Transforming Buses in the West Midlands: TRANSPORT Smart Class, Midlands 2023 Retrospective

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As Head of Network Transformation at Transport for West Midlands, Steve Hayes is responsible for implementing the future transport network for the UK’s second largest city region, commissioning schemes that convert TfWM’s ambitious strategies into action on the ground. He is leading the West Midlands’ work to assess options for bus service reform, implementation of Demand Responsive Transport solutions, transition of the region’s bus fleet to be fully zero emission by 2030 and early stage development of the region’s major bus priority programmes.

At TRANSPORT Smart Class, Midlands 2023 Steve talked to us about the need to reposition public bus transportation to make it “a much more attractive choice to those who live and work in the region”.

His opening keynote presentation detailed what is in TfWM’s pioneering Bus Service Improvement Plan, and explained how they plan to deliver it and how it is intended to reverse years of patronage decline. This includes utilising DRT to make public transport a relevant option “for many more people”.

Summary of presentation highlights:

  • West Midlands Overview – Largest Mayoral Combined Authority in the country; Home to 3 million residents; Supporting 91,150 businesses which employ 1.3 million people; £70.3 billion GVA per annum; 2.5% growth between 2010-2018; Quarter of residents aged under 19; 440,000 additional people by 2035; 215,000 additional homes by 2030; Buses carried 4 of every 5 trips by public transport in the region pre-Covid; Investing in buses in West Midlands is an investment in levelling up the economy; Buses are the integrator of West Midlands’ transport network and working collaboratively for a single integrated system is essential for the whole network to succeed;
  • Role of TfWM – Transport arm of West Midlands Combined Authority; Local Transport Authority with responsibility for subsidised services, concessionary reimbursement and Local Transport Plan; Close partnership working required with bus operators and Highways Authorities;
  • TfWM – The Bus Network – Largest bus network in England (outside London); 2,000 buses in service; 93% network operated by NXWM; 12 managed bus stations; 248 million boardings in 2019/2020; Post-covid c.85%; Long term decline: 314m boardings in 2009;
  • So is there A Future for Bus?
  • Why Change? Sustaining economic success; Creating a fairer society; Supporting local communities and places; Becoming more active; Tacking the climate emergency;
  • Policy Background – A) Need to reduce car use B) Need to make public transport more attractive C) Modern lifestyle choices don’t always align with good bus routes D) Need a solution for journeys when buses just don’t cut it;
  • Making Buses More Attractive
  • Project Fuse – What do we mean by an ‘integrated’ transport system? What examples of best practice should be considered? How does West Midlands compare to the very best? What can be done to emulate the best? West Midlands public transport mode share is 10% of all trips; European metropolitan areas typically 15-20%, even where car ownership broadly similar; Project Fuse identifies eleven factors that we need to focus on;
  • Success Factors – 1) Network with all local destinations reachable 2) One ticket (all services including DRT/new mobility solutions) 3) Easy-to-understand network 4) Easy transfer between all services 5) One brand 6) Reliable speed 7) Easy to access the vehicle 8) Accessible stations and stops and comfortable vehicles 9) Network efficiency and affordability 10) Public feedback and customer care 11) Passenger safety, security, and health;

  • Bus Service Improvement Plan – Major Bus Priority Investment (‘Cross-city’); New routes; Fully zero-emission fleet by 2030; ‘Bonfire of Bus Tickets’; Passenger Incentive scheme; Information improvements; Customer Charter; Better operational management;
  • Demand Responsive Transport – Especially addresses Policy Background C) and D) from above by making transport network more inclusive for those without a car and reducing the need for residents to have a car (or a second car);
  • Affordable? Lots of effort around the country to implement commercially sustainable DRT; We are clear that DRT will almost certainly necessitate ongoing subsidy; But is this kind of service important enough to warrant subsidy? YES!! There is social value in having good connectivity even at times it isn’t well used and we’ve been funding that for years;
  • West Midlands Ring & Ride – Established early 1980’s as a charity, and not changed much since; For those who find it difficult to use public transport; TfWM grant fund £6.5m p.a; Very high cost per journey, but very high social value; Post-covid, patronage much reduced so excess capacity (10,000 trips per week prior to covid, now c.3,000); Essentially an ‘archaic’ DRT service; Is it maximising its potential?
  • West Midlands On Demand – DRT serving parts of Coventry, funded by Future Transport Zone, University of Warwick and s.106; Time-limited trial, recognising that bus is not always an attractive option for many journeys; First UK scheme that has deployed a scalable fleet option as part of its DRT, flexibility to adjust fleet numbers in response to or anticipation of demand; Strong political support and popular, particularly with students, end of 2022 approx. 120 journeys per day; Suggests alternative bus options if available – i.e. promotes bus to a different audience;
  • Hypothesis – Recognising there are two separate fleets of vehicles, operated by the same provider, serving different audiences…”A co-mingled DRT service (amalgamating Ring & Ride and West Midlands On Demand) can be successfully operated. Such a service will expand the current customer base whilst providing a more efficient and economical fleet operation”;

  • The Trial! WM on Demand branding; Distance-based pricing/ticketing model; Service and concessions eligibility; Booking platform; Service operation; Vehicles;
  • Implementation – Significant stakeholder engagement: users, politicians, staff delivering the services; Understanding how to access for concessions; Considering contractual implications; Monitoring and evaluation; Marketing campaign;
  • Test Phases – Phase 1: Understanding co-mingling parameters (Jan 23-Apr 23); Phase 2: Fleet Optimisation (Apr 23-July 23); Phase 3: Planning ahead (July 23-Now);
  • Did it work? Approx 30% uplift in patronage across the two services; Positive feedback from customers, despite a few teething issues;
  • Summary: DRT likely to play important role in transport ecosystem for journeys that are difficult by bus – complementing, not competing; A way to achieve this may be to ‘open-up’ the existing Ring & Ride service; Developing delivery model that considers commerciality and social value (e.g. Public Private Partnership?) making better use of existing subsidies; Nothing to lose! Public Transport use is in long-term decline – We must reverse this and help make public transport more relevant for many more journeys and customers;
  • What’s holding us back? Considering funding, governance, mind set, staffing and reputation

If you meet our regular delegate qualification criteria but were unable to join us at Drapers’ Hall, Coventry, for the live in-person event on November 22nd, CLICK HERE and complete the short “Download form” (located at the bottom of the post) to receive a unique link enabling free access to the presentation video recordings and slides (including the film footage and slides from Steve’s keynote).

Those qualifying to receive the rich presentation content from this event include commissioning, procurement, trialling, partnering and policy leads, senior influencers, strategic decision makers and planners from local authorities (e.g. city, borough, metropolitan, district and county councils); public transport operators; regional transport partnerships, sub-regional transport bodies, combined authorities, integrated transport authorities and passenger transport executives; highways authorities and road operators; government and supporting national transport agencies; fleet operators, parking operators, prime contractors etc.

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TRANSPORT Smart Class, Midlands 2023

On November 22nd we will be casting a spotlight over Central England, hosting our speakers discussions on how the latest digital innovations can help overcome the transport and mobility challenges faced by the burgeoning city-regions of the West and East Midlands, and beyond.

  22/11/2023

   Coventry, UK

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