Thursday 30th June 2022
Long term blog readers may recall I paid a visit to Wiltshire’s very successful ‘on-demand’ rural bus route 101/102 running between Pewsey and Devizes back in April 2019. I was concerned to read recent reports Wiltshire County Council are consulting on changing this highly successful arrangement to an app based fully fledged DRT set up. If that includes doing away with the base timetable from which the bus deviates as required, it will be a sad day for passengers using the route. Gone will be any certainty of being able to use the bus at known times and instead they’ll enter the lottery that is DRT app based bookings which I’ve long been commenting on.
Another excellent example of a very successful low-tech demand responsive rural bus route is in West Sussex and like the 101/102 has been established for many years. I caught up with it again last Wednesday to take a few rides and see how well it’s performing.
Route 99 is operated by Compass Bus and links Chichester and Petworth using one bus to provide six return journeys a day including a morning peak journey into Chichester and evening peak return back to Petworth.
The timetable comprises a straight half an hour for an end to end direct journey between Chichester and Petworth along the A285 but there’s sufficient stand time at both termini to allow for deviations off the main road to serve surrounding hamlets if passengers have made requests in advance.
That’s done by telephoning a very helpful person at Compass Bus up to two weeks ahead of travel or up to the day before. There’s no app.
The bus will deviate to the east of the A285, between Chichester and Petworth to serve the hamlets of East Dean and Graffham as well as to the west to serve Sutton, Bignor and West Burton but not both on the same journey as that would take more time than the flexible timetable allows.
After many years of operation regular passengers have brought some custom and practice to the operation so that on a Wednesday and Saturday the 09:15 Petworth to Chichester journey usually serves Bignor and Sutton (as does the 12:15 return from Chichester) while another journey regularly picks a passenger up in East Dean. However, if the regulars don’t want to travel then the bus won’t do the deviation and is available for other requests.
Wherever the bus goes, passengers wanting the main destinations on the A285 itself as well as from the two termini know for certain what time the journeys are scheduled subject to minor changes if the bus has deviated.
In practice any journey can be booked for any of the villages but it’s likely the regulars will have bagged the aforementioned deviations.
When I tweeted about my journeys on Wednesday last week by sheer coincidence it attracted the attention of James who’d travelled into Chichester on the 09:15 from Petworth that very morning and reported it had indeed operated via Bignor and Sutton and arrived into Chichester with an impressive 15 passengers on board.
I caught the next journey back to Petworth from Chichester at 10:45 which was a straight run up the A285 with no deviations needed. We left with four on board dropping one off and picking two more up close to the big Sainsbury’s store on the edge of the city. Three passengers alighted as we headed north along the A285 and two travelled all the way to Petworth.
It’s a lovely ride across the South Downs National Park.
I had a chat with Simon, the amiable and friendly regular driver, when we arrived at Petworth and he told me he’d got a pick up off the line of route at Barlavington Manor on the way back to Chichester and then the next journey back to Petworth would entail the long diversion to take the Bignor shoppers home so I decided to stay with it and see how those journeys panned out.
We’d actually taken 35 minutes to reach Petworth arriving at 11:20 and left to head back to Chichester on time at 11:30 with four on board. The deviation to pick up the passenger at Barlavington Manor only added about four minutes to our journey ….
….. entailing a reverse turn into a lane just beyond the pick up point to retrace our route to the A285.
All five on board travelled into Chichester with one alighting by Sainsbury’s. We arrived at 12:12 which was just enough time to take a breath before heading north again at 12:15 from West Street opposite the Cathedral in the centre of the city.
This journey had five on board including one using a wheelchair with Simon pushing it on board himself as the lady’s elderly husband had a shopping trolley to push.
The deviation via Sutton, Bignor and West Burton was certainly a route that tested Simon’s driving skills along narrow West Sussex country lanes.
Inevitably we met a van coming towards us on a very narrow stretch which Simon took in his stride reversing back to a nearby wider section of road to allow it to pass.
We dropped three passengers, including the wheelchair, off in Bignor by a rather lovely thatched roof house…
….with Simon once again performing the honours by helping the passenger using a wheelchair off the bus …
…. and then continued on our way with the other two passengers travelling all the way to Petworth including one being taken to his house located a fair distance north of the Square in Hampers Green. Simon explained he often picked up regulars there when needed.
I left Simon in Petworth to spend some time in this delightful village before heading east to Storrington on Stagecoach’s hourly route 1 which links Midhurst to Worthing.
Simon headed back to Chichester with one passenger boarding – someone who’d travelled out on the 10:45 journey and now going home.
Simon had a printed A4 schedule showing more diversions were scheduled for the afternoon journeys presumably taking more passengers home that James saw earlier in the day.
It was great to see another successful rural bus route combining a fixed base timetable with flexibility built in to allow for ‘demand responsive’ deviations. I asked Simon what he thought about the trend to move such services over to app based fully fledged DRT services. He astutely pointed out the clientele attracted to and enjoy using route 99 wouldn’t want to be bothered with apps and the service would cease to be successful.
If only local authority officers in other counties would think the same.
Well done Compass Bus – and West Sussex County Council – for their part in making route 99 a success.
Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThSSu