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It’s a ting thing

Friday 29th October 2021

This week’s DRT bus service launch is Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority’s trial in that rural part of ‘West Huntingdonshire’ lying west of Huntingdon and St Neots.

It’s got the same features and challenges I’ve covered in other blogs about rural DRT operations so I won’t repeat the same old stuff this time but just outline a few differences in this latest addition to the DRT scene and tell you about my journey experience on Wednesday.

It’s operated by Stagecoach using four five year old Optare Solos. Not, I’m sure, because anyone is thinking their 32 seat and 12 standing capacity will ever be needed but more likely as this scheme is only a trial for six months it couldn’t justify an investment in brand new minibuses for such a short timespan.

The interiors are standard Stagecoach bright blue and orange but branded cove panels have been added to presumably remind passengers they’re on more than just an ordinary bus. Even though it is just an ordinary bus.

These, together with the exterior livery, a rather attractive leaflet and the brand name ‘ting’ have been devised and designed by the well known creative team at Best Impressions making this the first DRT scheme to be marketed and communicated in a simple to understand format.

(Bias alert; Ray Stenning the mastermind behind Best Impressions is a good friend.)

‘ting’ was launched a couple of weeks ago when Combined Authority Mayor Dr Nik Johnson, was quoted as saying “I want to be able to offer a world class connected public transport service and that work starts here with the introduction of this six-month trial”.

I know; a bit delusional, but that comes with the territory of being an elected Mayor of a Combined Authority – you have to think “world class”. Anything less just doesn’t cut it.

I did my usual ‘book a journey in advance to travel from one side of the operating area to the other’ for Wednesday – ting’s third day of operation.

I booked on Sunday for a departure from St Neots station at 11:15 with the app confirming my booking for a following half hour ‘window’ and subsequently receiving a reminder text confirmation on Tuesday evening of a pick up between 11:15 and 11:45.

On Wednesday morning at 10:41 came a follow up text confirming the pick up time would be at a rather precise 11:37 which gave a slightly longer wait than I ideally desired in view of my train’s arrival at 11:11. But that’s the reality of DRT modal integration for you.

But it did give me plenty of time to find my bearings and sus out the bus stop which sadly wasn’t showing off bus travel as a very attractive proposition.

In fact you couldn’t see out of the windows at all making it completely useless as well as uninviting.

“World class connected public transport” it certainly isn’t Mayor Johnson – and there certainly is work to do right there.

On the up side a hard at work member of staff at GoWhippet saw my tweet about it and undertook to update the timetable information for its 61 bus route that passes by. Hopefully someone will take a jet washer and a barrel load of detergent there too.

At 11:30 a minibus operated by Dew Coaches on rural route 150 came along and picked a passenger up and when I told the driver who enquired if I wanted to board I was waiting for a ting he said he’d seen two parked up at the large Tesco Extra on the southern edge of St Neots which made me wonder why I was having to wait until 11:37 for my pick up.

Perhaps Stuart was having a well earned break as when he arrived with me at 11:41 he said he’d been busy that morning.

He used to drive Stagecoach buses on the Cambridge Busway but had been asked to transfer to ting, which he’d started driving yesterday so was still quite excited about the new set up.

The only trouble was the mobile phone with all his pick up and route instructions was not recharging despite being plugged in and he was already down to 9% and losing battery power. I’d booked to go the 22 miles west from St Neots to Thrapston Business Park which is shown on the ting map as being outside the western boundary of the area served but still included in the scheme.

Stuart said he’d never been there before so hoped his phone would hold out to show him the way and I reassured him I’d never been there either so he could really take me anywhere ‘Business Park’ like and tell me it was Thrapston and I’d be happy..

Luckily his phone held out and after making our way to the A1 and then on the recently improved A14 we made it to Thrapston in just over half an hour.

When we arrived Stuart mentioned that while he’d been driving he’d had notification of a pick up in Buckden (just off the A1) which he’d guessed was someone wanting to go to Huntingdon which he’d ignored as it would have either taken me out of my way for my journey or taken that person out of their way to go via Thrapston. Nice to see the human brain taking precedence over the software algorithm although it struck me he’d made a few assumptions in his logic.

Stuart added he didn’t think the two buses allocated to the Huntingdon area were very busy compared to he and his colleague in the St Neots area so thought one of those buses would be used for the Buckden rider.

As I bid farewell to Stuart he told me the software had advised him to park up and wait for his next booking in the nearby A14 service area but he was thinking of returning back to base to get his phone sorted. I left him ringing for further instructions.

Ting’s hours of operation are 07:00 to 19:00 on weekdays and 08:00 to 16:00 on Saturdays which seems a bit early to finish, especially on Saturday afternoon. It’s not particularly late for commuters returning from London on weekdays either and wanting to reach one of the hamlets in the area.

Ting uses a standard Via driven algorithm and app with a phone number for those who prefer (which is open to 18:00 on Saturdays despite the service ending at 16:00) and there’s the ability to book a journey up to seven days ahead.

When I tried the phone line I was very impressed to be answered immediately. No “we’re expecting a high volume of calls” which bedevil most business phone lines these days – straight through and answered by a helpful man. I had rung to let them know the electronic sign at the bus stop at St Neots was showing a scrolling message advertising ting, but was displaying an incorrect web address with a “.” instead of a “-” between ting and trips which he took note of – see ting-trips.co.uk.

The fare for my journey would have been £2 (paid to the driver) as ting is using that price as a flat fate for all ting journeys but my concessionary pass was valid although Stuart’s ticket machine rejected it.

Add on fares of £1 single and £2 return are available on to Stagecoach route 905 at St Neots to Bedford and Cambridge or route 904 to Peterborough at Huntingdon which is a good idea.

There are some very isolated rural villages and hamlets in the area served by ting as well as some picturesque places to visit – eg Grafham Water, so I’m sure ting will be welcomed by those people who have felt cut off without public transport as word spreads about its operation.

But six months will soon pass by – it’s far too short for a trial, especially during the winter – and new passengers attracted to ting will be disappointed when the funding runs out unless the Combined Authority’s Mayor comes up with more money to keep it going. Dr Johnson needs to know “world class connected public transport” doesn’t come cheap.

Same old, same old.

Roger French

BusAndTrainUser View All

I used to run a bus company but in retirement enjoy Britain’s splendid scenic delights travelling by bus and train, and commenting along the way.

15 thoughts on “It’s a ting thing Leave a comment

  1. About three of these reviews ago I posted how a 9am to 6pm operating hours on Saturdays was utterly useless for anyone working in retail. This time we have 8am to 4pm – hasn’t anybody designing these things actually ever had a real job?

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  2. So we come up against another recurring theme, not just of government-imposed DRT but it afflicts the Mayor’s Grand Transport Plan too. Everything has to fit in a County Council administrative box. With the rare individual exception, there is no such thing as cross-boundary travel. I thought we left that behind in the Wars of the Roses. But the Normans still Rule OK! Or in the case of the Bedfordshire villages and smaller settlements, or numerous other places the wrong side of a County boundary, still stuck in the public transport Dark Ages, at least if it were not for God’s gift of that mechanical horse, the car.

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  3. A big problem seems to be the cost base of this DRM services is far to high. They typically use Minbuses with typically a capacity for 12 although with most of them that would be a squeeze and presumably lss if a wheelchair user gets on
    You have the cost of operating the bus plus the cost of running an offfice and the cost of the app. THese DRM services also seem to spend a lot of time parked up. It probably costs £60,000 to £80,000 a year to run just one bus. Using the lower figure they would need to take about a £170 a day to break even
    If we assume 50% fare payers and 50% Concesionary fares and assume £1 revenue for the passes thats an average of £1,50 per passenger so it would need about a 112 passengers a day. I suspect that not very likely it will probably be more like 30

    Anorther potential issue is DRM services may take a few passengers away from regulkarly bus services putting them at risk of being axed

    THe cost base of DRM services needs to be reduced and they need more passengers. Probably midi buses are more sensible but they need to get the passenger numbers up. Is that possible ? I doubt it

    Do you really need a call centre for every DRM service? It is a pretty costly way of doing things. Hving a regional call centre is probably more senible

    Do they need to give a DRM service a silly name? . Probably need as well to encourage people to use the app as that lowers the costs. Could offer a lower fare for app bookings

    Just to confuse things more there are dial a bus servicce which basically operate to fixed routes but have to be pre booked

    Without far more pssengers how long will these services survive. THe costs are very high and the revenues very low. THey seem to be the in thing with local councils at the moment but foe how long once the goverenment money runs out ?

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  4. These elected mayors of large semi rural areas aren’t really mayors more like prefects or sub regional governors.Mayors traditionally have just covered a town or city and generally all urban.My friend in Liverpool tells me that they have three mayor positions; the Lord Mayor, the Liverpool City Mayor and then City Region Mayor.

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    • They can’t be allowed to lget too grand. They have to be kept in their place. Mayor Boris didn’t, and look what happened to him!

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  5. On a more serious note. I think there’s a link between FEx and DRT. Both have a business model which involves giving the public what they ask for (or the few noisy ones that bother to ask). In both cases they want more buses nearer to them, understandably; and to hell with the consequences.
    It’s a business model which can’t possibly go wrong. Can it? The history of politics is probably an abject lesson in finding out. A lesson never learned in some quarters, for some reason?

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  6. How are these things ever going to make any money or be successful if they allow Concessionary passes.. I’ll go out on a limb and against the grain and stick to my stance that Concessionary passes should not be free, but subject to a small fee of say 50p or the like.
    I would really like to know the passenger figures of Fare Paying versus Free Passes.

    Secondly, can someone explain the stupid names adopted for most of these schemes…other than to have a play on words/for marketing guff. They are, in reality, nothing more than a glorified dial-a-ride.

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    • Stupid names? It’s surely the mandatory clickbait prescribed by our Great hack Leader!

      Does anyone understand why the Government encourages new bus and train services, at the same time as telling us to avoid the use of public transport? Tabloid messaging, I suppose. The transport companies seem to have got the message.

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  7. All of these “doomed” (in the Private Fraser of Dad’s Army sense) DRT schemes only work in the public transport utopian world that people like Andy Burnham and other elected quango leaders seem to see only in their heads.
    In the real world, demand responsive transport is called “a taxi” (or private hire vehicle or Uber) and the London public transport system is falling in on itself like a black hole. Oh, plus the Emperor doesn’t have any clothes on.

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    • Pretty much like i said. Why would anyone with a concessionary pass living within one of areas of these schemes ring for a normal taxi when they can get a bus, probably all to themselves, for Free… Take Roger’s journey for example…Assuming a bit of flexibility it can be done for free.. How much would a taxi from St Neots to Thrapston cost….?? Doomed to failure..

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    • ….and just across the English Channel the French government is giving ‘poor’motorists €2000 to fuel their cars!If they are poor how can they afford a car to begin with?I hope that Boris doesn’t here about this.

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  8. I think the DRT in West Cambridgeshire is a really good idea. You only have to look at the coverage area to see how hard it would be for a typical bus to serve those villages.

    The hours are going to kill it though. 4pm on a Saturday might just get you a day in Huntingdon, but not Cambridge

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    • It goes to Huntingdon (or St Neots for that matter) where you can change for a bus to Cambridge with an add on fare

      This is from the Stagecoach website

      “Ting covers the West Huntingdonshire area including key towns such as St Neots, Huntingdon, Cambourne, Sawtry and surrounding villages”

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