Saturday 24th July 2021
“Worcestershire on Demand” is the trying-to-be snazzy overarching brand name for what Worcestershire County Council hope will be a network of DRT schemes across the county to provide “better value and a better service for essential travel”. That’s what their ‘blurb’ says with its rather strange grammar in the first sentence:
“Worcestershire County Council is piloting the use of DRT as an alternative to fixed scheduled buses, this provided a better value and better service for essential travel. The initial pilot will focus on essential travel in Bromsgrove (Bromsgrove on Demand (BOD)). This pilot will allow Worcestershire County Council to understand how new DRT services could operate within the County.”
BOD began on Monday and covers a two-and-a-half to three mile radius around Bromsgrove, the Worcestershire town of approximately 30,000 population.
Google’s satellite image shows how the population served is principally concentrated on Bromsgrove itself, which for its size, is already pretty well served by bus routes operated by Diamond Bus and First Bus.
BOD has been introduced with just two buses which may keep the costs down but once demand is stimulated could lead to extended waits to book a ride. I had no problems booking my first ride while trying out the service on Thursday even though all travel is free for everyone as an introductory first week offer. I got the impression promotion of the new service has been somewhat muted.
Concessionary passholders will continue to travel free after the initial offer ceases and other passengers will pay a flat rate £2.50 making the service significantly cheaper than taxis and consequently a very attractive alternative… provided you can book a ride on one of the two buses wandering around the area.
The two vehicles are second hand seven year old Mercedes Sprinter City 17 seaters (including four tip up seats) which have seen previous service with NCP.
They’ve been painted into Diamond’s bright blue livery but there’s no reference to DRT or Worcestershire on Demand or even Bromsgrove on Demand on them. In fact I didn’t see any publicity for the service anywhere and the only online reference I could find is just one page on the Worcestershire County Council website (which I’ve quoted from above).
The interiors are a bit of a hotchpotch with two different seat moquettes (on pretty basic seats) and a third variation on the back board for wheelchairs giving a very uncoordinated feel.
The floor covering looked a bit tired too. It’s a.shame the vehicles weren’t given an interior makeover to kick the operation off.
I booked a ride on Thursday morning having arrived at Bromsgrove rail station at 12:07. Previous trial attempts to book a ride on the train journey had indicated a bus was available within one minute of the booking time so I felt confident the wait would be short.
I found an issue with my originally intended destination receiving a reply “we can’t stop there” even though it was within the operating area albeit close to the southern boundary.
I changed tact and specified the Swan Inn on Worcester Road slightly north of that point and got a journey offered four minutes away but rather inconveniently involved me having to walk for 3-4 minutes from where I was – at the bus pick up point right outside the station.
That’s a shame as the revamped Bromsgrove rail station (five years ago now) is very smart with bus stops located right alongside by the car park.
I took the short walk to the designated pick up point and driver Will soon appeared and picked me up.
Will knows Bromsgrove very well being a former taxi driver which was a good job as Via’s algorithm was routing us on a very circuitous journey rather than direct to the Swan Inn.
His SatNav was insisting Will do a U-Turn or make a right turn at very junction we passed – as the screenshots taken at 12:14, 12:25 and 12:27 below show – but he pressed on regardless along the straight A38 Worcester Road and we reached the Swan Inn at 12:28 rather than the predicted 12:40-12:43 had we used the recommended circuitous route.
I did wonder whether we’d been routed that way to pick up another passenger but this hadn’t shown on Will’s tablet as a requirement.
I bod farewell to the friendly Will and after a ride back into the town centre on First Bus’s Salt Road branded route 144A ….
…. I decided to try another booking on BOD to take me back to the station which is a lengthy 25 minute walk away from the bus station.
The same minibus as I travelled on earlier would be with me in ten minutes via another rather convoluted route …
… and pointedly not picking me up from the ‘bus station’ (it’s just three bus shelters with rather grotty timetable displays) …
… and instead making me walk a few minutes for the pick up in New Road.
The minibus made progress towards me until at 13:03 …
… it didn’t.
It just stopped.
But the expected time it would be with me continued to count down….
…. until it wrongly told me it had arrived at 13:10.
But it hadn’t.
And no confirmatory text was received.
After a few more minutes I decided to cancel the ride – thinking the bus may have broken down.
But the algorithm was keen to admit its failings of lateness but offered no explanation or update on arrival time ….
… so I kept with it a bit longer until after fifteen minutes had elapsed since booking I gave up and cancelled.
I tried rebooking the journey at 13:16 to see if the other minibus would be dispatched.
It wasn’t – I was given the same vehicle and promised an arrival “in 1 minute”, but it still didn’t move and the twiddly thing that moves while it’s thinking about things went on for ages…
A traditional bus was due so I cancelled and took a ride in that instead.
And I’ll never know what happened to that minibus.
Nor why the algorithm has an aversion to serving both the rail station and bus station and making passengers walk three or four minutes away from those key stops.
It’s all part of the enigma that is DRT.
Good luck Worcestershire Country Council in your search for a “better value and a better service for essential travel”. Sorry to have to let you know …. you haven’t found it.
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.