West Midlands going for gold in Commonwealth 'public transport' Games


Free bus, train, and tram travel within the West Midlands is included with all Commonwealth Games event tickets on that day, prompting organisers to dub the event the ‘public transport games’ .

West Midlands transport bosses hope that long-term modal shift will be a key legacy from the Games and the region’s transport infrastructure has seen already a number of improvements in the run-up to the games.


Over a million visitors are expected to travel to the region during the multi-sports event, which takes place from today (28 July) to 8 August.

People are also being encouraged to use active travel in the region. Free cycle hire is being offered to all over 16s in the region who sign up for two 30-minute rides per day. Organisers hope this is something that local people will enjoy and continue to use after the games.

The hope is that the offer of public transport and active travel, as well as parking restrictions around venues, will see visitors leave their cars at home.

Industrial action and reaction

The start of the games is, however, set to be affected by rail strike action. Members of the RMT union held a 24-hour walkout on Wednesday (27 July), with services predicted to be slow to recover on Thursday, while members of drivers’ union Aslef plan to walk out on Saturday (30 July).

The industrial action could be particularly disruptive on Saturday, one of the busiest days of the games, when a number of events are set to take place at venues on the West Coast Mainline, and several roads will be closed for the marathon.

Officials have given mixed messages about the likely impact of the strikes. Andy Street, mayor for the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), has called the train strikes during the games ‘a very cynical manipulation’ and urged unions to reconsider.

He tweeted: ‘It is deeply disappointing and frankly unnecessary for rail workers to decide to disrupt the Commonwealth Games in this way.’

However, a spokesperson for Transport for West Midlands (TfWM), which is part of the WMCA, has said: ‘The West Midlands is an extremely well-connected region so we’re confident anyone wanting to come to the Games will have a fantastic experience. We strongly urge people to use public transport to visit the Games and are ensuring there is enough capacity to do so.’

In response to the strike, TfWM has arranged for 50 extra coaches to run from major towns and cities across the UK. In addition, 150 shuttle buses have been added to take visitors to games venues within the region. At the time of publication, the Games’ website advised spectators: ‘Please leave extra time for your journey – all alternative travel options will be busy and delays are anticipated.’

Safety and climate

Recent heatwaves have also highlighted the potential for extreme heat to affect public transport.

Anne Shaw, executive director at TfWM, told Transport Network: ‘What we did see last time was there was advice around not travelling if you don’t need to. Of course during the Games we still need to make sure that we’ve got ticketholders getting where they need to be.’

While not currently forecast during the Games, Ms Shaw also acknowledged that some of the West Midlands’ transport system is susceptible to extreme heat. In the event of a heatwave, spotters check the metro system’s overhead lines to try to find any issues early.

The network will also be monitored by the West Midlands’ new Regional Transport Co-ordination Centre, where several parties, including strategic road network operator National Highways and the West Midlands Police, will be responding to any issues.

‘The idea is that we co-ordinate our actions but also co-ordinate the information that is going out, not just to spectators but also to other people who are trying to move around the network, alerting them to where problems exist and what their options are to avoid them,’ Ms Shaw told Transport Network.

TfWM will also be working alongside the police and British Transport Police as part of a ‘safer travel partnership’ to contribute to security operations.

Ms Shaw said that safety has been at the front of her mind and that of WMCA chief executive Laura Shoaf when planning transport for the games.

Both are Violence Against Women and Girls Transport Champions. Ms Shaw said: ‘We’ve made sure that, particularly for women who are coming to the West Midlands for the first time and don’t know their way around, we’re giving them that real, clear travel advice, making sure they’re equipped to know where they need to catch transport and how to get there.’

In addition, TfWM has been working with the Games Organising Committee to plan for the safety of the workforce, some of whom will be working early and late shifts, and to ensure that they are catered for outside of transport operating hours.

TfWM has also been working to make the public transport offer accessible. Ms Shaw said: ‘The Commonwealth Games is quite unique in terms of the para sports being mixed in with the able bodied sports, so we’ve catered for a number of people who will have mobility requirements specifically.

‘Through the ticket sales, people have been able to flag if they’ve got mobility needs, and we’ve been able to use that information to plan appropriate services.’

There will be a dedicated shuttle service of accessible transport, with blue badge parking at park and ride sites, disability support at the venues, and a limited amount of blue badge parking at venues.

Bouncing back onto transport

Organisers have said that they hope that a positive experience of travel within the West Midlands will build confidence in public transport, particularly for local people.

Ms Shaw said: ‘Post pandemic, we’re seeing a very different way in which people are using public transport. There are still a lot of people that are worried about using public transport, so we’ve seen a reduction in the numbers of people who are using buses, trains, trams – they’re not back to the levels that they were before the pandemic. We’ve also seen a slight increase in people using car journeys.

‘We want to use the Commonwealth Games as a catalyst to build that confidence back up for people using public transport, particularly for local people, and making sure that the services run well and reliably. Reliability is going to be a big key factor.’

Incentivising public transport and active travel should also reduce disruption to local people. In addition, a ‘Get Set for the Games’ initiative has been launched to provide local people and businesses with information about when the region’s transport network will be busy, so that they know what to expect and can plan accordingly.

Carbon neutral legacy

Organisers are also aspiring to a ‘carbon neutral legacy’ for Birmingham 2022. Spectator transport contributes over 55% of the Games’ forecast carbon footprint.

As well as encouraging people to leave their cars at home, efforts to reduce the carbon footprint include a designated transport planner that will give spectators information about the carbon footprint of their different travel options.

Ms Shaw told Transport Network: ‘All of the shuttle buses that we’ve brought in to strengthen the existing bus network, we’ve made sure that they are no lower than the Euro 6 standard in terms of emissions, and obviously we’ve got a Clean Air Zone in Birmingham City Centre so we need to be mindful of that.’

Recent improvements to West Midlands’ transport infrastructure

  • Perry Barr station re-opening – took one year to rebuild, working over a live railway line, and the bus interchange is nearing completion.
  • University of Birmingham station upgrade – open for the Games with extended platforms and new public realm. The station remained open throughout, dealing with thousands of passengers a day.
  • Sprint bus rapid transit new routes and highway improvements to the A34 and A45 – Phase 1 has been completed; this bus priority is described as ‘crucial’ for the Games. Shuttle buses to the stadium and services to venues such as the NEC and city centre will benefit.
  • Upgraded rail hubs at Coventry and Wolverhampton – new stations have opened and are already said to be improving the visitor experience.

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