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The West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive (WMPTE), sometimes known as Centro, is a local government organisation (Passenger Transport Executive) responsible for certain transport services in the West Midlands county in Englandmarker.

Policies and budgets for the Executive are set by the West Midlands Integrated Transport Authority (WMITA), formerly known as the West Midlands Passenger Transport Authority (WMPTA). The Authority has 27 representatives appointed from the seven West Midlands metropolitan district councils (ten from Birmingham, three each from Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall, and Wolverhampton, and two from Solihull).

Following a reorganisation in 2006, the Transport Authority and Executive are, for many purposes, a single entity. The name 'Centro' has been used to refer to the Transport Executive alone, the Authority alone, and to the merged Executive and Authority secretariat.

Functions

A Centro liveried train at Kidderminster.


Privatisation in the 1980s and 1990s led to the end of Centro as a public transport operator. Its activities are now restricted to:

  • Subsidising, and seeking government subsidy for, some unremunerative bus, train and tram services which it considers socially necessary. Some supported services have attracted public attention, such as the Stationlink bus in Birmingham which averaged 1.6 passengers per journey and the Walsall to Wolverhampton train, which carried fewer than 7 passengers per journey (both now discontinued).
  • Providing public transport street furniture, and bus stations. Virtually all bus stops are owned by Centro, but there are several thousand without any form of shelter. The vast majority of stops have no seating, but since 2006 basic timetable information is usually provided. Bus station provision is patchy, with the largest urban centre (Birmingham) not having one.
  • Limited public transport information.
  • Administration of concessionary fares, and funding the Ring-and-Ride door to door service for the elderly and disabled, operated by West Midlands Special Needs Transport.
  • Limited participation in setting the fares and service levels of local train services. In practice, the government and Network Rail are the principal decision makers.
  • Operating multi-operator travel pass arrangements.
  • Planning facilities and 'improvements', such as railway stations, park and ride, bus lanes, and the Midland Metro. Park and ride has been a priority for Centro, with thousands of parking spaces being provided at rail stations at a cost of up to £30,000 each. Centro has claimed that a car going to or from a park and ride is not a road journey and the environmental benefits have been challenged. The contentious environmental credentials of Centro's bus lane implementation has also led to policy reversals.


History

Old Centro logo.

Establishment

Following the 1968 Transport Act, the West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive was established to operate and coordinate public transport in a large part of central England (the West Midlands Passenger Transport Area). The Area was largely rural , but with a large concentration of population in and around the city of Birmingham (the West Midlands conurbation).

Policy for the Executive was set by the West Midlands Passenger Transport Authority, which was formed at the same time. The PTA included elected representatives from councils in the Passenger Transport Area.

On its formation in 1969 the PTE acquired the vehicles and other assets of the municipal bus fleets of Birminghammarker, Walsallmarker, West Bromwichmarker and Wolverhamptonmarker. The former Birmingham City Transport was by far the largest constituent part of the combined fleet, and a modified version of that operator's blue and cream livery was adopted by the PTE. The ex-Birmingham assets became 'South Division', with the others forming the Walsall-based 'North Division'.

Although it was tasked with planning and coordinating bus and rail transport in the Passenger Transport Area, the Executive's activities in its early years were largely confined to partially integrating the inherited municipal bus operations. Most of the Passenger Transport Area was not served by PTE buses, and the Executive had minimal involvement in operation and planning of railway services. The Authority and Executive closed down the Walsall trolleybus services in 1970, and did nothing to stop closure of the Wolverhampton Low Level to Birmingham railway in 1972.

In the West Midlands conurbation many bus services continued to be run by other operators. This was considered undesirable by the PTE, so it entered into negotiations to buy them out. In 1973 there was a transfer of assets and services between the Executive and the Midland Red company, giving WMPTE a bus near-monopoly within the conurbation. At its peak, its fleet numbered around 2,500 vehicles.

Railway services

In the mid 1970s the Executive began to take a more active interest in the development of local railway services, but their operation remained in the hands of British Rail. The Cross-City line, implemented in 1978, was a joint BR/WMPTE project, but modest in scope compared to Merseyrail's Loop and Link or the Tyne and Wear Metro.

In the 1980s WMPTA/WMPTE decided to restore rail services through Snow Hill stationmarker. This was an expensive policy reversal, because the PTE had acquiesced in the destruction of the Snow Hill lines, and the station itself, just 10 years before. The two-stage restoration process, completed in 1995, did not include the Wolverhampton Low Level line, which was reserved for the ill-fated Midland Metro.

Revised operating area

The 1972 Local Government Act led to the creation, on 1 April 1974, of the West Midlands metropolitan county. As a result, WMPTE's "operating" area was adjusted to be coterminous with the new county, although it continued to operate some services out-of-county.

At the same time, the PTE took over a fifth municipal bus fleet (Coventrymarker), which became its 'East Division'. The PTA was abolished, and its role taken over by the newly established West Midlands County Council.

When the County Council was abolished in 1986, a new Passenger Transport Authority was established, with membership drawn from the metropolitan district councils.

Bus deregulation

As a result of the 1985 Transport Act, bus services across Great Britain were deregulated. This brought about the creation of a private company, West Midlands Travel Ltd (WMT), which took over the bus assets and services of the WMPTE on 26 October 1986. From that date, WMPTE's functions were reduced to sundries such as transport planning, promotion, and concessionary passes.

WMT remained in public ownership under the West Midlands Passenger Transport Authority until 1991, when it was sold to its management and employees in a behind-closed-doors process in which external offers from other businesses such as Stagecoach were excluded. At the time, this was estimated to have cost the public purse £25 million.

Unlike Greater Manchester, where the former PTE bus operations were split up to reduce the likelihood of a dysfunctional market, WMT was privatised as a single unit, with a market share of about 80%. Its power was further bolstered by the 'Travelcard' season ticket range inherited from WMPTE, to which other operators had no access. The extent of consumers' losses from the WMT monopoly are not known, but in 2009 the Office of Fair Trading found that bus fares tended to be about 9% higher in areas where there was no competition.

Finance

In 2009 Centro expected to lose £800,000 as a result of having money invested with an Icelandic bank. It had previously invested funds with the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, which was forcibly closed in 1991.

In October 2009, it emerged that chief executive Geoff Inskip was likely to receive a "bumper" 18% pay rise, worth £24,000-a-year, irrespective of any general public sector restraint. According to the Authority's spokesman, the raise was needed to bring the pay into line with the "industry standard".

Branding

Network West Midlands Logo.
In the early 1990s WMPTE adopted the 'corporate' name of Centro, although the name was already being used by a transportation authority in New York Statemarker, USA.

In the late 1990s WMPTE planned a segmentation of the public transport offer, incorporating a tier called 'Network West Midlands' (NWM). The concept, still being pursued as late as 2003, was never implemented. The name was re-used for a rebranding of the existing bus and train service from 2005 onwards, based on the premise that survey information had indicated that more people would use public transport if a strong brand was identifiable. The NWM graphic design resembled the British government's Preparing for Emergencies 'campaign'.

Promotion of the brand has included television advertising, and a Youtube video.

Following on from this, Centro's own corporate identity was reworked. Its new strapline, "transforming public transport", belies the fact that decisions on routes, frequencies, fares, and vehicle procurement are mostly made by other organisations, such as the Department for Transportmarker, and National Express.

Following the Local Transport Act 2008, WMPTA has been renamed 'West Midlands Integrated Transport Authority'. However, supply of public transport remains deregulated and non-integrated, following the model established in the mid 1980s.

Key projects

New Street railway station

Centro has backed the Gateway Plusmarker project, over alternatives such as construction of an entirely new railway station for central Birmingham. Centro claimed that Gateway Plus would "double the passenger capacity" of New Street station.

High speed rail

In August 2009 Centro's chief executive backed construction of new railway in the West Midlands area for use by high speed trains, which would allow existing lines to have "better and more frequent local services".

Showcase bus

In the 1990s, Centro considered 'Showcase' to be a new approach to running buses. In parallel with the introduction of new shelters, timetables, and raised kerbs at stops, bus operators would introduce low floor vehicles, and run them to timetable.

The designation was used for a few routes only. Increased use of low floor buses, and appearance of basic timetables at most stops from 2006, led to decreased use of the 'Showcase' name.

Midland Metro

Construction of a light rail network has been pursued since the mid 1980s, but only one line has been built. Midland Metro Line 1 carries about 5 million passengers per year, one third of the number forecast by Centro.

Bus rapid transit

Centro has shown a sporadic interest in bus based rapid transit. In the mid 1980s, it promoted the short-lived 'Tracline' guided bus, and since 2006 it has promoted more conventional bus rapid transit under the name 'Sprint'.

Car parking

As one of the biggest providers in central England, Centro has spent £14 million on building car parks since 1997.

Speed cameras

Centro provides two members of the five-seat board administering speed cameras in the West Midlands county.

Environment

On its website, Centro has stated that it is "committed to sustainable forms of transport which benefit the environment and help to reduce global warming. It is especially important when you consider that road congestion on the West Midlands' busy roads costs regional businesses more than £2.3 billion a year." However, no explanation of this figure is given.

In addition, the Letzgogreen (sic) website, using static cartoon figures of a style similar to South Park, has been set up to project Centro's view of public transport to schoolchildren. It suggests that a car journey from an unspecified point, near Marston Greenmarker, to Coventrymarker would produce more carbon dioxide than a combined service 71 bus and train journey. However, a report co-funded by Centro stated that public transport in PTE areas has generally been more polluting than car travel for many years.

Companies providing local travel services

Class 150 in Network West Midlands Livery.


Bus



Rail



Tram



* - Part of the [[National Express Group]]
** - Part of the [[Go-Ahead Group]]
*** - Part of the [[Rotala]] Group
**** - Part of the Arriva Group

Ticketing

Each transport operator has its own ticket range. In general a ticket is not usable on another company's service, but Centro passes with multi-operator validity are available, allowing travel on rail and/or bus, for periods ranging from 1 day to 1 year.

Chris Perry, Centro's Customer Services Assistant Director, announced that Centro's nnetwork and nbus (spelling is correct) commercial tickets would "go Smart from April 2009". However, this did not happen, and there is no timescale for full bus and rail implementation.

See also



References

External links




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