With the 2022 Commonwealth Games (basically the Olympics, but just for countries Britain once ruled) on the horizon and set to be held in England’s “second city” - Birmingham - it made sense to refresh and simplify the ever-confusing public transport network. While I agree with the sentiment, and think the council (and the companies involved) certainly deserves praise for making the ever-important first steps, I have some minor niggles with the way things are being completed.
How Things Are
Busses are operated by hundreds of different companies, each with their own liveries and tickets. The majority are a member of the previous unification attempt - “Network West Midlands.” This means that while you can’t interchangeably use the tickets bought on different busses, you can use several day/week/month/etc passes and tickets offered by Network WM without trouble.
The railway functions no different than the rest of the UK, with operators being granted “franchises” where they can run their trains. Currently serving the West Midlands is the appropriately-named West Midlands Railway. While still a private company, owned mostly by Abellio, they operate under supervision of the council. WMR also accepts “Network” branded tickets.
- Smart ticketing
Most bus operators, WMR, and the West Midlands Metro also support the county’s Oyster-inspired travel card - Swift. Unlike the Oyster, Swift is not only a Pay-As-You-Go card; you can load any number of season tickets that range from a week of bus travel, to a whole year travelling anywhere in the West Midlands on anything.
1. Transport for West Midlands
Taking a leaf out of London, Manchester and Wales’ book, we now have Transport for West Midlands instead of a confusing “passenger executive.” Hurrah! The problem here, is that unlike London, Manchester or Wales, TfWM is not the public brand name. We are still desperately clinging onto the “Network” brand, except it’s being renamed to “West Midlands Network” instead of “Network West Midlands.” In my opinion. this seems redundant and adds another layer of abstraction to the mix. It would make much more sense to patch up Network’s poor reputation, and instead focus on building Transport for West Midlands.
These two Reddit comments on a post I submitted to the Birmingham subreddit last year really sums up most of my problems with the new brand:
2. West Midlands Bus
Instead of many different liveries, tickets and brands, the bus services are being unified to be under one umbrella - West Midlands Bus. The routes will still be operated under contract by many different companies, however their busses will all be red and will all carry the same West Midlands Bus brand.
I don’t have a problem with this unification, but…
3. The New Logos
Along with the many new brands comes many new logos. This is where I think things fall apart. Taking a leaf out of London’s book again (noticing a trend here?), we are getting a symbol like the iconic TfL roundel. However, instead of a clean, simple circle with a line through it, we’ve got a hexagon made up of diamonds. Yeah, I don’t get it either.
The poor logo choice is the least of my concerns however, it’s the logo design as a whole along with the colours. Now, I’m no graphic designer, but THE TEXT IN THE LOGOS ISN’T HORIZONTALLY ALIGNED. Sorry for screaming there, but I seriously do not understand how anyone look at this and said “yes, that’s fine!” To me, it screams rushed and amateurish.
If this wasn’t enough, when placed on the side of a vehicle, the shade of red (in the case of West Midlands Bus) or blue (in the case of the West Midlands Metro) in the middle of the hexagon totally fades away into the paint of the vehicle it’s on depending on the lighting. Again, this just doesn’t look professional at all to me, and it frankly makes me even more embarrassed about the public transportation here.
Since it’s massively expensive to embed rails in the road everywhere, TfWM is investing in a new “Sprint” service. It’s essentially a hybrid between busses and trams - no rails like busses, but dedicated routes and lanes like trams. Maybe it’s just me and I’m missing something, but why not just build more bus lanes? Why do we need a brand new fleet of glorified bendy-busses when we can just focus on improving the current bus services?
One of the prime reasons for the rebrand was to simplify the region’s public transport and make it easier and friendlier to navigate. As mentioned previously, the vast array of bus companies and other operators overwhelmed many people and discouraged them from using public transport altogether. I understand that liveries, websites and all of that can’t be changed at the snap of a finger, but surely it’s more confusing that the Twitter page for Network has the brand spanking new purple hexagon, while their website still carries all of the old branding. Surly it’s more confusing to only rebrand two bus routes but leave the hundreds of others as they are?
- We need to stop cherrypicking things we like about London (red busses, unification), we just need to steal their whole system
- The city is already looking like it’s going to be one giant construction site in 2022, what does it matter if the public transport is also a shambles? Take your time rolling this out to ensure there’s no mistakes or amateur graphic design mistakes.