A day out in Sheppey

Friday 25th January 2019

was too good an opportunity to miss. As Ford’s Chariot accepted its last ride share booking today, closing down just a few weeks after RATP’s Slide and Esoteric Systems’ (with First Bus) MyFirstMile in Bristol also both bit the dust, Arriva’s Click has been in celebratory mood marking its 100,000th booking by offering free travel all day in Sittingbourne.

As I hot footed over to Sittingbourne, keen not to miss out on what could be a busy day for ride sharing bookings, I pre-booked my first Click trip from the station to Iwade while still an hour away on the train from Victoria. My train was due into Sittingbourne at 1115 and luckily the 1115-1145 slot was available, so I sat back and relaxed as the train headed to Kent.

Somehow my booking got lost in the system, or I failed to confirm, or something untoward happened as checking the Click app at 1100 it showed I had no scheduled bookings! I was reassured when trying to rebook and finding a minibus was available in 9 minutes but as that was too soon for my scheduled 1115 arrival I let it go and tried a few more times with offers of a ride within a matter of minutes.

I decided this was a good sign a minibus was available and close by the station so waited until I actually arrived at the station to book again. Sure enough outside the station were two Click minibuses including one of three drafted in on loan for the day from Liverpool to supplement Sittingbourne’s usual fleet of five for the anticipated busy day of ride share freeloaders like me.

The drivers of those two minibuses must have been on a meal break as my booking attempts instructed me to walk to Morrisons (about a five minute walk away behind the station by Mill Way/Milton Road – see map above) to pick up my designated ride in another vehicle.

Just as I was working out from the app map which way to walk I spotted my designated minibus driving by so gave the driver a meaningful wave which luckily he correctly interpreted and pulled up so I could board where I’d originally asked to!

A passenger already on board was heading to work at Screwfix further on along the route past Morrisons but she alighted a bit sooner than that in the Asda car park where we’d been diverted to pick up two people travelling home together with their shopping.

We did a diversion around the houses in Kemsley to drop them off (getting stuck behind the standard bus route 347 as it dropped its passenegers off) and it was then foot down to Iwade where I bid farewell to my very friendly driver, Daniel arriving not much more than 20 minutes from getting off the train at Sittingbourne station. Not bad.

A bus on the hourly Arriva 334 to Sheerness-on-Sea (from Maidstone) was due in five minutes which was just perfect for onward travel and allowed time to explore the unusual double shelter on the other side of the road. Except a quick check on Arriva’s handy app showing real times indicated it was stuck way back on its route in Delting.

I’m grateful to fellow tweeters who saw my plight and explained there’d been an incident closing the A249 in Delting – the benefits of social media which sadly Arriva are still struggling with.

Arriving at Sheerness-on-Sea with its interesting steel girders.

I opted to head back into Sittingbourne on a Maidstone bound 334 and took the train to Sheerness-on-Sea instead. I’d originally thought a bus ride over to Leysdown-on-Sea (the far eastern point on the Isle of Sheppey) would be interesting but the usual problem of filthy winter windows meant it was probably best to leave that idea until the better summer weather.

Sheerness-on-Sea High Street

Instead I had a mooch around Sheerness-on-Sea’s somewhat down-at-heel High Street with its rather unkept bus stop summing the atmosphere up rather well.

Arriva’s bus yard next to the station indicated the bus wash was out of action which probably explains the dirty buses seen all around.

Back on the train and a stop off at the remote and quirky station at Swale and a walk to nearby Iwade to summon another free ride with Click seemed a good plan.

Swale’s a rather desolate station in the shadow of the vast A249 Sheppey Crossing but it does boast a southeastern ticket machine and matrix dot display and an adjacent bus stop where I discovered to my delight a bus on the 334 was due in just a couple of minutes.

Click buses didn’t seem to want to come out to play in Iwade but I kept persevering on the app while on the 334 until we approached the village of Iwade and finally success and journey booked. I alighted and waited in the designated spot.

The empty minibus appeared in less than five minutes and we soon turned into a series of small residential roads to pick up a young mum with a buggy who was dumbfounded to find she didn’t need to use the laborious lift process at the back on the usual Mercedes Sprinters but as this was one on loan from Liverpool she could board at the front.

Heading towards Sittingbourne we picked up another passenger in Kemsley who was also heading for the station where we arrived in next to no time and all alighted.

Back at the station at 1400 I decided to head back to Hassocks. Today’s National Rail Journey Planner befuddlement routed me on the 1413 southeastern to Victoria (arrive 1525) and then the 1555 to Hassocks arriving at 1650 – the best route as also confirmed by southeastern staff at the station. Whereas, with an Any Permitted ticket by taking the 1408 HS1 to St Pancras (arrive 1506) and taking the 1520 Thameslink, I arrivied Hassocks almost twenty minutes earlier at 1633.

A few thoughts on ride sharing……..

This was my sixth visit to Sittingbourne since Click began in April 2017. The ‘ride sharing’ aspect has definitely increased over that time – both my journeys today were shared with two independent passengers. But two passengers don’t make for a commercial business proposition. Rural bus routes are being abandoned as uneconomic and unjustified for public funding with far bigger passenger counts than that!

It must be a sign of how much Click is still in financial ‘special measures’ nearly two years from its roll out that a decision was taken to give free travel on a Friday. That would be a very brave move for any bus network that was anywhere near commercial. Fridays were always a top revenue day in my experience; you certainly couldn’t afford to give it all away. I can only assume there was little revenue to risk for this 100,000 promotion and the hope it might encourage some new riders; but after nearly two years of Clicking it’s difficult to see where new passengers are going to appear from.

My two journeys on the 334 which links Sittingbourne to Iwade every hour were quite well loaded and I suspect the usual Click fare of £5 single for that journey (so that’s an off putting £10 for a return – whereas a full Swale area day ticket is £4.60 on traditional Arriva buses) as well as the idiosyncratic booking system with its hit and miss timings dependant on whether there’s a minibus and/or fellow ride sharers nearby puts people off. It would me, if I lived in Iwade. I’d prefer the certainty of a timetabled standard bus – road traffic incidents permitting.

I’m not convinced 100,000 journeys is that impressive either. Click’s been going for 95 weeks which across six operational days a week means 570 Click days have passed. So that’s 175 journeys a day, across four to five minibuses – let’s say 4.5 making for 39 passengers per vehicle which over a 12 hour day, say, gives the three people per hour I experienced today and in my last visit.

You’re not going to get rich carrying three people per hour in a top of the range minibus, that’s for sure.

Roger French

5 thoughts on “A day out in Sheppey

  1. Like you, I just can’t see how this incarnation of Dial-A-Ride can work unless in a seriously populated area like Oxford . . . . . certainly not the future of rural bus services. The fares quoted might also have something to do with it . . . . . cheaper than a taxi, but way more expensive than a bus.

    Make sure you do manage Leysdown sometime . . . . a mini Southend on Sea, with many amusement arcades and not much else! A place where modern life seems not to have reached yet, and possibly a decker to travel on as well!!

    Liked by 1 person

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