Interview: Transport for West Midlands keeps the region moving sustainably
Setting an example for clean bus deployment in the region, Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) works with bus and train operators to ensure that public transport is reliable, accessible – and sustainable. We spoke with Steven Hayes, Head of Network Transformation, to explore TfWM’s commitment towards a cleaner region: what are their efforts to create a better public transport system, and what are some of the challenges they are facing?
Transport for West Midlands has set a target of switching all buses to ZE by 2030 - can you tell us a bit more about the strategy and the current stage of deployment?
It’s important we are seen as leaders in the transition to Zero Emission vehicles and buses help that message. They are also popular with passengers! Given the deregulated market in the UK we must work closely with bus operators to support them and have successfully secured government funding to kick-start this. As we get closer to 2030 we anticipate the business case for operators to invest commercially will grow. Indeed our largest operator National Express has already announced they will buy no more diesel buses. We have around 100 electric and 20 Hydrogen buses operating in the region right now, with funding for a further 200 electric and 124 Hydrogen buses by 2026, which will represent around a quarter of the region’s fleet.
What do you consider some of the challenges in advancing in the upscale of clean buses?
There is still not a commercial business case for transitioning to Zero Emission buses but we think the day is getting closer when they can be ordered without public funding. The first places we’ve put Zero Emission buses are those where it has been cheaper and easier to provide power and charging infrastructure. It is difficult to envisage how some of the bus depots could be converted to electric easily because there is less space or inadequate power, so there may be a need for new depots in some places, which will be further cost. But electric bus depots will be cleaner and quieter, so there may be opportunities to think about these sites more innovatively as part of wider mixed use developments.
How do you consider an initiative such as the Clean Bus Europe Platform can help these – and other – challenges? In other words: how do you as Target City see the value of the Platform?
We find the platform hugely helpful in understanding challenges and opportunities faced by fellow members, both operational and strategic. It can be very inspirational to learn about what other cities are doing and also know that there are others who might be grappling with similar problems. We are always happy to share our experiences if they can help others, whichever city or country we represent it is of everyone’s benefit to reduce carbon emissions and live in a cleaner world.
In April 2023, TfWM will be hosting the UITP 114th Bus Committee Meeting, and the Clean Bus Europe Platform Study Tour. Can you tell us a bit about the upcoming activities?
We are really excited to have the opportunity to show you lots of the exciting projects and programmes we have been working on in the West Midlands to try and encourage more people onto public transport. In the UK, London always gets a lot of focus, but most of the country is not much like London so we hope to provide some different perspectives. From a clean bus perspective you will see our JIVE funded hydrogen buses and the regeneration beginning in the area of the city where these are fuelled.
You’ll hear about our plans for a further 124 Hydrogen buses which we believe will be the biggest hydrogen bus delivery outside of China and why we think this is a good thing to do in supporting a wider transition towards hydrogen as a fuel in the UK. We’ll also take you to Coventry, where work to deliver the UK’s first all-electric bus city is underway. Almost half of the buses you will see operating there are now electric, it’s really exciting!
From 24 to 26 April 2023, TfWM is hosting the UITP 114th Bus Committee in Birmingham, after which the CBEP Study Tour will be held in cooperation with TfWM and TfL, also in conjunction with the JIVE/JIVE2 and SolutionsPlus projects.