Shift workers, job seekers and even holiday-makers are set to benefit from a new, 24 hour bus service linking some of the region’s biggest employers.
The route of the existing 97 service between Birmingham city centre, Heartlands Hospital and Chelmsley Wood is to be extended from Sunday March 24 to also serve Birmingham Airport, National Exhibition Centre and nearby Birmingham Business Park.
The specially branded bus will also run every hour from midnight including Saturdays and Sundays, offering a significant transport boost for shift workers at the various locations.
The new service will open up greater opportunities for unemployed people in east Birmingham and north Solihull who will now find it easier to take up work, including hundreds of seasonal jobs, at Birmingham Airport and the NEC.
The route and 24 hour timetable are the result of a partnership between Centro, the region’s transport authority, bus operator National Express West Midlands, Solihull Council, Birmingham Airport and NEC.
Michelle Thurgood, transport specialist at Birmingham Airport which, together with the NEC is initially funding the service, said: “This is a small yet significant element in the public transport access to the airport.
“We’re very pleased to see this extension to the 97 service launch to give both passengers and staff round the clock access to Birmingham Airport.”
James Puxty, head of communications, NEC Group, added: “We welcome over three million visitors a year at the NEC site and, with the introduction of Resorts World we will become a true 24/7 leisure, business and entertainment destination.
“This means it is all the more important to offer customers and staff varied, flexible and cost effective transport options.”
The launch of the new service builds on a recent £11 million scheme led by Solihull Council to improve public transport links in the area.
The scheme has seen:
• New bus lanes
• New bus shelters
• Improvements for disabled travellers including easier access kerbs
• Real time information boards for travellers to plan their journeys more easily
• A bus only link to Bickenhill Parkway from the airport
• Variable message road signs to better control lanes during big events
Cycle paths and footpaths to join up routes and allow for safer and greener travel have also been built.
Centro chairman, Cllr John McNicholas, said: “Transport plays a key role in underpinning economic growth and jobs and this new service will make it far easier for people to take advantage of new employment opportunities along the route.”
Cllr Ted Richards, Solihull Council’s cabinet member for transport and highways, added: “I am extremely pleased to see this scheme coming to fruition – it has been one of Solihull Council’s ambitions as a way to improve access to jobs. I hope people now take the opportunity to use this excellent service.”
Jack Kelly, head of external communications at National Express, said: "The 97 is one of our busiest routes and provides hundreds of thousands of people with access to work and job opportunities.
“We are constantly listening to our customers to hear what more we can do to improve their services and many told us that extending the hours of the 97 would make things better for them, so we have."
Timetables and other information about the new 97 service is available at www.networkwestmidlands.com and from the Travel Information Centres at New Street Station and in Solihull town centre.