Thursday 21st November 2019
Following last Friday’s try out of TfL’s latest Demand Responsive Transport trial in Ealing, I found myself back in the Borough with two bus industry colleague friends to give it another try yesterday afternoon.
There was a Slide vehicle parked up waiting for custom as we came out of Ealing Broadway station so to give the system a proper try we caught the next bus on route E1 along to Drayton Green station where we alighted and ordered a Slide from there to Greenford Broadway.
We made two bookings using apps on two separate smartphones at pretty much the same time, so not surprisingly the software combined us all on to the same vehicle which was indeed the one we saw parked up and arrived with us within the estimated seven minutes.
I booked for two people and paid £2 for that second booking rather than the standard £3.50 fare.
When the minibus arrived it seems the driver wasn’t expecting three of us but on checking his in-cab tablet he then noticed the second booking had come through, and it then appeared on the monitor behind the driver – but oddly with a slightly later arrival time at the same destination.
Off we set and it then became obvious there was a problem – the driver’s SstNav on the tablet kept reverting to recalculating the journey and wouldn’t show the driver where to go. No route appeared ahead of where he currently was.
Luckily he knew our destination and the route to take so used his initiative and got us to Greenford Broadway in spite of, rather than helped by, the SatNav software.
Our next journey about half an hour later began with me booking for two passengers from Greenford Broadway to Northfields station which after acceptance and being advised a minibus would be with us in six minutes, my friend, a few minutes later, booked his journey from Greenford Broadway to South Ealing station (not far from Northfields). The software duly allocated us the same shared ride on the same minibus and it soon appeared at the designated pick up point by Lidl.
This proved to be a tricky point to pick us up with peak afternoon-post-school turn out time traffic and cars trying to get into Lidl’s car park; but our driver managed to reverse back into the main road and turn the minibus round and pick us up. I wasn’t sure about that manoeuvre as we were now pointing in the wrong direction.
Our second driver, like the first, also wasn’t aware there would be three of us but then spotted my booking was for two people so was reassured. But the biggest consternation was the SatNav taking us off in a north-westerly direction rather than south-eastwards towards Northfields and South Ealing.
After struggling in the wrong direction through Greenford’s congested traffic and ending up doing a complete circuit around residential roads in north west Greenford, after ten minutes we were back at Greenford Broadway and Lidl where we’d started the journey.
Our driver valiantly struggled on using his local knowledge to get us on our way, as it seems the routing software had once again packed up not being able to cope with more than one booked passenger on board.
It’s a bit of a fundamental problem for a ride sharing operation not being able to cope with ride sharing; but hopefully it’s just teething problems and will soon be sorted out.
The monitor behind the driver (still using unfriendly destination names rather than Northfields and South Ealing stations) gave worsening predicted arrival times as our journey included off route deviations and worsening traffic congestion.
At one point during the journey the monitor turned itself off but my friend Phil managed to find the on/off switch at the back and turned it back on again.
In the event the journey to Northfields took 45 minutes instead of the originally expected range of 17-29 minutes.
I emailed the ‘SlideEaling’ Hello address during our prolonged journey to pass on feedback about the loss of SatNav and to explain how well the driver was coping as he was gutted and embarrassed about the problems – especially as we were his first and only passengers all day. I also asked for a refund of the £2 I’d paid!
James at SlideEaling has replied this evening to say:
Hopefully ‘a fix’ is now implemented and there’ll be no more slips on Slide.
I used to run a bus company but in retirement am a full time passenger travelling all over Britain enjoying its splendid scenic delights by bus and train. Currently social distancing at home.