Birmingham buses quicker with Sprint priority measures

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Commuters are enjoying 22% quicker journey times on National Express West Midland X1 and X2 services. WMCA

Passeners are seeing improved and more consistent journey times following bus priority improvements in Birmingham

Bus services are more reliable and average journey times up to 22% quicker along two key Birmingham commuter routes following the introduction of Sprint bus priority measures earlier this year, according to Transport for West Midlands (TfWM).

Times taken by 12,000 buses on the A45 between Sheldon and Birmingham city centre, and the A34 between Walsall and the city centre during September were compared with the same routes during the same month in 2019. The data showed that journeys are up to 22% quicker for peak time commuters on the city’s X1 and X2 as the buses bypass traffic jams during their morning rush hour commute on the A45 into Birmingham.

A key reason for the introduction of ‘Sprint’ bus lanes and priority junctions was to make journey times more predictable, as running times for buses stuck in regular traffic had fluctuated by more than 20 minutes on both the A34 and A45. The early data is showing that evening peak time variability on the X51 route between Birmingham and Walsall has reduced by 31% while there is a reduction of 35% in variability for routes X1 and X2 from Birmingham to Sheldon.

Sprint has been developed by TfWM, part of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), and phase one was completed in May to allow shuttle buses, operational for the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, to benefit from the bus priority measures and ensure regular road users were less impacted by the additional traffic. Consultation over phase two, which includes further bus priority measures on the A34 in Walsall and Sandwell and A45 in Solihull, as well as some smaller additional works in Birmingham, is due to take place once designs are completed. Construction is due to follow next year.

Phase two is being part-funded with a £56 million contribution from the City Region Sustainable Transport Settlement (CRSTS) awarded to the WMCA by the Department for Transport earlier this year. A cross-city route linking Walsall and Solihull with uninterrupted bus services will also start next year and is due to be followed in 2024 with the introduction of 24 articulated hydrogen buses on the route.

Mayor of the West Midlands and WMCA chair Andy Street said: “Beyond the quality of bus itself, Sprint was intended to improve infrastructure, bus lanes and priority at junctions in order to enable buses to cut through traffic and offer passengers greater certainty around arrival times. I’m so pleased that we can now see that we have delivered in terms of both quicker and more reliable bus journeys for local residents.

“Despite only recently completing phase one, the data shows that we’re already making a difference on the ground – saving people valuable time on their commute. So with further time saving measures on the way via phase two, with the introduction of hydrogen buses along the route, we’re confident Sprint customers will enjoy an even better experience in the near future.

“Sprint and other measures – such as the three-year bus fare freeze announced last month – all form part of our plans to grow our bus network over the coming years by making bus usage a more attractive, affordable and convenient alternative to a daily commute in the car.

“We remain steadfast in this commitment – despite the current cost challenges faced by operators. We believe buses have a bright future in our region.”

Journey times for more than 12,000 trips on the X51 and 51 route between Walsall and Birmingham on the A34 and on the X1 and X2 between Sheldon and Birmingham were collected over a two-week period in September and compared to the same data from three years ago. Average morning rush hour journey times into Birmingham City Centre were 15% quicker on the A34 and 22% quicker on the A45, but the variability, which is the range of journey times – an indicator of service reliability – was between 26% and 35% lower.

For phase two, TfWM says particular attention is being paid to the design for the route through the Park Hall area of Walsall on the A34 where earlier designs are being reviewed to preserve more roadside trees while maintaining the journey time benefits of Sprint.

A total of 1,000 trees are being planted along the route to compensate for the roadside trees which have been removed during construction.