Tuesday 2nd August 2022
I recently blogged about Leicester’s new St Margaret’s bus station observing more exciting public transport developments were coming to this forward looking city.
And here we are again, looking at three new initiatives in the city and another in neighbouring Leicestershire, including two new DRT schemes.
Launching yesterday was NovusFlex operated by Vectare. Along with a new fixed timetable service, branded as NovusDirect, the pair have supplanted Arriva Click which had been operating for the last three years linking the huge new residential development in New Lubbesthorpe with Leicester and the surrounding area. Click is now reduced to Watford, Ebbsfleet and the one bus Speke local service.
The three year New Lubbesthorpe Click operation was funded by Drummond Estate, the landowner and developer, but that Section 106 Agreement has now ended. The replacement deal with Vectare for NovusDirect and NovusFlex for the next three years sees reducing subsidy payments towards Vectare’s operational costs with the company increasingly running the new services as a commercial venture, ultimately taking the full revenue risk.
That’s what I call a very courageous decision on their part but good for them for giving it a go and I hope it’ll be a success.
Certainly the NovusDirect fixed bus route has great potential as the number of homes being built in New Lubbesthorpe is set to grow substantially. It’s a shame a fixed timetable route wan’t introduced at the outset when the funding first went into Arriva Click as I commented back in May 2019 when giving it a try out.
Three years on, I suspect residents will be pleased the lottery of DRT travelling is at last replaced with a half hourly fixed timetable service whisking them in under 30 minutes to central Leicester which includes a circular tour of the city centre at that end of the route.
NovusDirect is a very efficient two bus operation with 54 minutes journey time for the round trip as well as six minutes stand time (four minutes at New Lubbesthorpe and two minutes as it passes through Leicester’s new St Margaret’s bus station on the city centre circuit). It runs from around 05:30 until 23:30 with an hourly evening service which is better than was available in Click days.
NovusFlex is its sister DRT sibling providing the option of travelling between designated zonal areas not readily available on the NovusDirect route.
I’m advised the option to make a journey from New Lubbesthorpe into central Leicester between zone 2 and zone 1 as shown on the map below caters for destinations in zone 1 away from the NovusDirect route. The NovusFlex app will recommend a ride on NovusDirect if that’s a better option rather than NovusFlex.
There’s also on oddball Sunday service called NovusRetail. This connects New Lubbesthorpe with the large Fosse Park retail site on the south western edge of Leicester with one morning and three early evening return journeys which I understand are more to do with driver changeovers and showing the developer there is a fixed link (of sorts) to this destination which new residents have enquired about. Fosse Park is also served by NovusFlex it being within the same zone 2 as New Lubbesthorpe.
I took a ride on NovusDirect yesterday morning at 11:40 from St Margaret’s bus station. The bus arrived on time at stand SA (the one at the very end with external side loading for late and night time journeys on Skylink when the bus station is closed) coming in a couple of minutes before the scheduled departure and a good load of eight passengers got off, no doubt pleased to have a fixed dependable link into the city for the first time.
Unfortunately Leicester City Council hadn’t updated the departure information on the stand but it’s hoped this will be in place very soon. I understand it has been prepared.
On board the smart new minibus I met Kuki who looks after commercial projects for Vectare and was ensuring driver John knew what route to take. Kuki has previously worked for both Stagecoach and Arriva in her career and has certainly developed a passion for the bus industry following her move to Vectare which was good to see.
We didn’t pick anyone else up on the journey over to New Lubbesthorpe which, as shown on the map above, includes a short diversion to serve a residential area called Thorpe Astley, also served by Arriva which now faces some competition.
I was impressed to see a 12 page colour booklet available on board promoting the three Novus branded services although passed on the feedback to Kuki some of the print size is rather small which was readily taken on board.
One of Vectare’s young owners, Peter Nathanail, was at the New Lubbesthorpe terminus when we arrived – how encouraging to see a personal interest in the company’s new service being taken on the ground on its first day.
Peter was keen to hear my feedback and thoughts and provided many interesting explanations about the background and hurdles they had faced in setting the service up. For example the main Tay Road through New Lubbesthorpe where much of the residential development is taking place has not yet been adopted by the local authority preventing the display of bus stop flags although it was good to see the team have installed timetable cases and timetables.
This, of course, is important as residents get used to the new fixed nature of their main bus service into Leicester after three years of DRT.
Another frustration are the two dozen or so road humps along Tay Road which are of the ultra harsh variety and will do nothing for the suspensions of the smart Mercedes Sprinter minibuses let alone the comfort of passengers. Hopefully Peter will be able to persuade the local authority to adopt more appropriate road calming measures in due course once they have responsibility for the road.
Having taken a short break to chat with Peter in New Lubbesthorpe it was time for my next journey; this time on NovusFlex from Tay Road over to Narborough rail station. Unfortunately DRT software providers Padam Mobility have been unable to finalise the app for Novus in time for the launch so the decision was taken to begin with just telephone bookings and make the service free for the first fortnight – it’s hoped to have the app up and running by that time.
This was a bonus for me as concessionary passes aren’t valid on NovusFlex, nor discounts for under 19s. There are just two fares – £3 for journeys locally within zone 2 or £4 for two zones. Return fares are therefore quite pricey. Credit arrangements are available with a bonus top up, for example pay £28.50 up front for a credit balance and receive £30; or pay £45 for £50 or pay £80 for £100. But I doubt many will be able to afford the initial outlay.
I gave Vectare’s booking number a ring late on Friday afternoon and a very helpful man took my details and reassured me my booking was in the system for a pick up at 12:20 from Tay Road School.
Sure enough when we arrived on NovusDirect at 12:10 driver Keith was waiting with a sixteen seat Ford Transit ready to take me on my way.
With the app not yet available it’s not surprising I was Keith’s first passenger although he’d covered a return trip on NovusDirect earlier that morning and was scheduled to do more journeys on that service after a lunch break indicating scheudling flexibility between the two operations.
Two minibuses are available for NovusFlex which operates extensive hours from 06:00 to 23:00 and, together with Novus Direct, Vectare have taken on fifteen new drivers for the seven days a week services.
In view of the app difficulties it’s very much a ‘soft launch’ for NovusFlex over the next couple of weeks as it is for the second DRT scheme in the area, FoxConnect, operated by National Express Transport Solutions, with a geographic area in Leicestershire abutting the area covered by NovusFlex in Fosse Park and Narborough, destinations which they both serve.
So it made sense to arrange a seamless journey from New Lubbesthorpe to Hinckley (the south western extent of FoxConnect) via Narborough using two different DRT schemes.
I’ll tell you more about FoxConnect and the fourth development in Leicester – new buses on the Hospital Hoppa – in Thursday’s blog.
Meantime a concluding word on New Lubbesthorpe’s transition from Click to Novus. Residents may find it odd they have to change apps from Click to Novus, not least as the latter isn’t yet available. The novelty of also using a fixed timetable bus service after three years of having to book every journey may take some getting used to, albeit I reckon will be welcomed
It’ll certainly be interesting to see how the ‘Direct’ and ‘Flex’ variations of Novus develop over the next three years. The hope is as more residents move into the expanding area of New Lubbesthorpe and the developer’s funding reduces over the next three years the enthusiastic team at Vectare will be able to make these novice Novus services a commercial success. If anyone can do it, I have confidence they can, based on their energy, passion and commitment alone; but it’s a huge challenge not least making a two bus DRT operation a commercial success. Something that’s so far proved elusive everywhere else.
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