Friday 24th February 2023
I couldn’t round off a week of travelling on new bus routes without a ride on the very latest DRT scheme which started on Monday in Kent.
(New blog subscribers are welcome to put DRT into the search function on this website to read about my travel experiences on all other DRT schemes as well as refer to my DRT Chronology.)
This latest is operated by Stagecoach South East using the brand name Stagecoach Connect and is centred on the village of Aylesham in Kent as well as taking in neighbouring villages including Nonington, Evington, Eythorne, Shepherdswell and south to Whitfield. Until a couple of weeks ago all these villages enjoyed once, twice or three times a week shopping journeys operated by Regent Coaches to Canterbury, Deal, Dover and Sandwich which were cut as part of this month’s Kent County Council’s cull. So it’s a very welcome development for those passengers to have a service back again, albeit in a different format.
Stagecoach Connect is being funded by developers Barratt Homes and Persimmon Homes. These companies have been building 1,200 homes in the village of Aylesham since 2014 which as part of its expansion has had a name enhancement to become Aylesham Garden Village. The developers committed to paying £590,000 “to support enhanced bus services” as well as other funding for a host of infrastructure improvements including play areas, allotments, junction and road upgrades and new car parking in Market Place.
Stagecoach already operate a half hourly route 89 between Aylesham and Canterbury (which I’m guessing is also funded out of the Section 106 pot) ….
…. but there’s no bus south to Dover although Southeastern run an hourly service between Victoria and Dover via Canterbury East which serves the station at Aylesham.
As you might have made out from the map above (taken from Stagecoach’s website) the new Stagecoach Connect DRT doesn’t go as far as Dover with its southern border stopping at Whitfield, three miles north of the town where there’s a large Tesco and retail park.
But aside from that I’m struggling to see what other destinations the villagers would use the DRT to reach other than one of the other villages in the scheme.
The new service comes as Barratt and Persimmon are entering the final stages of house building for Aylesham Garden Village with 290 new homes due to be built from this spring. From its 2014 start the development is now in its final stage. It’s reported that 966 of the 1,000 homes already constructed as part of the expansion are now occupied so this new DRT operation has probably missed the opportunity to create a market from newly installed residents.
Stagecoach are using two Mercedes minibuses on the service which runs between 07:00 and 19:00 Mondays to Fridays and 09:00 and 17:00 on Saturdays although the FAQ’s on the website explain the first pick up won’t be until 07:25/09:25 and the last one around 18:30/16:30. There’s a £3.50 flat fare and concessionary passes are valid as per usual hours. I’m advised there are three minibuses in Stagecoach Connect branding but as you scan see the vehicle I travelled on was in standard livery.
The software is being provided by a new tech company name for me …ioki… but the way it works is very similar to the other suppliers. There’s also a land line passengers can ring to make a booking if they don’t want to use the App or don’t have a smartphone. This goes through to a Stagecoach office in Canterbury.
You can book a journey up to seven days in advance so on Monday I booked my Tuesday lunch time ride for 12:30 from Aylesham’s Market Place.
It being only the second day it was no surprise I got confirmation back that it was booked except the algorithm didn’t like the idea of picking me up from the Co-op in Market Place and instead made me walk up the hill a short way to the bus stop used by route 89 in Cornwallis Avenue.
Nikki, the driver, arrived in good time at around 12:25 to pick me up with Sam also on board, a Controller at Stagecoach’s Dover bus garage where the two buses are based and a team of three regular drivers for Connect and two others available as back up.
We had a good chat as Nikki drove Sam and I via the A2 down to Whitfield. She was obviously very pleased to be working this new service having previously driven big buses including from Catford bus garage in South London and Sam had obviously been busy overseeing its implementation. The relief it was now up and running was palpable.
No surprises they’d just been one other passenger that morning but the other bus had apparently had some booked rides in advance to fulfill.
I suspect word of mouth should soon spread around the villages served that this new travel option is now available as when I travelled on the now withdrawn Regent Coaches shopping journeys there was a real camaraderie among the regular passengers.
I saw a poster promoting the new service at bus stops in Whitfield as well as on the bus on route 61 which links Whitfield with Dover although I doubt many villagers would see these.
Whitfield may not be the attraction passengers want to go to and it’s a shame the area served can’t have Dover added as a destination. It might be more useful and attractive for passengers albeit would tie up the buses for longer.
There again with two buses you could probably run a regular timetabled hourly service doing a circuit around the villages then run non stop from Whitfield to Dover. That would certainly be a step up from the previous once a day shopping journeys and give the area a decent service.
But that wouldn’t be DRT would it? Not so techie and not what’s ‘in fashion’ even though DRT is the most unfriendly way to run a bus service, but decision makers are in complete denial about that.
Likely long term success rating: 0/10 once the Section 106 funding runs out in 2026.
And that completes my New Bus Route Week but with BSIP funding now starting to kick in around the country I’m sure there’ll be more speculative ventures to come. Meanwhile other long standing marginally used bus routes are being withdrawn due to cuts in local authority funding.
I’m not sure I’ve quite got the logic of this Bus Back Better National Bus Strategy malarky when it comes to service development.
Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThS
Thank you for the blog. It’s certainly hard to see how this service will survive in the long-term, as it requires a change of bus to get anywhere significant (in my experience the retail park at Whitfield only attracts a few passengers).
It’s not just Regent’s shopper services that this DRT is replacing – until last October, Stagecoach ran an hourly service (92/92A) from Elvington and Eythorne all the way to Dover, with alternate journeys going via the village of Shepherdswell. They withdrew this service as a ‘commercial bus change’ as they ‘could not continue to provide this service without financial support’. Unless there’s a significant change in travel habits, I cannot see how the new service could continue once the funding ends, which of course will be a problem for the people who do need to travel out of those villages.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Teesflex which was due to end this week has been given another 18 months of funding by Tees Valley Mayor, meaning it’ll run until the end of August 2024. After that they hope to gain more government funding… Prior to this late funding extension, it was envisaged that popular parts of Teesflex would be replaced by timetabled bus services.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Excellent blog Roger with very constructive comments on DARTS future. Unusually I don’t know how the Bromsgrove one Diamond operate is doing as Worcestershire County Council are being very secretive on this. Talking of Diamond & BSIG it would be brilliant if you could come to Black Country to meet & see for yourself the large number services Diamond took over in January under tender & BSIG funding as well as the ongoing controversy in the local press of the future of 002 & 226 in the Black Country. It would be a privilege to hear your professional comments on life after West Midlands Travel on these routes.
Has anything changed in DaFT in the last 75 years? It’s still Nanny Knows Best.
DRT service rarely make any sense. Expensive to operate and inconvenient for the passengers most of whom don’t want to pre book days in advance. This one compounds it by going nowhere useful
3 buses being used the other presumably spare at least 4 drivers
Given typical loadings on DRT of 1 or 2 passengers plus a lot of dead time parked up it makes little sense
Add in almost no real publicity or marketing the chances of success are close to zero
In the normal commercial world if the data shows the changes of success are no more than 5% would you go ahead?
The overall success rate of DRT type services is about 30% and none are commercial
The real success rate is even lower as the 30% comes about from new DRT service starting. They will keep going for a while till the funding runs out strip them out and you get to the 5%
If it were a normal bus service it would never get of he ground as the cost per passenger would simply be to high
I guess you could use it to connect with the train to Dover but I cannot see many people wanting to do that, they would simply drive to Dover
DRT simply convinces people that they are better off going by car
LikeLiked by 1 person
Very interesting Roger, I can’t see DRT being a success here either. Until a few years ago the 89 used to continue from Aylesham to Dover hourly via Nonington, Elvington, Eythorne and Whitfield. Before deregulation there was no regular daily bus service to Aylesham, its residents travelled by train to Canterbury or Dover. Aylesham is a former mining village and it was a very self contained community so presumably there wasn’t much demand until the coal mines closed. Road improvements along the A2 also helped by making the bus much a more competitive alternative to the train.
LikeLiked by 1 person
The railways always opposed road service licences to serve Aylesham, hence why no regular service until deregulation. The 89 is fully commercial – I don’t think it was ever subsidised, but the through service to Dover was a Stagecoach initiative using Rural Bus funding in circa 2006. The 92/92A was introduced when the through service was cut in summer 2018.
Thanks for new bus week, looks like you can have a trip to Norfolk soon too:
ioki are owned by DB, which seems to have been a bit late to the UK DRT software party. It is interesting that, given the low demand likely during the middle of the day, one of the vehicles isn’t being used to directly replace the shopper services which is likely to give higher vehicle loadings than just expecting people to book every week.
LikeLiked by 1 person
That is an excellent point. Why not use the vehicles more responsively by fulfilling a demand that’s already there, the withdrawn routes, and provide a new option too. Then if DRT is more successful withdraw the fixed timetable service and if not do the converse.
In the early stages of DRT it takes time to build up, but then people expect a taxi style experience, but if it were to be popular then there would be longer waits.
Section 106 can pump prime services, but using it where there is no chance of a service continuing creates pockets of unhappy residents who will expect the council to pay.
if you could book a DRT using a normal phone rather than a flashy mobile then it might have more success, I personally don’t trust app phones with my information, financial info etc, whilst ever a hacker can’t have his fingers chopped off with the rest of the hand put in salt then you’ll always have some useless good for now’t criminal getting to your private info somehow, only the other day I heard some poor sod mention to a bank worker they had their banking details hacked on their phone.
The cost of booking a DRT trip is high for the bus company and given the demographics of the users I would expect most trips to be booked by phone
Lets say direct Labour cost to answer th e phone is £20 an hour and typically it takes 3 to 5 minutes to book the call you are looking at £1 to £1.50
We used to burn witches to ward off evil spirits.
Now we pay for DRT to ward off the Uber threat.
What has rational argument got to do with it? Hint: it’s a joke post, but a serious question.
DRTs (like private cars) spend most of their time parked, so not a coust effective use of assets. As Roger said, if you’re paying for two buses and their drivers, wouldn’t they be better deployed by running a regular interval service (perhaps with some on request deviations)? The key to usability is timetabled connections to the nearest trunk service or rail station, as it increases the number of destinations that can be reached in a reasonable time. Lessons available from Switzerland.
LikeLiked by 1 person