Friday 1st October 2021
The DRT craze reached Aberdeenshire on 16th August when the snazzily named Ready2Go five vehicle operation hit the road. Six weeks on it was time for a ‘BusAndTrainUser’ visit to give it the once over which I managed to do on Tuesday morning to add to my collection of DRT travel experiences.
Ready2Go is operated by long standing Fraserburgh based coach firm Watermill Coaches using Mercedes Sprinter minibuses to the usual smartly appointed interior specification found on DRT operations around the country.
It’s centred on Inverurie located about 17 miles north west of Aberdeen on the A96 to Inverness as well as the Aberdeen to Inverness rail line. As Fraserburgh is 35 miles and almost an hour’s drive away Watermill Coaches are sensibly outstationing minibuses and drivers for Ready2Go near Ellon which although much closer is still about 15 miles from Inverurie.
It’s another Monday to Saturday only operation from 06:30 to 19:30 (07:30-18:30 Saturday) and comes with software and algorithms devised by moovit.com described as “an Intel company and leading ‘Mobility as a Service’ (MaaS) solutions provider”.
This comes over in the way the App works. After entering your desired origin and destination the App lists options using conventional bus routes and the train first with Ready2Go oddly listed last – even if Ready2Go is the best and quickest option. Its all the more odd as ‘Ready2Go’ is the name of the App.
Below is an example for a journey from Oldmeldrum to Inverurie I enquired about later on Tuesday at 16:32 where it lists three options before giving the best and quickest option using Ready2Go….
The first option is conventional bus route 49 which runs every 2-3 hours direct between the two locations and would have got me there at 17:12 (which isn’t clearly shown as I cut off the time it would take above the number ’49’ to get it all in one screenshot) but it would be 18 minutes after leaving at 16:54 as shown if you click on that option and get this screen….
The second option involves taking route 35 to Dyce and then change to the train to head back to Inverurie which takes 54 minutes arriving at 17:56 after leaving at 16:52.
The third option involves the same bus on route 35 but changing at Dyce on to routes 37/10 taking 1 hour and 33 minutes arriving at 18:25.
Then finally, you’re shown the quickest option – ordering a Ready2Go which would get you there first at 17:07 after a 15 minute journey. Quite why it’s listed last I don’t know.
Ready2Go’s area stretches from Oldmeldrum in the east, Kintore in the South, Insch in the west and Rothienorman in the north with Inverurie in the centre. It’s a sparsely populated area with just a few hamlets and villages outside of those main communities just listed. Inverurie’s population is by far the largest at around 14,000.
For this visit I decided to risk a short notice booking rather than book days in advance so waited until I was on Stagecoach Bluebird’s route 10 from Aberdeen to Inverurie just after 10:00 to liven up the App and do some booking.
I intended heading to Insch from Inverurie as Ready2Go has replaced the erstwhile hourly bus route 41 previously operated by Stagecoach between the towns save for a couple of early morning and early evening ‘positioning journeys’ which continue, presumably to do with Inverurie town route 22 which also still continues, and I’m guessing is operated from Stagecoach’s small bus garage in Insch.
ScotRail operate between Inverurie and Insch on the Aberdeen to Inverness line but the next departure wasn’t until 12:19 so a Ready2Go minibus would, using the words of Aberdeenshire Council’s Infrastructure Services Committee vice chair Councillor John Cox, be “an exciting time for travel in and around the Inverurie area and I am confident this enhanced transportation initiative will provide a better, more flexible type of service for many passengers and make getting around far more convenient”.
“Exciting” isn’t the word I’d use to describe having to book a bus rather than just turn up at a bus stop for known times of an hourly bus route but it turned out to be my lucky day as the App confirmed my desired travel time of 11:00 from Inverurie was received as a booking by text confirming I was now in the system.
Ominously it added I’d receive confirmation nearer the time and also oddly the App was henceforth silent about my booking with no reference to it and all further communications were by text.
To cut the story short the minibus didn’t appear until 11:09 after a burst of update texts.
While waiting I was joined opposite Inverurie’s town hall by two other passengers also bound for Insch and their travel experiences are far more pertinent than mine.
Ian was the most sceptical of the two and indeed in despair at what had happened to former route 41, although he admitted he was no fan of Stagecoach – “they sent out all their older buses on the rural routes” he bemoaned, but he’d give anything to have them back now.
Having no Internet connection at home and only the most basic of mobile phones “just in case I need it for an emergency” Ian uses his landline and Royal Mail for all outside communications. He rings the Ready2Go call centre the previous day to his travel and books a journey from Insch at 09:00 returning from Inverurie at 10:30.
He’s made seven journeys since Ready2Go’s 16th August replacement of route 41 and has had cause to complain about five of them. “Each time I write a letter to the Council. I know the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Committee but asked for the names of all the Committee Members and sent a copy to all of them”. As you can imagine we really hit it off as Ian related tales of buses not turning up; buses taking him out of his way to pick up other non existent passengers; two buses turning up together to pick him up; and not receiving any updates so not knowing whether his desired times are being met on the day …. and so it went on.
That last issue happened to him once again on Tuesday. On Monday Ian had booked his usual return trip for 10:30 but without mobile phone access had no idea while he was shopping in Inverurie on Tuesday the algorithm had updated the departure time to 11:00 presumably because it realised both Kate and I independently of each other had coincidentally booked that time for our trip and it made sense to combine all three of us together and keep Ian waiting.
Ian was understandably not happy.
On the other hand Kate was a regular user with a default daily booking leaving Insch at 07:30 returning from Inverurie at 11:00 so thought it was a brilliant service as her needs have been consistently fulfilled – effectively a free to use door to door taxi (she has a Scottish concessionary pass) at her chosen block booked times. Except she, like me, had the nine minute delay on Tuesday.
I didn’t have the luxury of free travel so had to stump up the fare which bizarrrly for a supposed App based ‘high tech’ service could only be paid in cash to the driver although I was told when I rang the call centre on Monday to query payment arrangements this might soon be supplemented by the ability to pay by contactless. At least Paul the driver didn’t have to hand write out my ticket as I saw in North Yorkshire last week, as he had a ticket machine.
Unlike most DRT schemes the ‘moovit.com’ App doesn’t get involved in payments. It’s more a travel planning tool as described earlier, linked to a vehicle booking algorithm.
I was impressed the call centre number was answered fairly quickly when I rang with my payment enquiry. It’s the same number used for the longer established A2B Dial-A-Ride operation which also exists in the area to cater for those with accessibility needs and presumably is somewhat superfluous now Ready2Go is up and running. There’s a ‘press 1’ for ‘A2B’ and ‘press 2’ for Ready2Go – I didn’t hang on for any further options but Ian told me they’re all answered by Council staff.
Our driver on Tuesday, Paul, drove us efficiently along the A96 and B9002 and we reached Insch in 23 minutes.
Which led me to conclude, as in the North Yorkshire YorBus scheme reviewed last week, Ready2Go is demonstrating how to use (in this case) five expensive minibuses across a rural area in probably the most inefficient way it is possible to so do.
Far better to use them running ‘better-than-ever-before’ frequencies on a scheduled timetable between the main communities centred on Inverurie, all the more so as Stagecoach are continuing as normal on the Inverurie town service route 21 as well as running around every 2 hours between Inverurie and Oldmeldrum on route 49. Bains Coaches also run between Oldmeldrum to Inverurie every 40 minutes on tendered route 240 which continues to Kemnay to the south west.
Bains also continue to operate route 421 which runs five to six journeys between Oldmeldrum, Inverurie, Kemnay and on to Alford.
I came away wondering whether these five minibuses have effectively just replaced route 41 between Inverurie and Insch, which previously took just one bus, as everything else seemed to be continuing as before, including the A2B Dial-A-Ride.
While I was waiting for my minibus to arrive opposite Inverurie’s rather splendid town hall on Tuesday morning I spotted three of the five minibuses coming and going each carrying just one passenger, including one in a white base livery rather than the grey used by the others.
In Insch I saw yet another one. They certainly have a presence.
You’ll notice I haven’t yet mentioned the large blue and white arrow logo. Suffice to say the contravision has its usual detrimental effect on the view out from the inside. Will livery designers with no knowledge of bus livery design never learn?
Having arrived in Insch at 11:23 and seen Paul off on his way I thought I’d try booking another trip, this time from Insch back to Inverurie, just to see what the options would be.
As it turned out Paul was still in the vicinty and came back to pick another passenger up soon after 11:40 showing an arrival time back in Inverurie at 12:07, about the same time it would take on option 1 (shown below), ie walking to the rail station and taking the train.
But even more bizarrely the App gave me another option taking 1 hour 29 minutes involving walking for 63 minutes along the B992 and then the busy A96 to Colpy to catch a bus on route 10.
Neither road has a footpath.
If this is Mobility as a Service form moovit.com … count me out.
As I bid my fond farewells to Ian and Kate I did ask them why they didn’t use the train to travel between Insch and Inverurie which takes just 11 minutes.
Aside from the less frequent service (it runs about every 90 minutes during the day) they mentioned their concessionary pass doesn’t give free travel on trains.
It did occur to me it would almost certainly be cheaper to give free train travel for the over 60s than run a fleet of five minibuses for their travel needs. But that might just be too ‘joined up’ for Aberdeenshire Council and ‘moovit.com’.
And it wouldn’t be “exciting”.
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.