DRT reaches Leatherhead

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.

Roger French

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.

19 thoughts on “DRT reaches Leatherhead

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  1. All of this sounds very much like S106 funded service, in Norfolk, some DRT services are cross sponsored by S106 developer funding but in practice, many of these die out if they don’t become viable after the funding runs out often long before the travel plan they’re associated with expires. Experience normally shows that if they are not well promoted and undertake an identified “need” they will not be successful and end up costing the local taxpayers more to run empty buses or those only used by ENC holders – not a viable option in this day of Council accounting!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ummm . . . this one looks like it has been set up to fail . . . “we’ve got this bag of cash from DfT; how shall we spend it?” It’ll close as soon as the money runs out.

    Thank you for the DRT summary elsewhere . . . as a basic summary it’s clear and concise, and more to the point shows how “flashy” DRT (as opposed to “basic” DRT) doesn’t last. It should be required reading for all politicians contemplating a DRT scheme.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The Branding seems confused with it being both Surrey Connect snd Mole Valley Life which isd a very strange name for a bus service
    The bus looks more liker a delivery van then a bus and has a bit of paper stuck in the windscreen with the route number on it

    An obvious question at least to me is give the small operating areas would it not be cheaper and more sensible to operate a conventional bus service. You could provide a lot of bus services for £660,000

    5 to 8 pasemgers a day is not going to be viable with the very high costs of DRM. Thats less than 1 passenger an hour
    Finishing at 18:00 and not operating on SAturdays means it has little chance of attracting shopworkers etc.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I agree with Bob. The very small operating areas and the way they are located near to each other means that a circular bus route operating every 30 minutes would provide a much cheaper service, Some rough annual costs: van/bus lease or depreciation £20,000, salaries of 2 drivers (to allow annual leave and sick cover and including employer on-costs) £60,000, fuel/mainenance etc £10,000, insurance/other £10,000 Total £100,000 per year. Given £660,000 funding, this scheme could last over 6 years with no fare income taken into account. Plus no computer systems/telephone operators etc.

    Happy for my costs to be challenged, but you get the point.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Probable conversation at the call centre:
    “I’ve got that Roger French on the line. He wants to book a ride”
    “Tell him that it’s only available to local residents. We don’t want any critical publicity”
    Fortunately, they haven’t yet found a way to block professional bloggists from their high tech on-line booking system !

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I suspect you don’t know how right you are. DRT is backed by Boris. It can’t fail.
      All that is needed is a scapegoat. And someone to keep his mouth shut. The best thing would be; neither.


  6. There is a potentially busy objective on the route (which generates a lot of taxi trade from the station) – the Woodlands Park Crematorium.


  7. I was a bit alarmed to see that the Lake District and Peak District National Parks are looking at DRT as a solution to the problem of popular walking areas being flooded with cars at peak times. The Peak Park’s Chief Executive was quoted in yesterday’s Guardian as enthusing “It’s Uber but on a bus scale. It’s not a scheduled bus service, but you hail it using an app, and it carries people from gateway sites into the park.” I guess she’ll learn its limitations!

    I think this is a development you may wish to keep an eye on, Roger

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So we need to get a lot of people all to the same place – a regular service will work perfectly – think the Snowdon Sherpa park and ride in Snowdonia.


      1. Is Snowdon Sherpa working, let alone working perfectly, though?
        https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-56884631 suggests it isn’t.

        Personally I think the only way we’ll stop people flooding popular areas with cars will be to ban visitors cars completely from those areas, but the uncomfortable truth is that if cars were banned from tourist hotspots the majority of those people wouldn’t park up and use a shuttle bus; they’d simply go somewhere else for their “leisure experience”, which would significantly impact the already weak economies of those areas.

        What we really need is societal acceptance that cars are actually an addiction, just like smoking, and that gentle encouragement and nice words won’t stop people from using them. That’s not going to happen in the foreseeable future, though, and so the actions necessary to deal with car-created problems also won’t be taken any time soon.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Hmmm, what is the best way to help people to use the bus in an area notorious for having lots of tourists and poor mobile phone coverage? I know, let’s make them download an app (that they will never use again) that they could use to summon a bus if they (a) can figure out what app to download, (2) have the data connection to download it, (iii) can figure out how to use the app, and (D) have the data coverage to use it when they need it.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. The crying shame about all these misguided schemes is the sheer amount of money being utterly wasted (memories of the £50 million Rural Bus fund in 1999!), thrown around by people who have probably never been on a bus since schooldays, if ever. Riddled with the latest technology may be great for the “Silicone Valley” types tasked to produce such schemes, but often total lack of publicity, involved technology for those unable to handle it or some attempt at co-ordination with existing services never crosses Anyone’s mind. This particular scheme in Leatherhead is merely reducing the taxi trade income yet further, already hard hit since the pandemic, when a far, far cheaper scheme could actually have been set up using existing taxis instead of expensive specialist vehicles.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Unfortunately the concept of improving, or working with, existing provision is no longer a thing in this country.
      Witness, for example, the tendency to propose new charities every time there’s a nasty fatality, new charities which will duplicate the work of existing charities. The same principle applies to public transport schemes (or pretty much any other social or public service); anything currently happening can’t possibly be adequate so something shiny and new has to be introduced because of course it’ll be so much better.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Or is job creation, the great motivator (and fear) ? How else does our economy keep afloat? Either way, it’s egos. Isn’t there no such thing as bad publicity after all?

        It is nothing new. Fifty (or one hundred) years ago we can find similar examples of things (and what happened to them). Of course, there wasn’t the Internet to help. The medias role in all this hasn’t changed.

        More has to be better, even if we are bloated already.


  9. I had spotted the MV1 on the bustimes website a few months ago and wondered what it was all about. I had presumed it was a business contract as i have often seen shuttle buses at Leatherhead running to nearby businesses. It shall be interesting to see how long this one lasts.

    How are fares paid on this MV1 service? Are they paid through the app? Can you pay cash to the driver? I could not see a ticket machine in your photos?

    Great to see a chronology of all these DRT systems. It is interesting how so many seem to fail and are gone after a few months or a year or so. It makes me wonder why more and more councils and bus companies keep starting up new ones when the ones in the past have not had much success.

    One thing to point out though. You have missed out the Compass Bus 99 service. This operates in a very similar way as those Go Ahead South Coast 101/102/103 bus services. It is also phone only and has been running for years (probably almost twenty years now) and seems to have been successful. Passengers who are travelling between Chichester and Petworth or Petworth and Chichester do not have to pre book but anyone else who wants to travel to or from any of the around twenty or so intermediate villages has to pre book it.


    1. Thanks for the timely reminder about the Compass Bus 99 Brian. Yes, this has been going for many years now and doesn’t seem to have changed much, apart from I think the removal sadly of a weekend evening service.

      I think we should challenge Roger to try it out and blog about it!


      1. Yes; many thanks for the reminder about the 99. I did take a ride on it a few years ago but no-one on board wanted or had booked the deviations so we arrived into Petworth on line of route. Be good to give it another go some time though and thanks for the suggestion, although I note it’s currently on diversion with an emergency timetable due to a road subsidence!


  10. Yes, I suspect cars do become an addiction; another drug, like smoking. So we’ll have to try everything else by way of control first, before we, perhaps, find a solution; or don’t. Look at every other drug problem. Attitudes are the hardest thing to change. Anything can become a drug when we choose to make it one.
    The law is a very blunt, and ineffective, instrument to induce responsibility. Covid should teach us that much, at least.


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