Joined-up thinking?

I’ve seen a press release from Transport for West Midlands detailing progress on the “Sprint” buses that I first mentioned back in 2010. Back then they were going to be ready in 5 years; nearly 9 later, they’re still vapourware, and the plans are reduced: the Walsall-Birmingham route has changed to

the A34 Sprint route from Birmingham City Centre to a proposed Park & Ride site at Junction 7 of the M6 by the end of 2021

and that, according to our old friend Adrian Andrew:

“It is important we get the detail and design right and that is why we are taking more time over this section of the route in Walsall.

“This means that when we come to deliver Sprint here we can build the route fully confident it will work for the people and businesses of Walsall.”

Which seems odd. In one way, it’s pragmatic that the bit of the route I wondered about all those years ago is the bit they’re not going to bother with; the rest of the route is well served by bus lanes, and I’d argue that the existing buses, using the bus lanes, have little problem with that section, so arguably the cost and hassle factor for the new ones will be reduced.

On the other hand, of course, not dealing with the biggest problem (M6 J7/Scott Arms-Walsall) is a cop out, and the wisdom of a park and ride anywhere near the already critically congested and insane M6 J7 seems like madness on two counts, one being “where”, and the other being “why”.

Where because of the density in that area, and why, because, quite frankly, if you’ve bothered to get in your car to drive to Great Barr, you’ll probably just stay in it all the way. We’ve seen that before, where a certain Dr Beeching predicted people would drive to the station and get on a train.

The route linking BHX to the city probably has more merit, especially as the bit they’re not doing is BHX to Solihull, keeping the most significant bit.

I don’t want to pour cold water on any scheme that tries to reduce congestion and give us better public transport, but it feels to me that this scheme is taking a very long time (but, of course, things like this do), and isn’t going to deliver a big improvement over existing services. Like I mentioned in 2010, we already have a rail connection to the city centre, and to their credit, National Express provide a decent bus service covering that route too.

The fact remains that for those that can afford to do so, many people will drive, despite the awful traffic and parking: the fact is that going door to door in your own car is more attractive for many, despite disadvantages. Personally, I only drive into the city if I have heavy equipment to take to an office there, but I use buses a lot an would rather give up a bit of time to avoid driving. I think it’s almost certain that providing a slightly quicker and more comfortable bus that you have to get to Great Barr to use isn’t going to change many people’s minds.

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