Bus commute time to Birmingham city centre shortened by 22% on two routes

Times taken by 12,000 bus journeys on the A45 between Sheldon and Birmingham city centre and the A34 between Walsall and the city centre routes have been compared to journey times three years ago

Traveling into Birmingham City Centre now takes 22% less time along two key commuter routes , according to Transport for West Midlands (TfWM). The change has come about after the Sprint bus priority measures were started earlier this year, they said.

The journey times of 12,000 buses travelling on the A45 between Sheldon and Birmingham city centre and the A34 between Walsall and the city centre routes were found to be faster in September 2022 compared to September 2019.

Data showed that journeys are 22% quicker for peak time commuters on the X1 and X2 as the buses bypass traffic jams during their morning rush hour commute on the A45 into Birmingham city centre.

TfWM also said that early data is showing that evening peak time variability on the X51 route between Birmingham and Walsall reduced by 31% while there is a reduction of 35% in variability for the X1 and X2 routes from Birmingham to Sheldon. This means that passengers can now more accurately estimate their arrival time when boarding a bus.

A key reason for the introduction of Sprint bus lanes and priority junctions is that journey times for buses stuck in regular traffic had fluctuated by more than 20 minutes on both the A34 and A45.

Sprint was developed by Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) - which is part of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA). Phase 1 of the project was completed in May to allow Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games shuttle buses to benefit from it. It was done to make sure regular road users didn’t feel the impact of the additional traffic.

West Midlands bus to Solihul (Credit - Travel for West Midlands)

Methodology

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.

It was found that the 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.

What’s next for the project?

Consultation over phase 2 will begin soon. It includes bus priority measures on the A34 in Walsalland Sandwelland A45 in Solihull routes and some smaller additional works in Birmingham. The consultation will begin once designs are completed. Construction is expected to start in 2023.

Phase 2 is 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.

Across-city route linking Walsall and Solihull with uninterrupted bus services will also start next year. In 2024, 24 articulated hydrogen buses will be introduced on the route.

For phase 2 particular attention is being paid to the design for the route through thePark Hallarea of Walsall on the A34 where earlier designs are being reviewed to preserve more roadside trees while maintaining the journey time benefits of Sprint.

Travel for West Midlands said that a total of 1,000 trees are being planted along the route to more than compensate for the handful of roadside trees which were removed during construction.

Hydrogen buses now running on Birmingham roads

What did Mayor Andy Street say?

Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands and WMCA chair, 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 andmore 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 current cost challenges faced by operators. We believe buses have a bright future in our region.”

What did leader of Birmingham City Council Ian Ward say?

Cllr Ian Ward, WMCA portfolio lead for transport and leader of Birmingham City Council, added: “This data shows that bus lanes and junction upgrades do make a difference to people’s journeys. This is why, over the next five years, we are looking to develop a further 50km of bus lanes and priority measures, create more cross-city bus services and make bus travel more comfortable, reliable and safer.

“Our bus services are currently under pressure as a result of reduced passenger numbers following covid, the ending of Government covid support funding and fuel price increases - but improvements like this will help attract new passengers and allow us to grow the network.

“When people know they can rely on their bus to arrive on time they will feel more comfortable leaving their car at home and help us reduce congestion on our roads, improve our air quality and contribute to tackling the climate emergency.”