The revamped £15m National Express Birmingham Coach Station opened 10 years ago and now sees two million customers a year through its doors, 24 hours a day
In 2009 on 14 December, the brand-new Birmingham Coach Station opened its doors at 0800hrs -just half an hour after the last coach left, and the doors closed, on its temporary park across the road.
“It all seemed seamless at the time,” says Russell Jinks, Deputy Head of Coach Stations, who was then in a less senior position.
The new modern coach station was a huge upgrade on its predecessors. Its £15m overhaul included 16 coach bays compared to the previous 12, a new concourse, information centre and café.
Back in 1929 Digbeth Bus Garage opened in the Irish Quarter of Birmingham, with part of the garage being used as a coach station for departures from Birmingham. There were changes in ownership and management over the years and some of the coach and bus operations were transferred to a site in Mill Lane. In 2007 the coach station closed for redevelopment and customer operations transferred to a temporary site on Oxford Street.
New modern station
The new modern station was welcomed by staff and customers alike and the appearance of then England football manager Fabio Capello officially opening the station brought glamour and excitement to the event.
The entire building is now more economically friendly and harvests rainwater for toilets. It is low maintenance with energy efficient lighting on sensors, passive solar shading, natural ventilation to the concourse area and a green sedum roof to reduce rainwater runoff.
Russell says: “Originally we had an oval ticket office with eight desks and glass panels at the front. There was a bell to call for an advisor and you got a hand-written ticket.
“Now we have just two desks, with our ticket vending machines taking 65% of the sales.”
The station is open 24 hours, 365 days a year now with services running on Christmas Day.
A major interchange station, the station is buzzing at 0300hrs when coaches come in for passengers to change coaches to continue to their final destination.
Russell says: “It’s a unique coach station because of our positioning within the country and the fact that we’re on all of the motorway networks.”
Twenty million passengers have passed through the coach station in its 10 years, with 140 coaches a day leaving during the 24 hours.
Customer satisfaction is key to the station’s success. Russell explains: “Our strategy here is to encourage people to use the internet to book their tickets.
“That’s so we can move people from behind a desk selling tickets to actually being proactive outside and helping customers.
“It makes our staff more effective and reduces the barriers between them and the customer.”
When customers arrive at the coach station they can check their coach times by listening to the tannoy, looking at the customer service screen or visiting the information desk.
“The idea behind the station was very much airport-style,” adds Russell. “There are seating areas at each bay and the doors light up with a blue light when the bay opens.”
National Express staff can be identified by their pink hi-vis waistcoat and drivers by their green ones.
Behind the scenes the coaches are constantly being tracked by U-Track software which gives the operators a good idea of when coaches are arriving as well as accurate real-time information.
“This enables us to make empowered decisions,” says Russell. “The customer service side here is very prompt. If we need to put someone in a taxi or on a train that decision will be made quickly.
“Our commitment is to get our customers from A-B – we would never leave anyone stranded.”
Still signposted Digbeth Coach Station, Birmingham Coach Station is easily accessible and is the only major coach station in the city centre. Timetables are annually reviewed and added to or taken off if routes are not popular.
Facilities at the station include a Starbucks, an Upper Crust, a newsagent, phone charging facilities, photo booths, change machines, toilets, a kitchen area for drivers and a driver rest room.
There is security 24 hours a day, with additional security on the busier weekend nights.
Russell says: “Any city centre has problems with homeless and antisocial behaviour but the work we’ve done with the council and the police all adds up to keeping our customers safe.”
All coaches have a Vuer entertainment system onboard which is free to use. Passengers just need to log onto the app. Coaches also have charging points and wifi.
Russell says: “I still get excited about the station – it still feels as new as the day it opened.
“In the future it will be even more accessible too, as the HS2 is planned to link to the Metro at Curzon Street which will be an even better link for us.”