Black Country Sprint bus route scrapped after business owners raise concerns

A controversial Sprint bus route through parts of Walsall and Sandwell has been scrapped due to concerns over its design.

The combined authority has changed its plans for Sprint buses through Walsall
The combined authority has changed its plans for Sprint buses through Walsall

Bosses have decided to go back to the drawing board on the section of the A34 Sprint route that was due to run from Birmingham city centre through Great Barr to Walsall town centre.

The route will now run from Birmingham to the proposed Park and Ride site at Junction 7 of the M6.

It is due to be completed by the end of 2021 in time for the Commonwealth Games.

The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) says putting the Walsall section of the £110 million scheme on the backburner will give them more time "to explore detailed design options", ensuring "the maximum benefits can be achieved on this popular corridor for bus travellers".

Councillor Adrian Andrew, deputy leader of Walsall Council, said: “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.”

It comes after businesses along the route had complained about the lack of an adequate public consultation over the scheme and its potential impact on trade.

It had also provoked widespread opposition among residents, with many furious about the planned removal of parking bays outside homes, and saying the road was already well served by the 51 and X51 bus services.

Walsall Council leader Mike Bird, the WMCA's lead for housing and land, is among those to raise concerns over Sprint buses.

He said they were anti-motorist and would not improve travel in the borough.

The scheme has been spearheaded by West Midlands Mayor Andy Street, who says Sprint buses are a vital part of plans for improved transport services through the region.

Plans have also been revealed for other Sprint routes.

The A45 route from Birmingham city centre to the airport is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2021, with the extension to Solihull held back for further assessment.

The route from Birmingham to Sutton Coldfield will be delivered in two phases, with the section from Birmingham city centre to the Tyburn Road junction with Chester Road due to be delivered by the end of 2021, and the remaining section by 2026.

Laura Shoaf, managing director of TfWM, said: “Sprint is a vital part of our plans to develop high quality and integrated public transport services for the West Midlands – it has the potential to reduce congestion and the pollution in the air we breathe while better linking people to job and leisure opportunities across the region.

“We have taken this decision to deliver in phases to ensure we get the service right.”

Discussions with bus companies about operating Sprint services are ongoing.

What is a Sprint bus?

Transport for West Midlands says that Sprint buses can be articulated, and can bend in the middle.

They are meant to replicate the feel of a trams, like the West Midlands Metro, with a low floor and multiple doors.

They will serve fewer stops with passengers using off-board ticketing or contactless payment, designed to reduce the dwell times at stops and minimise the delays.

Sprint will have on board Wi-Fi, next stop announcements and CCTV security in a bid to encourage more people to switch from using their car.

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