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.

Roger French

9 thoughts on “BOD in WOD

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  1. Maybe the lack of publicity is because the service was due to start in April – see this newspaper article from March:

    Diamond used the two Mercedes Sprinters on (quieter) normal bus services in the West Midlands region until BOD started, so they could be seen in places such as central Birmingham and Stratford-on-Avon.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. An interesting read. I started my working life in Bromsgrove, at a time when Midland Red (well BMMO) had a garage in the town. There was still a fair amount of local industry, also many in the town worked at ‘The Austin’ so buses were well used particularly during peak times. However, housing in the outlying areas was increasingly being bought by those commuting to Birmingham. Some estates (Charford and Sidemoor come to mind) are likely to attract sufficient numbers of passengers for the near future at least and there are decent services to both run by local independents.
    Most of the industry has now gone, of course, but the opening of the new station and the regular service into Brum, which appears to be increasingly popular may mean there has been an upturn in the use of public transport in the town (although the provision of well over 300 car parking spaces indicates how the authorities expect passengers to get there). Some will travel to the station by bus, as well as to the community hospital; both some way out of town, so DRT has some potential but this appears to be blighted from the word go if Roger’s experience is anything to go by. Someone travelling to the hospital or station cannot tolerate a service which does not provide the transport when it is requested – and promised. Why are these things not tested extensively before they are implemented? What is the use of publicity shots on local news websites of councillors using the service if those who are paying for it through their Council Tax cannot? And what is the point of a promising a dedicated telephone line for those without mobile phones (who may well be those who use buses) at a later date, they are needed at the start? As are the seasonal passes promised.
    Regarding the vehicles, money has been set aside for electric buses in the future.
    They seem to have fine aims but it just seems like a rush job, and these rarely work out. Years ago, I had occasional dealings with those in the County Council transport department and found the staff enthusiastic and hard working but without the resources needed to do the job. Seems like nothing has changed.

    If Councillor Kent is reading this, although there is no need for formal wear, I am sure you could find something more suitable than baggy shorts and trainers.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I can never make my mind up Roger, whether you actually like DRT schemes, or put yourself through all this grief as part of a (sensible) campaign to prove that in almost all cases the concept does not work. I hope that you always ensure the local authorities read your blogs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Some do but they’re so committed, having been persuaded by persuasive sales people from the tech companies to spend money
      they can’t see the flaws. There are some very convincing tech people out there who convince them it’s all good as it involves tech! And the DfT’s pot of gold reinforces this too.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Sometimes I wonder if the councils do know how bad the DRT service will be but they know that it will also appear like a very smart scheme as all of the news reports will talk about how now people can supposedly travel anywhere they want at almost anytime they want, and most of the population will see this and think the council are doing well but they never actually try it themselves so they don’t see the flaws. Therefore the councils just do it to appear like they are doing something good in the eyes of everyone who sees the new service but doesn’t use it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Being local, I’ve tried WOD on a couple of occasions and it functioned relatively well. The first time I was picked up promptly in the bus station and deposited at my door about a mile away, the second time was from the end of my road to the Rail Station which did experience some delay – tracking the vehicle, it was clear the routing algorithm didn’t recognise a banned right turn which meant it had to head up to the M42 roundabout to turn. Roadworks at the crossroads near the Rail Station were an issue in the early days but there was access to the stops at the station. The drivers are friendly but not all of them have detailed knowledge of the Bromsgrove area so need to rely on the navigation system.

    Publicity is almost non existent – I havn’t found any reference at the Rail Station and in the bus station, it is only mentioned on one of five screen displays that rotate on the single display board there. One of the others shows the times of the next departures, the other three are devoted to Covid-19 rules. My neighbours were unaware of the scheme and thought I had persuaded a friendly Diamond driver to take me to my door!

    One of the local papers has covered the service on several occasions since it was first aired in the Spring, majoring initially on the fact that it was to be an electric bus service and I understand the District Council has approved £250,000 over five years to pay for electric vehicles. Problem is that the local papers are no longer delivered so rely on people to pick them up at supermarkets and shops. There is another piece in this week’s paper featuring local councillors praising the service but no details on how it is performing.

    Liked by 1 person

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