, congestion charges as far as I am concerned are not an option.

An early introduction of charges without the necessary improvements would feel like nothing more than a ploy to take our cash.

Would congestion charging work in the West Midlands? Leave a comment on our Message Board.

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