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Walsall Council leader opposes controversial A34 Sprint bus scheme

By Richard Guttridge | Walsall | Transport | Published:

The leader of Walsall Council says he is against controversial plans to bring Sprint buses to the borough as he is fed-up of car drivers getting "hammered".

The new-style Sprint speedy buses

Conservative Mike Bird revealed he was "not a fan" of plans to bring the speedy buses to the A34 to Birmingham - putting him in conflict with the region's Tory mayor Andy Street, who is spearheading the Sprint bus scheme.

There are mixed feelings over the plans to introduce the new transport, which have been dubbed the tram's little brother. They would use bus lanes and stop less often than traditional buses, making journey times quicker. It also forms part of efforts to cut emissions and improve air quality over the coming years.

Councillor Bird said he was sceptical of the benefits of the Sprint buses and concerned about the impact on the A34.

Congestion is often a problem on the A34 which passes the M6 and through Great Barr

He said: "I'm not a fan of it. I am yet to be convinced Sprint bus is going to do anything to improve travel. It seems to be bus, bus, bus all the time. Public transport isn't the only answer for people getting around.

"There doesn't seem to be any room for the car on the road (A34). They are talking about bus lanes and cycle routes, I'm not convinced it's going to be any better than the 51 or X51."

He added: "We are being pushed into public transport and the car driver seems to get hammered. I'm standing up for the motorist.

The West Midlands Combined Authority, which is led by mayor Andy Street and is behind the scheme, held consultations into the proposed Sprint routes and has revised its plans following feedback from interested parties.

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Mr Street has said Sprint will deliver a "modern and reliable bus rapid transit system for the West Midlands"

Highways bosses are looking to public transport in a bid to cut congestion on the A34 ahead of the Commonwealth Games

Work on the scheme is expected to start later this year and the Sprint buses in operation by 2022 in time for the Commonwealth Games.

The proposals sparked a storm of protest with the A34 Safety Action Group raising concerns including the removal of parking bays outside homes and businesses.

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At a full council meeting on Monday, others spoke in favour of the Sprint scheme.

Labour councillor Richard Worrall said: “Historically, we have not done well with transport in Walsall and we should be glad for what we get, such as the new Darlaston and Willenhall train stations.

“When I see projects such as Sprint, I think it’s a good idea and it needs to happen. If any opposition is successful, Walsall could miss out.”

Tory councillor Adam Hicken added: “It would be such a missed opportunity if we did not back this.”

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.

Richard Guttridge

By Richard Guttridge
Investigations Editor - @RichG_star

Investigations Editor for the Express & Star.

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