Meet Sprint: Birmingham’s Bus/Tram Hybrid

Birmingham has been hard at work upgrading its transport network in preparation for HS2, and there are some exciting projects on the horizon. I sat down with Angela Hosford and Chris Lane at Transport for West Midlands (TfWM)  to learn about the City’s upcoming Bus Rapid Transit service, Sprint.


What exactly is Sprint?

For those unfamiliar, Sprint will be something in between a bus and a tram. It will have its own lanes to prevent public transport congestion during peak times, but it won’t run on rails.

The first planned Sprint route will take passengers between Colmore Row in the city centre and the western suburb of Quinton along the Hagley Road. Being unaffected by traffic jams at rush hour, TfWM hopes that a reliable link between the city centre and the surrounding areas will tempt commuters away from their cars.

 

What does it bring to the table?

An artist’s rendition of a Sprint bus on Hagley Road

HS2 is going full steam ahead. If the estimates are accurate, in under a decade you’ll be able to get between Birmingham and London in under 50 minutes. With the cost of living in the capital at an all-time high, it’s no surprise that Chris expects to see a rise in Birmingham’s population. Sprint, along with the Midland Metro tram is an effort to future-proof Birmingham and the wider West Midland’s public transport to cope with this increased demand. Hagley Road has seen a 30% increase in congestion in recent years and that’s set to get worse. A reliable and scalable network is exactly what the city needs.

TfWM knows  it will have to accommodate extra travellers and it has a pretty good idea of how. It’s in talks with officials at the DfT, negotiating special permission for 24-metre long vehicles for Sprint. If granted, they will be the longest buses in the UK.

Air pollution is also a growing concern, due to its effects on both climate change and personal health. Sadiq Kahn recently issued London’s first “very high” pollution alert and officials are scrambling to manage increasingly congested roads. Angela, head of Sprint, was proud to say that Sprint buses will have emissions cleaner than the current Euro 6 standard.

 

So, what’s the catch?

A fast and reliable link from Quinton to the city centre might sound too good to be true. Locals have expressed concern over how much it will cost to ride a Sprint bus. Angela and Chris were eager to put that worry to rest. For Sprint to be a true alternative to traveling by car, prices will have to align with bus fares. You won’t pay a premium for using it.

 

Looking to the future

Angela expects the first Sprint bus to make its maiden voyage by 2022, but TfWM is  already looking beyond that. There are talks of more routes (including one between the city centre and Birmingham International Airport), but TfWM is keeping the cards close to its chest for now.

As head of Smart Travel at TfWM, Chris teased a future where autonomous vehicles move commuters from their houses to Sprint-style routes along main roads. He said that Sprint is part of a wider package of smarter public transport and Swift, the region’s transport network smartcard, will play a big part. In his vision, TfWM will work with transport operators and connected vehicles to always provide the smartest route from A to B.

It’s exciting to know that transport authorities are investing in driverless cars. Sadly, though, I couldn’t get an ETA on that one…