Tuesday 16th November 2021
Following a suggestion in the comments on a recent blog about a new DRT scheme, I’ve compiled a chronology of DRT introductions over the past five years and given it a special page on the busandtrainuser.com website. You can find it via this link, or by clicking on the menu icon on the home page if using a tablet or smartphone or the actual icon called A DRT Chronology on a computer screen.
I’ll endeavour to keep the listing up to date, but this may prove challenging with the expected explosion in new schemes over the next year or so with local authorities’ continuing love affair with anything ‘innovative’ that uses the words ‘digital’ or ‘demand responsive’ in their Bus Service Improvement Plans, but I’ll do my best. Let me know if I’ve missed any schemes out and I hope it will be of interest.
And, from last week, here’s yet another one…..
This latest DRT scheme to hit the road is being operated on behalf of Surrey County Council by Mole Valley Community Transport, which in turn is run by Mole Valley District Council, and it’s a bit of a dark horse. It turns out it’s been quietly operating in the background since May but was only publicly launched last week with details appearing on Surrey’s website and an app becoming available to download, so I’m not sure how many people have been using it these last few months, if any, during its ‘soft launch’ phase.
It’s also only available in four very restricted areas north west of Leatherhead town centre, and even more bizarre I was told when I rang the booking line on Friday to try and glean more information, that it was only available for residents in those areas but I think there’d been some cross wires with that understanding as I’d managed to book a ride very easily on Friday using the app, and I was never asked about residency.
As well as the town centre, the four micro areas served by Surrey Connect – that’s the brand name given to the new service – are the Farthings Estate off Randall Road (1), Dorin Court off Oaklawn Road (2), Queen Elizabeth Foundation (QEF) care centre on Woodlands Road (3) and the Springfield Business Park (4) as marked on the map below.
They’re very small catchment areas and not very far from Leatherhead’s town centre although each is unserved by a conventional bus route.
I took a ride on Friday from the station to the relatively new build Farthings Estate (1), which I imagine Estate Agents would effusively describe as a very desirable location. It’s only about a three minute ride in the minibus and it only took me seven or eight minutes to walk back to the station after being dropped off.
Booking on the app was straightforward although practice over the last few years has made me adept at the procedures required. It might be more of a struggle for those less familiar with the routine especially as the map is quite hard to navigate to confirm pick up/set down points because of the restricted areas served.
I pre-booked Friday’s departure from Leatherhead station on Thursday evening and was offered departures every 15 minutes at and after my stated desired pick up time of 12:30 which was very useful and must reflect low usage at the moment, but crucially the fact the area served is so restricted, the minibus will easily be available. It can be there and back within about ten minutes.
On Friday itself there was some uncertainty whether I’d catch the train I’d intended which was due to arrive into Leatherhead at 12:13 so I amended my booking at 11:16 to a 12:45 pick up, and then when things became more certain my original arrival would be achieved (I caught the train) changed back again at 11:24 to 12:30; all done with no difficulty at all, confirming the bus wasn’t particularly busy with other bookings.
I kept an eye on the app to see where the “vehicule” (note it’s not my typo for a change – see above and below images) would come from but rather than show its route towards me, which other apps do, a bus icon (dual door, left-hand drive) just appeared over Leatherhead town centre twenty minutes before the scheduled arrival. It didn’t move as the time ticked by.
In fact Kevin arrived in good time to pick me up at 12:20. He explained he was carrying about 6-8 passengers a day which I reckon wasn’t bad for a first public week but the Community Transport set up already has a well established client base with other operations in this and neighbouring areas so some of the passengers have presumably morphed over from those alternatives.
The minibus was a pretty basic welfare style vehicle with a manual door and a retractable step …
….. which Kevin got out of the driving seat to open and put down for me to board and alight.
The seats were fairly comfortable, albeit a bit ironing-board upright style, but with adequate leg room.
Although a wheelchair can be accommodated through the rear door lift this would entail removing some of the seats and Kevin explained the Community Transport’s fleet includes wheelchair ready vehicles which would be used if booked
The minibus was wrapped in a light green livery and vinyl promoting the Community Transport’s wider activities under the ‘Mole Valley Life’ brand. This included contravision all over the windows.
It reminded me a bit of the minibuses used by Ford when they launched their Chariot branded service back in 2018. You weren’t sure whether you were getting into a delivery van or a minibus as it arrived to pick you up. That one didn’t last long.
That inevitably meant the interior is a little darker than it would otherwise be with distorted light coming through the windows as well as making it less easy to see out.
I noticed a similarly adorned sister vehicle was involved in last week’s public launch but coloured purple.
Surrey County Council’s webpage refers to a ‘service map’ for Surrey Connect but it’s been missed off and not available, and the text hasn’t quite been finished off as it refers to “xx zone” as though they uploaded a first draft yet to be finalised.
The service has been given a route number MV1 enabling it to appear in the open bus database meaning it appears on Google maps and bustimes.org with a timetable referring to the first and last journey of the day and indicating the rest will run “on demand”.
Times of operation are in fact 07:00 to 18:00 on Mondays to Fridays with no service at weekends. There’s a very cheap flat fare of £1 for any journey and concessionary passes are available for free travel. I asked Kevin what reaction there’d been from taxi drivers and he didn’t think there was much awareness of it’s availability …… yet.
Surrey’s map-less website information page also clarifies that despite the cross wires at Mole Valley’s Community Transport booking line, the Surrey Connect MV1 is available for anyone to use, not just residents.
I suspect the confusion comes from restrictions which might apply to some of Mole Valley Community Transport’s other activities.
When I asked Kevin if he had a leaflet about the new service he was pleased to give me a few copies of one, but this didn’t make any reference to the new DRT service and was more about ‘Mole Valley Life’, as is the website promoted on the vehicles.
I think this is a recipe for some confusion.
The DfT have given Surrey County Council £660,000 from its Rural Mobility Fund for this initiative, and I understand more areas in Mole Valley will be added in the coming months. Hopefully that missing map might also appear to show where this latest DRT operates and the booking line might be manned more effectively – I tried ringing it twice yesterday morning and both times it went to an answerphone.
PS: I did my public duty and had a ‘web-chat’ exchange with Jamie at Surrey County Council yesterday morning to let him know about the unfinished web page for the MV1 – he said he’d pass it on to the relevant team so hopefully it’ll soon be fixed – maybe even by the time you read this.
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.