More DRT riding

Sunday 12th March 2023

You’re never far away from a DRT experience these days. Those living in the West of England region will soon be subjected to multiple schemes by the Combined Authority so I thought I’d relate my latest experiences on the off chance someone responsible at that Authority might come across this blog and see how foolhardy they’re being introducing DRT big time leaving hundreds of passengers, maybe even thousands, with a worse bus service.

First up was my recent visit to Merseyside when I took the opportunity to give the Arriva Click operation in Speke a try.

I wrote about this service in August 2019 when it was first introduced as a contract for Merseytravel who provide the funding. Residents of Speke used to have local bus route 211 which performed a sideways figure of eight linking the residential area with a large Morrisons and other retail units in the centre of Speke.


The only slight downside was the timetable had a 40 minute frequency but when I had a ride on it before withdrawal it was obvious locals knew the times and the route was relatively popular.


In their misplaced wisdom Merseytravel replaced this fixed timetable one bus operation with a one bus DRT set up, meaning no one knows what time they might get a journey until they try and book one on the App or by phone and play the lottery game of where the bus might be.

The bus which previously did a fixed route and everyone knew where it was at every minute of the day could now randomly be anywhere at any time. And whereas the previous timetabled service was a very efficient use of one bus, now the vehicle and driver are buzzing around all over the area here, there and everywhere with ones or twos travelling at a time who’ve been lucky enough to have their journey requests fulfilled.

Here’s what happened as I was heading towards Morrisons on one of Arriva’s trunk routes from Liverpool which serves Speke along the spine roads terminating at the supermarket. I asked the App for an immediate ride from Morrisons to an address to the west part of Speke. As you can see, it gave me a pick up in 45 minutes.

I tried another address to see if that could be improved on, but no, 45 minutes was the deal.

It was 08:44 and imagine if I’d just finished my shopping and now had that long wait. It would be very tiresome especially as under the previous regime I would have worked my shopping around the fixed timetabled departures but worse case scenario I’d only ever would have had a maximum 40 minutes to wait assuming I’d just been unlucky enough to miss a bus.

Arriving at Morrisons at 08:55 I was just about to go inside for a coffee when along came the Arriva Click minibus and a passenger alighted. The driver headed straight off again so I tried to second guess where she was heading and tried to book a journey from the direction it was heading. No good; the wait would be 30 minutes.

I booked the journey with a pick up at Morrisons (instead of the random address I’d chosen at Penketh Drive) in 30 minutes and went for a coffee.

At 09:25 I got a text to tell me the bus was 19 minutes away and then I spotted the bus arriving outside the supermarket at that moment so dashed out to see what was happening.

Three passengers boarded who gave the impression they knew each other and had booked a journey in a coordinated way – probably through the call centre.

By now the bus was tracking on my App ready for my pick up and I could see it had gone to the east side of Speke and dropped those three off.

It then headed back towards me except it bypassed Morrisons on the main road (A561) ….

…. and went to pick up a passenger on the west side, at the end of the exact road where I’d booked to go, so I’m not sure why the algorithm didn’t combine my journey with that dead run the bus made.

The bus finally arrived at 09:44 – exactly an hour after I tried to make the first booking

… and I arrived at my destination at 09:52. If route 211 had still been running I’d have left Morrisons at 09:03 and arrived about 09:30.

So let me summarise. A one bus service with a fixed timetable was replaced by a one bus lottery of where and when it will be running. Passengers are inconvenienced by having to make a call or use an App to book their journey whereas previously they could just turn up at the bus stop and the bus would arrive at the expected time. The costs of operation have increased with someone taking telephone bookings and the cost of the software for the App.

How anyone can say this set up is an improvement on the previous fixed timetable operation is beyond me. They’re in denial, totally besotted with technology and living in cloud cuckoo land bus operation.

My other recent DRT experience to relate is with Ting.

It’s the DRT in West Huntingdonshire that passed from Stagecoach to Vectare last November, a year after being introduced in October 2021. Whereas Stagecoach used Optare Solos, Vectare have opted for two taxi type vehicles with three seats facing each other behind the driver and front seat.

I don’t think these vehicles with such a confined space are suitable for ride sharing but I understand Vectare use a Mercedes minibus as a third vehicle which also can accommodate a wheelchair.

The former App which Stagecoach used has been jettisoned so you have to download a new app – this one comes with Vectare branding with the Ting brand falling within that.

I planned a journey across the south of the area served from St Neots railway station across to Papworth on a recent Saturday morning. Just the kind of journey DRT is ideal for as there’s not much call for a regular bus service between the two with nothing of any worth between the two locations, so there isn’t one.

I tried to book on Friday evening in advance for a journey with a pick up at 11:00 on Saturday morning from outside the station.

All the App came back with was “Awaiting allocation” with a clarification that travel will be confirmed “up to 20 minutes before departure” which wasn’t particularly reassuring. Do I leave it until then to find out if I’ll be able to travel or do I abandon the idea now? I thought it was “Demand” and “Responsive”.

It was only when I checked my emails later that evening I noticed one from Vectare advising my travel requested had been rejected because “all our Ting buses are fully booked for that journey”. To say “all” and “fully booked” implies every seat taken, which was obviously not the case and it couldn’t be for “that journey” it must be they’re tied up on other journeys.

I gave up. But I had another go on Tuesday afternoon when I booked for Wednesday morning and had better luck with an email being received confirming “Travel request allocated”.

And to cut a long story short I stepped off the train on Wednesday morning at 11:08 and at 11:15, as requested, Simon appeared and we headed over to Papworth.

It’s just as well it wasn’t critical for me to be there on Saturday.

That’s the problem with DRT as passengers in the Bristol area will find out big time at the end of this month when around 40 bus routes are being withdrawn with DRT supposedly filling the gaps left behind. The original plans involved the replacement DRT being split into, wait for it, 14 zones, some of which overlap but I understand this has now been modified.

It’s envisaged the minibuses will provide feeder connections with trunk bus routes at what are grandly called “interchange hubs”.






Goodness knows what the consultants who came up with this crazy idea are on.

As I’ve demonstrated again here you can’t rely on DRT to pick you up when you want it. It’s one thing to have to wait 45 minutes in the comfort of your own home or in a café in Morrisons, it’s quite another thing to have to wait at a bus stop (sorry, “interchange hub”) having been dropped off by a trunk bus route, and needing your feeder to get you home. It’s not easy to work out what time you require the feeder to pick you up after being dropped off by the main road route – it adds a complication to your journey you simply don’t want.

But the West of England Combined Authority are convinced DRT is the answer. They’ve given it a brand name – WEST Link – and are using funding from the Bus Service Improvement Plan (not sure about the word “Improvement” here) and it’s all supposed to start on 2nd April and continue until April 2025 when the money runs out. At that point presumably everything gets withdrawn.

A report prepared by Head of Capital Delivery, Malcolm Pardons at the Combined Authority dated 18 January 2023 recommending this ridiculous scheme obviously paints DRT in a positive light and no doubt councillors have swallowed the hype.

“DRT can contribute to decarbonisation by replacing private car journeys and facilitating multi-modal travel (for example, linking users to fixed route bus services)” is just one of many assertions which are simply not borne out in practice. Bristol has already had experiences of two failed DRT type services – RATP’s Slide in 2016 and First Bus/Esoterix’s MyFirstMile in 2018 – so you’d think they’d have learnt the lesson.

They could also have a chat with colleagues at Watford Borough Council on how their Arriva Click operation is going. Ask them how many passengers were carried in the last three months of 2022 compared to the budget forecast.

The answer is 9,464 whereas the business plan predicted 66,208. The average load factor during those three months was a derisory 1.3 passengers per journey. Any conventional bus route with that average loading would have been axed years ago.

It’s not just the West of England either, more DRT schemes are about to launch in Nottinghamshire (with TrentBarton winning the contract), Buckinghamshire (in Aylesbury) and in Cheshire.

Meanwhile more lightly used bus routes around the country but carrying more passengers than a DRT ever will, are being withdrawn for lack of funding. It simply doesn’t make sense.

Roger French

Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThS

31 thoughts on “More DRT riding

Add yours

  1. Surely by now people should be aware that DRT is not a panacea. The long waits and bus not available, try later messages on the apps deter potential passengers and if services did become more popular then that would exacerbate the problem.

    One problem is that many transport planners have left local authorities and many of the people now responsible have little understanding of passenger needs and operational efficiency. Councillors are inclined to believe the hype and as you suggest, there will be a real problem when the money runs out and half the passengers have been lost

    Carrying penny numbers and then having to repeat the journey suggests the software needs improved algorithms.


  2. I can only assume that councils are keen on DRT because:
    1. They have no idea about how passengers use buses (probably because they don’t themselves).
    2. They can tick the box that says “buses are failing, but here is a new techy techy idea that is bound to work better, because everybody is fully clued up about apps”.
    3. DfT are funding the scheme(s) anyway, so it costs the councils nothing to try.
    4. When it fails, they can tick the “well, we tried” box, and the “it’s not our fault if Joe Public didn’t like our techy techy wizzy wizzy idea” box as well.
    5. Having driven all the passengers away, they can cut the bus budget with impunity.

    And . . . if it means that bus operators can get on with concentrating on bus routes that go somewhere and actually carry passengers . . . is that such a bad thing?

    I’m so glad I’m retired . . .

    Liked by 4 people

  3. DRT transport is probably devised by people who never use buses. They really do not work as people who used to use the bus get lifts off friends or get a taxl instead. When will those that devise the schemes recognise this

    Liked by 3 people

  4. It is very worrying that DRT schemes such as these continue to be promoted, introduced, operated and, ultimately withdrawn as a failure.

    The big challenge for us regular readers of Roger’s incisive articles is to reach the decision-makers who are not the sort of people we are. How do we, as bus-appreciating people, whether professionals, enthusiasts or users, communicate this warning shot to local authority staff and their consultants, together with their elected council members ?

    As has been said already, many local authorities have dispensed with knowledgeable transport co-ordination staff, relacing them with generalist ‘clients’ who lack the knowledge and experience of planning successful bus services – and re-planning them to achive economies, while still serving local communities.

    In the old days, the County Surveyors’ Society would have had a responsibility, in many local authorities for transport co-ordination teams. This society has now expanded into ADEPT (The Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport). They have a wide remit, but, perhaps the challenge is to find a way of presenting Roger’s experience in front of these ‘movers and shakers’ in local government. Before it’s too late !


  5. I don’t think that politicians and officials recognise how shoppers who are bus passengers actually operate. When they get off of the bus, they know what time the return bus is due to leave and they will plan their shopping accordingly, essential shopping first, discretionary second, coffee third (if there is time) to be back 5 or 10 minutes before the bus is due to leave. They don’t mind building their morning/ afternoon/ day around the bus – they are used to it. They enjoy a chat with the regulars (or at least some of them). But they do want certainty – and DRT takes that away. When will they be able to catch the bus, they don’t know; when will it get to the shops, they don’t know; when will the return journey be, they don’t know. OK, they can (probably) book the outward and return journey in advance but how quickly the DRT will take to get them to the shops is unknown – will they go direct or are there some people to drop off and others to pick up resulting in the return being a tight squeeze or there being bags of time to loiter around.

    WEST link: I am glad I don’t live in the area. I have found a different vague map to the one above, I cannot find a full list of routes affected, or an indication of how the DRT will work. Implementation is three weeks away, people need to plan, they use the bus to get to work. Some of the replaced buses start before 07:00. I can see the sales of second hand cars in the area increasing, and lifts being arranged. Residents need to know well in advance what is going on – it goes back to certainty.

    Ting: I don’t know about the ‘i’ and ‘n’ but with those size vehicles I reckon the other letters are Token and Gesture.

    DfT is doing the industry no good by its continued approval of such schemes.


    1. It is the normal keep the passengers in the dark until the last possible moment

      In just under 2 weeks Arriva Ware is cutting services significantly. Whether there will be replacement services by the 26th March who knows. How an earth is that going to keep passengers using buses particularly when coupled with high levels of cancellation. breakdowns and late running?

      Can standards go any lower?

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Little to add to the four previous comments at time of writing, other than to say we are all certainly singing from the same hymn sheet and can agree wholeheartedly with every point made. Those now responsible for planning these things have probably never used buses in their lives, and clearly do not understand that quite a proportion of passengers do not have smart phones, do not use apps and some have difficulty using the telephone. Added to which some schemes involve “connections”, which, with the best will in the world do go wrong at times. Not so bad on the inward journey, but perilous if relying on such to get back as discovered recently in the Maidstone area!

    And does no-one ever look at the experience in Shropshire a decade ago? A perfectly well used set of rural services, with respectable loadings, all run off school contracts anyway, abandoned overnight to “zonal” DRT. The result was as predictable as the nonsense now being enacted.

    As I have stated so many times before, if a bus service really isn’t sustainable, why oh why cannot it be replaced by limited arrangements with the local taxi firms at about a tenth of the price or less? I believe Leicestershire CC have just embarked on something similar to replace Roberts 159, but have yet to learn the details. The tragedy of this is that, as repeated throughout the kingdom, having wasted £millions which could have been spent on keeping the present network, apart from a few limited cases of bus service re-instatement, it will all be totally abandoned.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. As the one who specified the original 211 service in Speke, it saddened me to see it DRT’d. As has been mentioned elsewhere in the comments it betrays a lack of understanding of what the service is for, and it’s users.

    In another part of the country I suggested that the members and officers be set a challenge of using the DRT service to reach a remote country pub, with those who were successful being rewarded with a pie and a pint.
    It hasn’t yet been taken up!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Quite often with these DRT services they have a spare bus parked somewhere so that another cost

    Given the likely demographics of those most likely to use DRT they are likely to phone to book a ride. Lets assume a Labour rate of £30 an hour and it takes 3 minutes to book the ride. That alone is £1.50 and I suspect the average time to book a ride will be far more than 3 minutes

    DRT as well does not operate efficiently as it has to go all over the place to pick up passengers. An inefficient use of the vehicle and fuel

    Many of these DRT schemes make no sense neither as they are largely in Urban areas where a regular bus service is more viable

    Data on success and failure of these schemes is limited but it appears over 80% fail with in 2 years i.e. When the funding runs out. They never even remotely get bear to being viable

    Whether councils even declare the full costs is debatable. It might be cheaper to give people a discounted taxi ride

    The Vectare one seems crazy a people type carrier that can only seat about 8 people. also no particular friendly for elderly or disabled. Even if you could fill every journey there is no way it could be anywhere near viable

    Another issue is they try to cover to large an area so booking a journey is hit and mis as is how long it will take you to get from A to B

    DRT might be the best option in deeply rural area but that not where most of these schemes are operating

    Even getting a taxi in the medium to small rural towns can be difficult on Schooldays as most taxis are doing council school runs

    In fact in many areas there are more school taxis on the road than buses in fact half the buses are not running sat school start and finish times as they are doing school runs


    1. Taxis, whether hackney or private hire are the original Demand Responsive Transport. Problem is in most cases they don’t offer bus service (lower level) fares nor accept concessionary bus passes. However, when taxis are used in a regular, shared journey operation as in Belfast they provide a valuable addition to the public transport service.


      1. Common in the Middle East and north Africa and generally called Shared Taxis.Unlike the DRT’s they don’t tend to operate to a fixed timetable and go when full.I caught one from Ain Darham to Tabarka in Tunisia years ago and it was a tad more expensive than the bus but the bus was only a few times a day.Shared Taxis generally run to fixed routes.Northern Ireland and Scotland have some still I think.


  9. The consultants you mention are probably ‘on’ the high of the fees they will get from any project funded by a large dollop of government money – like wasps around a jam-pot. Perhaps any council thinking of introducing DRT should send its councillors to spend a happy day trying to travel around an area which has a DRT scheme – and talk to the administrators to find what they plan to do when the money runs out.

    Presumably the government money for DRT will always trump the long term risk of keeping/improving the current fixed route; quite possibly the effects of reducing the fixed service (less passengers, no net savings) are well enough known. But what about the prospects of a better service? – maybe two buses – giving a 20 minute interval, which Stagecoach, Arriva etc. seem to think is a good idea on some of their commercial routes. Actually, a lot of the main bus routes serving Speke run every 15 or 30 minutes, so a local service every 40 or 20 minutes is not going to have much benefit for the bus network as a whole. Does the collective bus industry have no system whereby running a local ‘feeder’ service more frequently that could be justified if it were the only route in the world, can be funded by the extra income it generates for the main routes? I suppose the lesson to be learned from rail privatisation is – ‘Yes, it’s possible, but we should have to set up a cumbersome and expensive burocracy to share out the money – so – No’ … Depressing for passengers.


  10. I’ve forwarded Roger’s latest post to BBC Points West and suggested they get Dan Norris , WECA metro mayor in to answer questions on WEST Link and why it will be different than all the other DRTs.


  11. Bang on Roger!

    As I was reading, I was wondering how this madness relates to the DfT’s “Bus Back Better” strategy from 2021. I don’t remember reading anything about DRT schemes, just gushing statements like “Buses are the country’s favourite mode of public transport …” and “… this strategy will make buses more frequent, more reliable, easier to understand and use, better co-ordinated, and cheaper.” Time for a quick check using the Speke example: no, no, no, no, no!

    My heart sinks as I re-read it and discover “Our task is both to unlock the substantial untapped potential in the existing service, by … more use of new forms of provision such as demand
    responsive transport.” There’s also this: “In low-density areas and at low-demand times of day, demand responsive vehicles can provide much higher levels of service than conventional
    fixed bus routes.” So this is where it comes from; we’re doomed! However, it seems councils are doing what we all tend to do from time to time: only taking notice of things we want to read and hear.

    Even though the strategy paints a positive DRT picture, perhaps we should remind local authorities that it also talks about demand-responsive services being integrated with conventional bus and railway services that, overall, provide more-comprehensive and more-frequent networks, not less. How does a country that isn’t likely to see a reduction in overall population anytime soon (pandemics aside), and says its committed to net zero carbon emissions, a “green” economy, etc., carry on kicking public transport in the guts and expecting everyone to accept shameful levels of service?


  12. I decided to investigate “ting” further, especially the contracted operator Vectare. Their strapline is “transport made simple”, obviously a statement worth challenging based on this article.
    The company claims to be a “dynamic transport solutions consultancy” and are also “one of the most innovative and disruptive transport providers”. Are they being both poacher and gamekeeper, I wonder. By this I mean are they involved in DRT schemes as both consultants and contract winning operator for the same project?


    1. On behalf of Vectare, I can confirm that although our innovation and transport planning expertise often form part of successful bids to operate DRT services, we are not involved in specifying such services or deciding to convert fixed route buses to DRT; we simply offer an operational solution based on the requirements of our various clients. The blog author here has raised useful feedback on the messaging side of our Ting app, which I will pass forward to the team; the unavailability of the service for certain trips indicates that the buses are being used by other people at that time. We provide the number of buses that our clients specify for each scheme, so availability depends on that number vs the number of people wishing to travel at any particular time.


  13. One of the exceptions to the rule seems to be Go-Coach. If I remember correctly, Austin Blackburn, who knows his business, introduced Go-2 when Covid arrived as a way of maximising the use of resources, and although changed, it is still running. I don’t know if it was introduced in conjunction with Sevenoaks Council, or as a commercial venture.

    Maybe DRT works better if introduced by real busmen rather than Council ‘experts’?


    1. Go-2 has replaced quite a lot of the fixed route journeys. For instance, route 1 (Sevenoaks – Westerham) used to something similar to hourly – now 3 or 4 a day, last bus out of Westerham 13:06, Otford used to have an hourly service to Sevenoaks, now twice a day. It may be that in Sevenoaks DRT is the answer, I don’t know, I haven’t been since pre-Covid but I did travel on a mid-afternoon 1 and loading was well into double figures in that I had to sit pretty close to the back. I should add that ENCTS pass holders travel at half fare!


  14. Go Coach is a good operator, though it has closed its office at Sevenoaks bus station. We visit there sometimes,. but always use the excellent hourly town circular 8, not the DRT, a rare example of a route with part subsidy by the town council and the county. Why do town and district councils not step up sometimes if the county has no money?


    1. In my experience go-coach are not as wonderful as everyone seems to think.. the AZ between Dartford and Gravesend was unreliable, a total lack of information about which bus stops it actually served (eg which of the three outside Gravesend station?) or where to board at the Dartford park and ride? with unhelpful drivers who actively avoided work, regularly sailing past stops where passengers were clearly trying to indicate they wished to board. No wonder nobody used it, they made it very difficult to do so! As for their DRT, the hours and the area served are gradually reducing, (it used to replace the 431/3 to Orpington, but now that area has been abandoned), enquiry office now closed etc etc it won’t last much longer than any of the other DRTs Roger blogs about…


      1. I too had difficulty catching the AZ – at Greenhithe Station; the ‘correct’ stop was not the one with the timetable in the shelter! I also think the closure of the enquiry office as regrettable, it could have been used for passengers to book Go2 journeys having been shopping in the town.
        However I do think the service will last simply because the fixed routes have been cut back so much – they won’t be reinstated. As regards the operating area, they are only going to run buses that are profitable and councils just don’t have the money to support them.


  15. BSIP Failure

    It all started with a lot of promise but turned into yet another lot of hot air . Even the simple things like eliminating duplicate route numbers has not happened not happened the common branding of services in an area and you can forget about the integrated ticketing that’s gone nowhere

    I always had my doubts about Enhanced partnerships. When you have several competing bus companies try to coordinate things is almost a lost cause

    More and more councils are now coming around to the view that Franchising is the only way forward. Colchester is the latest to be considering this. Currently it has several operator who are providing poor and unreliable services


  16. Suffolk Katch DRT

    The Katch service which failed is now being restarted apparently being funded by a local council. Why an earth they think it will work this time I have not a clue. IT appears to be funded this time by a district council

    It is a strange one as well as it operates to a fixed route and fixed stop but has to be pre booked and it can only be pre booked by phone

    Why an earth it does not operate as a normal bus service I do not know. If the bus is on the road it may pick up passenger if it is parked up it will not

    The branding looks pretty naff Another problem is the vehicle has manual doors. The driver has to get out o the cab to open and close them

    At the moment it is due to start from April 11th

    Chances of success 1/10 I would say


  17. Dear busandtrainuser, I am researching the possibility of a supertram link across the proposed The Wash tidal barrier between Skegness and east of Boston, Lincolnshire eighty miles to Hunstanton and Heacham, Norfolk. Please, how far can an electric bus go on a single charge ?
    Graham Lilley
    Railfuture Lincolnshire
    South Lincs Connected


  18. *Maybe* (not yet convincingly proven) DRT has a role in some very specific circumstances – population density, geographical area covered and what the trip generation scenarios in that area. All must be carefully considered – no point in running a massive taxi operation with minibuses.

    In Wales, the Fflecsi examples have also run true to form of all the other examples. Looking at a response to a recent FOI to the operation in Prestatyn for 2019 the fixed route carried an average of 500/month in 2022 under Fflecsi this is now 240 and costing £18k/month to operate.

    Turning to Denbigh then the passenger volumes per month in 2019 was 2600 on the fixed bus route and Fflecsi in 2022 down to 1500 with the cost per month £13k more.

    Both the above FOI’s response details taken from @SmithysTP

    Interestingly data for the larger schemes in Newport, Rhondda and Blaenau Gwent have not been released.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I’m also not a fan of DRT. Frankly a subsidised taxi ride seems to me to make more sense based on some of the numbers I’ve seen. However, I read in busandcoachbuyer this week ( that the scheme in High Wycombe is being hailed as a massive success. I wondered whether this needs a bit more scrutiny from busandtrainuser before too much champagne is quaffed?

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: