Thursday 28th July 2022
Today sees the start of the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham continuing through to Monday 8th August. It’s a great opportunity for public transport to show off its credentials, as happened during the 2012 Olympics. But, oh dear, ten years on and circumstances are rather different, not least the impact of driver shortages, rail strikes and cracks in trams.
I popped up to Birmingham on Monday to take a look at four public transport developments which have been planned for completion in time to cater for the extra one million journeys expected across the city over the next 12 days.
Stagecoach gained the contract to provide additional bespoke shuttle transport for the event and have shipped in a multitude of double deck buses and drivers from all over the country to two pop up garages at Erdington and Oldbury. It’s reported as many as 710 buses are involved in the operation.
Coming at peak staff holiday season this deployment is having a devastating impact on an already tight driver position at Stagecoach’s operating companies throughout the country.
Schools being off may help but I doubt the peak vehicle requirement reduces significantly for a large network operator like Stagecoach.
Games shuttle buses are being deployed to take staff and an army of volunteer marshals to and from venues as well as spectators of course with the cost of transport included in their event tickets although motorists have to pay to use the extra Park & Ride sites.
As you can see from the photographs, in just a few minutes on Monday I saw Stagecoach staff busy ferrying many bus loads of high-viz wearing marshals presumably receiving pre event briefings at the venues.
It looks like it’ll be a busy fortnight for everyone involved.
And for passengers waiting longer for their bus in other parts of the country, this is where your bus and driver can be found….
….. in Birmingham.
Which unsuprisingly is becoming a news story in local media….
… the RMT may be “unable to provide specific numbers” but my understanding is as many as 1,200 drivers are involved in the operation.
It’s certainly a massive operation which only the likes of Stagecoach (or First) can tackle as a large resourced organisation but it perhaps could have done with much more sub contracting this time (as happened in the Olympics) to spread the requirement around and reduce the impact on any one bus company’s operating area especially bearing in mind the current “national driver shortage”.
It should really have been an industry wide project, not just a Stagecoach profit grabbing one.
I wonder if the Traffic Commissioners are taking an interest?
Spectators are certainly being encouraged to use the Shuttle Buses ….
….. as well as the local rail network.
Which brings me to another project in place ready for today – the redevelopment of the two platform Perry Barr rail station close to Alexander Stadium, one of the main Games venues north of the city centre.
The previous rather dismal station closed for a year in May 2021 so a complete revamp could take place and make it Games fit.
The £30 million project (yup; you read that right, £30 million) also includes a new ‘bus station’ sited next to the adjacent ‘One Stop Shopping Centre’ ….
….. which is actually four bus stops and shelters (albeit the nice new smart Travel for West Midlands high spec shelters) in a large lay-by off the A34 Birmingham to Walsall road.
This area has seen major changes to the road layout including the demolition of a flyover and the creation of bus lanes as part of the Sprint (bus rapid transit) project, on which more shortly.
The exterior of the new station building is certainly prominent and while it’s an improvement on what went before, especially the rather nice landscaping and foliage outside, the orange colouring already looks dirty to me, although I think that’s part of the intended design.
Facilities on each of the platforms are fairly basic with three sets of three seats, one shelter, a departure screen and a help point.
Stairs and lifts from each platform take you to the main station building on the road bridge carrying the A34.
There’s an open air footbridge passageway complete with yellow box hatch markings across ….
…. as well as another one under cover as part of the station building which includes a one window ticket office….
….. an accessible toilet and a baby change room and other staff facilities.
I couldn’t see any ordinary toilets but there’s a nice clear to read electronic departure board….
…. and a couple of ticket vending machines inside and one outside.
The floor has tactile ridges as I spotted in the new St Margaret’s bus station in Leicester….
… but that’s about it for £30 million which does seem quite a lot for what’s provided.
But it’s all nice and shiny and all ready for the Games.
And if you’re thinking those platforms look a little narrow for huge post event crowds enticed to take the train, ….
…..significant numbers are obviously expected as a multitude of barriers are all set up and ready to hold the queues outside.
Although as this maze of metal is sited adjacent to the ‘bus station’ it could be to organise the queuing for those four bus stops rather than the station. Or both, perhaps.
Either way let’s hope it doesn’t rain.
The third development I took a look at on Monday is the showcase ‘bus rapid transit’ corridor known as Sprint following my visit last December when all I found was a plethora of road cones for much of the route along the A45 and A34.
I was confidently expecting Sprint to be a very high profile part of the transport offering for the Games. After all the Games Transport Plan produced by the West Midlands Combined Authority and Transport for West Midlands in January referred to delivery of “the first stage of infrastructure works for the Sprint corridor ahead of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games…. providing additional public transport capacity for the Games.”
But, aside from the cones disappearing much of the dual carriageway A45 south east of Birmingham doesn’t sport any bus lanes at all from where bus route X2 (from Solihull) meets up with bus route X1 (from Coventry and Birmingham Airport) at Sheldon and heads into Birmingham.
Even approaching traffic light junctions with a bus stop lay-by at the head of on street parking, there’s no bus priority.
It’s only when you get to South Yardley the bus lanes kick in and from there run continuously for some distance towards DIgbeth where ironically there’s still lots of roadworks taking place alongside the coach station which clearly aren’t going to be completed for the Games.
North of Birmingham on the A34 to Walsall there are impressive bus lanes for much of the route…
… although the bus I travelled on on route X51 didn’t seem disposed to use them, which wasn’t surprising as the road was free flowing on a Monday-before-Games-lunchtime.
There was much evidence of the investment in new shelters along the corridor but it was disappointing to see many were still devoid of any information.
I had thought Sprint would be more advanced in terms of a joined up cross city route (the X1/2 and the X51) ready for the Games with lots of marketing of the Sprint name, but it would seem that’s waiting delivery of the Transport for West Midlands preference for articulated hydrogen powered “tram like” single deck buses (with their reduced seating capacity) expected next year.
Until then National Express West Midlands continue with their preferred Platinum branding denoting improved seating and capacity busting double decks buses.
I’m not sure where the provision of “additional public transport capacity for the Games” through Sprint is, as claimed in the Games Travel Plan as frequencies seem the same as always to me.
I also didn’t spot any of NatEx West Midlands’ shiny new hydrogen buses delivered some time ago and destined for the Sprint corridor pending those artic buses coming next year.
It does seem unfortunate this investment in ‘state of the art’ buses is not giving any return at the moment, let alone utilising ‘Wind power to Walsall’.
The fourth and final development I checked out on Monday was the newly extended Midland Metro tram route to Edgbaston which I’ll tell you about in Saturday’s blog.
Meantime, if you’re an ardent sports fan or just a compulsive Stagecoach bus spotter, Birmingham is definitely the city for you for the next 12 days.
Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThSSu