National Express West Midlands has announced its intention to run new rapid transit bus services along the A34 and A45 Sprint route between Walsall, Birmingham and Solihull.
The new services will first launch in May 2022 with a fleet of zero-emission double decker Platinum buses, which will be able to beat traffic jams and offer reliable journey times by using dedicated bus lanes and priority measures at junctions along the routes which will cross Birmingham and join Walsall and Solihull for the first time.
This new fleet will include 20 environmentally friendly hydrogen-fuelled buses funded by Birmingham City Council.
The bus company is also working with Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) as the transport authority, to confirm plans to introduce the first of a further fleet of high quality zero emission, low floor tram-style vehicles on the route during 2023. These tram-style buses have proved popular with customers on similar rapid transit services across Europe and the UK.
Uninterrupted services will run from Walsall to Solihull, via Birmingham city centre.
First services will be operational by May 2022 and call at key destinations including the NEC, Jaguar Land Rover Solihull and Alexander Stadium.
Construction of the new bus lanes, junction upgrades and 75 high-quality shelters will take place in stages.
The Sprint corridor is set to be covered by an enhanced partnership scheme which sets minimum standards for all bus services operating along the route with facilities such as hearing loops, wheelchair spaces, USB charging and free wifi access.
Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street said: “Freed from traffic jams and congestion, Sprint will offer new and existing bus users faster, more reliable, and uninterrupted services, as well as a more comfortable journey thanks to our partnership with National Express delivering new high quality, zero-emission, buses.
“The humble bus is the most used form of public transport in the West Midlands and our plans for Sprint demonstrate our commitment to investing in and supporting improvements in both bus infrastructure and services for passengers, as well as tackling the climate emergency we are facing.”
TfWM is part of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA).
Cllr Ian Ward, WMCA portfolio lead for transport and leader of Birmingham City Council, said: “This partnership is great news for our environment as we work to improve our air quality and lower our carbon emissions.
“These zero-emission buses, including the 20 hydrogen-fuelled vehicles funded by Birmingham City Council, will offer travellers on the A34 and A45 a comfortable and reliable alternative to the car for their journeys and contribute towards achieving our climate change targets.”
Chris Gibbens, commercial director at National Express West Midlands, said:
"Our customers always tell us the two issues that are most important to them are punctuality and reliability.
“So we are looking forward to having priority for buses along these Sprint routes. The highways changes and junction upgrades will give better journeys to over 300,000 bus passengers a week on popular and important services like our Walsall-to-Birmingham routes.
“This will enable us to invest in the new buses using new technology to improve air quality, improve the environment, and create the best customer experience possible."
Deputy Leader of Walsall Council, Cllr Adrian Andrew, said: “Sprint is another scheme that should improve public transport for local people and importantly provide zero emissions public transport.
“I am delighted that the operator has now been announced and we can move forward in partnership with National Express and Transport for West Midlands.”
Infrastructure funding for the £88m first phase of the project includes contributions of £42 million from the WMCA investment fund and £35 million from the Department for Transport.