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NEWM Platinum: The Platinum partners

first_imgLess haste, more speedNEWM won’t be removing any resource as a result of running time improvements, says Mr Rideout. “The time saved has gone into making the services more reliable. We have reinvested it into making the timetable more robust, making our offering to the customer better, and enabling us to deliver what we say we will.“It’s not simply about a pretty-looking bus; we must run it as we promise. Investment plus journey time savings equals growth, which allows further investment. It’s a self-fulfilling virtuous circle.”What is also important to note is that these improvements can be delivered for moderate cost, much less than a comparable guided busway or light rail line.“The incremental cost of Platinum is not huge,” says Mr Rideout. “We’ve gone for various enhancements inside the buses, and have foregone revenue from external advertising. But when it’s all taken into account, there isn’t a massive difference.“But the proof will be in the pudding.“If passengers buy into Platinum, and we start seeing significant modal shift, then it gives us excellent traction to push forward.” When applied correctly, there is no doubt that premium-quality bus services such as Arriva’s Sapphire and Stagecoach Gold do exactly as they say on the tin. Through operators’ investment, they drive passenger growth which outweighs the additional cost of providing the service, thanks largely to high-quality vehicles with more comforts than would otherwise be the case.National Express West Midlands (NEWM) has watched these ventures carefully, and on Monday (25 May) it launched one of its own when the first of 18, 10.8m Alexander Dennis (ADL) Enviro400 MMCs in a distinctive livery entered service from Birmingham Central garage.They will soon be followed by 40 identical buses at Walsall, and the new brand has been christened Platinum.In a departure from the existing NEWM fleet, the new buses include Wi-Fi, additional legroom, custom high-backed seats and colour co-ordinated interior dcor. Forming part of NEWM’s multi-year procurement deal with ADL, they are among 171 new buses, worth 34m, which the operator is putting into the West Midlands during 2015.But there’s much more to the Platinum story than shiny new buses. A great deal of other work has gone on behind the scenes between NEWM and its partners to maximise the Enviros’ impact, and the ambitious project is a sign of things to come. Give and takeHow these infrastructure improvements have been financed is an example of NEWM’s partnership working. “Adam and his team put a brochure about the Platinum concept together and we took it to the councils,” says Mr Kelly.“They were immediately impressed and quickly agreed to commit a substantial sum of money to highway improvements, as long as we held our side of the bargain and introduced the high-specification new buses.”A look at some of the Enviro400 MMCs, in the process of receiving vinyls and being examined by some of NEWM’s senior management when routeone visited Birmingham Central last week, shows that it has done exactly that.The operator then worked closely with both local authorities to decide where the money for road improvements should be spent, and it predicts a reduction in journey time between Solihull and Birmingham of up to nine minutes.“We’ve worked together and done some research into pinch points, and what creates them,” continues Mr Kelly. “It’s testament to our partnership approach with both councils. We can be open and challenge each other, but still come out at the end singing from the same hymn sheet.”Journey time improvements are perhaps the most significant part of Platinum after the vehicle investment, and the importance of speeding up services is often underestimated.“[The premium model] has worked for other companies, but we think we’ve been a little smarter,” says Mr Kelly.“Birmingham City Council and Solihull Council have given us a significant amount of money to improve journey times. Having luxury seats and Wi-Fi is wonderful, but if the passenger is on the bus for the same amount of time as previously, the full effect may not be felt.“Nobody is telling us that they don’t use the bus because the seats are too close together or there is no Wi-Fi. Rather, it’s because they can complete the journey by car or train in less time.“So while we know that the new vehicles will generate improved patronage on their own, we now also know that thanks to the work we’re doing with both councils, our journey times will be competitive with other modes’.”center_img Partnership paysThe new Enviro400s are visually distinctive and naturally the most noticeable part of the upgrading of the routes they serve.As Head of Marketing, National Express Bus, Adam Rideout and his team designed the grey-based livery and have also masterminded a number of promotions to drive awareness of the new brand.He points out that new stock would be expected to grow passenger numbers simply on its own merits; Mr Rideout and his team’s task was to capitalise on that.“Our Platinum livery is not the most revolutionary of its kind, but we have to realise that the buses will be working heavy traffic all the time. That means minor dents are inevitable, and we have made it as easy as possible for the engineering team to replace lower panels by making that section of the livery one solid colour.“We initially had some bolder ideas, but we consulted throughout the business and have tried to make Platinum as easy to operate and maintain as possible.”Much of what Platinum is expected to achieve will come thanks to NEWM’s partnership with both local ITA Centro and councils in the West Midlands. Having delivered a number of major benefits in two years, the current deal expires soon and will morph into an even more ambitious plan.Platinum acts as an indicator of what passengers can expect to see more of under the coming partnership, says NEWM Head of External Relations Jack Kelly. Combining the thinking behind it with delivery of tangible service improvements produces a textbook example of how partnership working can benefit the most important party of all.“What we want to do more of in the new partnership with Centro is use our knowledge of what passengers want, along with our investment power, to give a product which is ultimately more than the sum of its parts,” says Mr Kelly.“That’s exactly what Platinum is. Highway improvements and new buses both generate increased passenger numbers when implemented separately. But when we put them together, we will see more growth than we would if the two were independent,” he adds.The Platinum routes operated from Birmingham Central garage run together along Coventry Road before splitting. The 900 goes on to Coventry via the NEC and Birmingham Airport, while the 957 terminates in Solihull. Over the shared section, they offer a bus every seven minutes during the day.NXWM has worked closely with both Birmingham City Council and Solihull Council to deliver infrastructure improvements. But, says Mr Kelly, the operator thought carefully about what it requested.“Bus priority is king, but what operators are asking for is changing,” he explains. “Favourable traffic light phasing and bus gates potentially have as positive an impact on journey times as bus lanes, and are much less contentious politically.“We have been smarter in what we asked for. We could probably have had every traffic light sequence between Birmingham and Coventry altered in our favour for a cost similar to that for a couple of hundred yards of bus lane.”last_img read more