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State of the Region 2020 Full Report

9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation

96.5% (1,768,211) of premises have access to ultrafast and superfast broadband in the WMCA in 2019. The percentage has slightly decreased since 2018 by 0.2pp due to the number of all premises increasing at a faster rate than the number of premises with ultrafast and superfast broadband access. Across the WMCA, the overall median data usage was on average 178GB in 2019. 

In December 2019, the metro punctuality across the WM 7 Met. was recorded at 96.4%, compared to the same month in 2018 this has slightly decreased from 97.0%. The latest data (March 2020) for the West Midlands Rail Public Performance Measure (PPM) was 89.2% slightly below the target of 90.0%. 

MIT Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program Research Case Study

In March 2020, MIT launched a pilot in the UK of a ‘lite’ version of its global ‘Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Programme’ (REAP), aimed at helping UK regions with achieving greater productivity, employment and returns from research and innovation activity.This programme seeks to deepen the collective efforts and community of practice of entrepreneurship and innovation. The benefit of MIT’s theoretical and practice-based expertise and regional leadership, focused on this new initiative to support productivity growth, is a defining factor in the delivery of the UK’s local Industrial Strategies. The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) is one of six regions currently part of the programme.

The West Midlands Team ‘lite’ REAP team is sponsored by the GBSLEP, BCCLEP and the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), whilst also representing the Coventry & WarksLEP area. WM REDI is part of this team, which includes representatives from Government, Academia, Corporates, SMEs, and Risk Capital. Other organisations involved include the WMCA (Innovation Lead), Innovate UK, GBSLEP, Black Country Growth LEP, West Midlands Combined Universities, Aston Centre for Growth, Birmingham University, Midlands Aerospace Alliance, KPMG, Greater Birmingham Chambers, Black Country Chamber, Innovation Alliance West Midlands, and the British Business Bank. The goal of the MIT REAP-UK Initiative is to support regional teams of leaders representing Entrepreneurs, Risk Capital Providers, Corporates, Academia, and Governments in an evidence-based approach to supporting innovation and entrepreneurship in each team’s local region. The initiative draws on the frameworks founded and established through the MIT REAP global program and translates them into the UK context with a cohort composed of entirely UK-based teams. Initial research is now being developed along 4 themes:

Customer Research –surveying entrepreneurs (SMEs) and Risk capital providers to analyse their view of the innovation ecosystem.We aim to understand our regional portfolio of innovation actors (sector, maturity, profile, etc.) and identify the most vulnerable sectors and those that have the biggest economic impact on the region, so we can match them to appropriate business support. 

Assessing the ecosystem –developing a set of indicators to assess the capability to support Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the region. 

Mapping Current Business Support–this will let us see if we as a region are supporting the development and growth of ‘innovation-driven enterprises’ (IDEs) and if not what areas of business support need to change / gaps need to be addressed. For example, is there appropriate business support available to help firms to build resilience post Covid-19, around the re-purposing, re-positioning, and re-validating of their business?

Identification of Innovation Driven Enterprises–these companies pursue global opportunities based on bringing to customers’ innovations, which have a clear competitive advantage and high growth potential.

Future Mobility and the Covid-19 Impact on Transport –Case Study

Transport for West Midlands has been reviewing its evidence base and monitoring the impacts of Covid-19 on the current delivery and strategy for transport. The following provides ab outline of the analysis and work to date and the impacts on transport in the region.  

Since the start of the Covid-19 lockdown, the UK transport sector has faced the biggest crisis in modern times as the pandemic affects the country’s way of life. Unprecedented steps had to be put in place, following strict Government public health guidelines, for passengers and commuters to limit non-essential travel and avoid social interaction. This resulted in significant reductions in bus and rail services throughout the West Midlands and nationally. 

Impacts of Lockdown 

Public transport usage declined by approximately 90% in the first weeks of the introduction of lockdown, and motor vehicle usage also declined significantly. 

As a result of significantly reduced passengers and revenue, public transport operators had to reduce their services. Steps were taken to ensure that operators were able to maintain an agreed level of service so that key workers could still travel. 

In response to the challenging environment faced by the rail industry, the Department for Transport temporarily suspended normal franchise agreements, and transferred all revenue and cost risk to the government for an initial period of six months. 

Outside of London however, bus and light rail services operate in a deregulated market, and therefore responses were more challenging to coordinate and implement in comparison. The government, as well as Transport for West Midlands, recognised the importance of maintaining bus services for key workers, and additional financial and policy measures were put in place. 

Transport for West Midlands was able to further support NHS workers by facilitating free bus and tram travel for all NHS staff and using Ring and Ride services to shuttle frontline staff between hospitals and free Park and Ride sites. 

Remobilising the transport network 

In May the Government set out its strategy for lifting the lockdown restrictions which sought a balance between the risks of incurring a second wave of Covid-19 and enabling a restart to the economy. 

The West Midlands transport recovery is being implemented in collaboration with our local authority partners and we have set out 5 key objectives for our response.

  • Travel that is safe and secure
  • Getting workers and businesses back up and running (where safe)
  • Supporting travel to schools and keeping children and families safe
  • Keeping the clean air, reduced carbon emissions and physical exercise
  • Supporting a green recovery

We are taking action to support the transport system to recover and to off-set the potential for a mass reversion to car use in our urban areas.Work was required to understand how transport services could be remobilised and support an increase of passengers. This was especially challenging, as on board social distancing requirements meant that vehicles would only be allowed to carry around 20% of capacity. As a result, services would still not be commercially viable and funding support would need to continue.

Further challenges remained on how to ensure that transport services matched expected demand, as trip patterns and demand is likely to change as different lockdown measures ease as part of a phased approach. 

Positive impacts

With transport usage down considerably during lockdown, there were a number of noticeable improvements to the environment, including: 

  • In early April, monitoring suggested there had been considerable drops in nitrogen dioxide levels compared to the previous five year average for the same time period; for Birmingham, this was suggested to be by around 42%
  • There have been reductions in carbon emissions related to recent reduced traffic levels. UK figures from SIA Partners show UK emissions have reduced by 36% from the start of lockdown to early May. 

Indeed, as public transport and motor vehicle usage declined, there was also a noticeable increase in walking and cycling across the UK, whether for recreation or commuting purposes.  

To make it easier for people to walk and cycle, the Government announced the ‘Emergency Active Travel Fund’ in May to support temporary schemes such as pop up cycle lanes and widening pavements.  

There is potentially a positive long-term legacy following lockdown if this sustainable travel behaviour remains, helping to lock in health and environmental benefits. 

Long-term impacts

As of late June 2020 in the West Midlands, traffic on the Strategic Road Network was back to 80% of the normal pre-Covid level. Metro was up to almost 50%, and bus had recovered by about 35%. Rail on the other hand remained low at about 10% of normal levels. The longer-term impact of Covid-19 on travel behaviour is not yet fully known, but it is evident that it might be potentially significant.  Whilst there could be some positive travel behaviour changes, including more working from home and more walking and cycling, there could also be negative impacts. The message to avoid public transport during the crisis may remain in people’s mind long after the pandemic has finished, meaning a decrease in long-term passengers. This may result in greater car usage, which is not only detrimental for economic recovery through increased congestion, but detrimental to the environment –specifically air quality and carbon emissions. 

The West Midlands has set an ambitious target to achieve net-zero carbon by 2041.  Transport accounts for around one third of carbon emissions and has seen little overall change in emissions. With passenger numbers still low, and on-board social distancing in place, there is likely to also be a long-lasting impact on the viability of public transport services; state intervention may be necessary to continue to support the provision of services which could influence the future role of local and national government in public transport delivery.  Covid-19 has exacerbated many already underlying inequalities and has the potential to create new ones in the region. Certain groups are disproportionately affected, be it through having a higher risk contracting it, or being most impacted by its knock-on effects, including:

  • Older people
  • BAME groups
  • Younger people
  • Those living in deprived wards
  • Lower income earners
  • Lone parents
  • Disabled people
  • Women

These groups are less likely to own a car, be on a lower income, live in more deprived areas and be more reliant on public transport compared to higher income groups. If accessible and affordable public transport is therefore not available in both the short and long term, there is a risk of further exacerbating inequalities in the region.

Looking to the future of government spending, there is also uncertainty over how the government will seek to address increased borrowing and the predicted economic downturn. Large scale infrastructure projects could be a tool for significant economic stimulation, or victims of tighter fiscal policy. For the West Midlands, it is vital for investment into the transport network to continue.  The region is rolling out a programme of pop up cycle infrastructure to respond to the immediate need to support people to travel where public transport is currently not an option. As we move out of the crisis into recovery it is critical that we continue to review our transport policies and programmes to ensure a fairer, greener, healthier and more sustainable West Midlands is achieved for the long-term. 

Understanding and planning for the impacts of Covid-19

As the UK went into lockdown, TfWM’s Policy, Strategy & Innovation team were tasked with developing an understanding of the impacts on the West Midlands transport network. A combination of statistics on transport usage, relevant news items and key messages were collated into a website to provide daily monitoring. Further analysis tools were developed to support the transport planning around getting key workers to the essential services destinations, reflecting the reduced frequency of public transport. 

For monitoring public transport usage, Swift Card data was produced daily and used to reflect the public transport impact across bus, Metro and trains. For highways usage, TfWM signed up to Waze for Cities, to provide real-time highways disruption information. The programme allowed for the monitoring of speeds based on 6 corridors on the Key Route Network, helping to monitor the effect of lockdown on easing of congestion, and any issues with speeding as a result of reduced traffic. In order to coordinate the support and availability of public transport for key workers, TfWM collated and mapped information to identify areas of high public transport dependency –helping to ensure that key workers could still travel. 

In April an online survey was promoted via WMCA social media channels and emailed directly to members of WMCA/TfWM data bases:

  • 6188 responses were received in total, of which: 
  • 2940 (48%) would like to receive further updates  
  • 2859 (46%) would like to take part in future research


The survey also provides further evidence of the increases in walking and cycling during the lockdown and the key sentiments from the survey were that people wanted to see change/ learn lessons to keep:

  • cleaner air (81%) 
  • reduced traffic on roads/ reduced car use (75%), f
  • a better work/life balance (67%).

This research is being used to inform our response to the pandemic in partnership with key stakeholders including local authorities and operators. A second wave of the survey has also been undertaken in late June. As the transport network remobilises, monitoring the transport network continues to be vital, and can help to ensure that supply matches demand, especially with strict on board social distancing in place on public transport. 

The fast paced nature of the COVID impact has resulted in the development of additional insight. The legacy of this work will be the ability to continue to monitor the transport network on a daily basis and start to use the intelligence we have gathered to start to model changes in travel behaviour in response to both short term changes e.g. either relaxation or tightening of lockdown restrictions and changes to social distancing and into the longer term as the realities of a ‘new normal’ is better understood.

Utilising the combined data sources of the Census, the Human Intelligence COVID survey and a variety of other sources there has been a mapping of the zones where people reside that work in specific industries and that commute by certain modes. This enables the understanding of the public transport provision to specific industries that cannot work from home, in addition those areas where there is an increase in localised journeys as a result of being able to work from home has also been identified. The most granular data analysis is taking place as a result of the bus operators sharing the boarding data by time of day, enabling the busiest bus stops to be identified, so the travel demand management team can work with nearby businesses and education institutions, and also facilitating the impact of capacity changes to be estimated, effectively identifying where a bus is likely to be at capacity along its route. The operators are using this data to help realign services form those of least or little demand to those that require additional support. The data analysis is now moving to corridor based impact and also the increased change in localised journeys, as more data has become available then more impact analysis is undertaken.