Tuesday 4th April 2023
This week sees the controversial withdrawal of many tendered bus routes within the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) area and their replacement with an extensive DRT operation. It’s been a rocky road to implementation and I’ve got a feeling it’ll be an even rockier road now it’s up and running.
Here’s a flavour of the background.
A melting pot of politics
Elected Mayor of the WECA is Dan Norris who is Labour and responsible for transport policy across the region. The three unitary councils that make up the Authority area are (a) Bristol City Council with its own directly elected Mayor, Marvin Rees who is also Labour but the Greens have the highest number of councillors at 25, compared to Labour with 24 within the city; (b) Bath and Northeast Somerset Council is LibDem controlled; and (c) South Gloucestershire Council which is Conservative controlled. For the Bus Service Improvement Plan which was successful in securing funding from the DfT, the Combined Authority teamed up with neighbouring unitary council, North Somerset which is Independent controlled. As you can see it’s a colourful melting pot of councils with varied political interests across the area leading to interesting dynamics between those involved, not least as elections approach.
The three unitary councils within the Combined Authority hand over a Transport Levy to the Combined Authority which pays for supported bus services, concessionary fares reimbursement, community transport, bus service information as well as overhead staff costs and the Metrobus project. Total levy for the year just ended March 2023 was just under £20 million split roughly 50% from Bristol City Council and 25% from each of Bath and Northeast Somerset Council and South Gloucestershire Council. Problems began as post pandemic reduced passenger numbers continued along with inflationary cost increases meaning that part of the levy for supported bus services (budgeted for around £3 million) became insufficient. Going forward the funding requirement was forecast to triple to £9.3 million for 2022/23 and beyond.
The unitary authorities were disinclined to hand over more money to the Combined Authority bearing in mind the financial challenges they in turn were each facing to meet their statutory duties, never mind paying for bus routes. Something therefore had to be done to plug the looming funding gap.
Meanwhile as mentioned above, the Combined Authority and neighbouring North Somerset Council were successful in securing significant funding from the DfT for their jointly submitted Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP). While it was nowhere near the in excess of £1 billion they asked for (Authorities were asked to be ambitious) they did secure the second highest funding award in the country totally £105.5 million over the three years 2022/23 to 2024/25. Of this £57.5 million is revenue funding for fare reductions and service improvements.
WECA has also been a benefactor of the Government’s City Region Sustainable Transport Settlement (CRSTS). Last July it was awarded £540 million for a five year delivery plan which “aims to deliver transformational change through investments in public and sustainable transport infrastructure”. Note the crucial word “infrastructure”. WECA are planning to use £108 million each year across the five years (2022;23 to 2026/27) for “enhanced sustainable transport corridors” including bus priority measures.
When a replacement service is not a replacement service
One of the conditions the DfT imposed on BSIP funding awards is revenue funding cannot be used to prop up existing services that would otherwise be withdrawn for lack of funds. WECA reported this to its members at a meeting in January: BSIP “is not intended to be applied to support bus services that have been historically supported through Local Transport Authority (LTA) revenue budgets. The BSIP funding allocation is aimed primarily at promoting growth in bus use and the expectation from Government is that it will be utilised for fare incentives and new service provision.”
WECA’s supported bus services that needed extra funding therefore didn’t qualify. But, helped by enthusiastic sales pitches from tech companies which have made a specialism in ride sharing apps, a number of authorities are now seeing DRT as the answer to under funded tendered bus routes. It allows authorities to withdraw unprofitable supported services and their conventionally operated timetables where everyone knows what time buses run but with insufficient passengers on board, and, without using the word “replacement” for fear of breaking the BSIP funding rules, introduce a completely new DRT operation with all the usual guff about “Uber like buses” serving “virtual bus stops” etc etc, but the reality being no-one knows what time they might be able to get a bus until they try their luck at booking one. Consequently as readers will know I’ve consistently found DRT buses end up running around with one and sometimes two passengers on board, ie less than when it was a conventionally operated service, until the service ends up being withdrawn as a financial no hoper. But it’s regarded as an “improvement” because passengers have to use an App or make a telephone booking which they couldn’t before and so there’s minibus loads of funding available at the moment for such schemes.
However, it’s crucial to note that BSIP funding is time limited (two years to March 2025) by when it’s expected pump priming funding for the “improvements” will have attracted so many new passengers with motorists abandoning their cars to modal shift to the bus that the new arrangements will be financially self sustaining. Whilst this theory may be fine for effective (and ambitious) bus priority measures along with significant frequency enhancements across a corridor with significant potential, it’ll never make a DRT operation financial self sustaining. Even those enthusiastic eager-for-profits tech based companies admit that when pushed. A senior staff member from VIA told me the company never claim DRT will be commercial.
The upshot of all this is the DfT has approved funding of around £6 million to March 2025 from WECA and North Somerset’s BSIP allocation for the new DRT scheme launched yesterday, Monday 3rd April, and which is absolutely NOT a replacement for all those tendered bus routes that were withdrawn on Saturday 1st April. Anyone suggesting there is a connection will be immediately turned off the bus.
When the DRT plan was reported at a WECA meeting in January the idea was to have as many as 12 individual travel zones encircling Bristol city with some overlapping areas falling into two or more zones (I blogged incredulously about this last month), but thankfully, good sense prevailed and these have been reduced to just three – a North Zone, a South Zone – and what’s called a “Future Travel Zone” of which more later. Passengers can use DRT to travel wholly within each zone – the idea being not to compete with conventional bus routes entering into Bristol itself. Indeed some of the BSIP funds are being used to pay First Bus and Stagecoach to enhance frequencies of these routes to improve the service offering (also introduced yesterday), as well as fare reductions (which came in last year) when WECA introduced a £2 flat fare in the cities of Bristol and Bath ahead of the DfT’s temporary maximum scheme from January, meaning the BSIP provides the funding rather than the DfT’s own £2 arrangement.
The original idea was DRT would enable passengers to connect with the enhanced inter-urban bus routes at “Mobility Hubs” for which there are exciting plans (more later) but for now they appear to be no more than an ordinary bus stop, and maybe a shelter.
The new DRT operation has been given the brand name WESTlink. WECA confirm it’s been awarded to an operator “with a one hour service level” adding in its report to that January meeting “in some cases, this offer will far exceed current supported bus service availability”. That’s as maybe for a once a week shopping journey type bus service when maybe you are flexible enough to book your bus and then wait an hour for it to arrive, but it’s a completely different matter if you’re travelling to work or school or a medical appointment and previously had the certainty of a fixed timetabled bus service on which you could rely but now you could be waiting for the bus to arrive for up to an hour. It just reaffirms my view these schemes are dreamt up by people who’ve never travelled on a bus in their lives. And they expect people to give up their cars? Deluded doesn’t come close. It won’t happen.
The WESTlink operator
When tenders were invited at the end of last year I understand submissions were disappointingly low, if indeed any were received. In the event the tender was awarded to New York based VIA Technologies Inc, the global company that’s behind the software used by a number of DRT schemes in Britain, as well as a small company based in Southsea called WeDRT.
Aside from Milton Keynes where self employed own account (gig economy style) taxi/private hire drivers provide the MK Connect service with eight seaters for VIA, which won that tender too, the company hasn’t run any British DRT schemes directly itself.
WeDRT has also been involved in the West Midlands and University of Warwick DRT and dial-a-ride schemes but like VIA hasn’t got involved in actually running operations on the road directly itself.
WeDRT CEO Daniel Mould is also Director of a company called WeMOVE Solutions Ltd which may be one and the same business as WeDRT. WeMOVE used to be known as Coachscanner Ltd which acted as a broker between potential coach clients and small coach and minibus hire companies.
WECA specified accessible 16 seat minibuses for WESTlink which isn’t really VIA’s or WeDRT/WeMOVE’s bag (nor are ‘O’ licences and service registrations – both needed for WESTlink) so it’s not surprising to see the operation has been subcontracted.
Neither First Bus (200 bus drivers short at the moment) nor Stagecoach, both obvious contenders, were interested or in a position to help so the operation was sub-contracted to a company called E-Zec which is “proud to be able to provide non-emergency patient transport services, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year to 30+ NHS Trusts, Clinical Commissioning Groups and Health Boards across the UK, helping them to care for their patients. We use our fleet of 550+ fully equipped ambulances and specialist medical vehicles, and the expertise of over 1,400 ambulance care assistants, call handlers, renal mangers and other specialist support colleagues to deliver an exceptional service“.
It’s the first time Redhill based E-Zec has been involved in bus operation so Directors John Harvey and Craig Smith applied for an O Licence with the Office of the Traffic Commissioner for the West of England as published in Notices and Proceedings dated 9th March 2023. The application was for 51 vehicles to be based at seven Operating Centres across Bristol, Yate and Nailsea but also as far away as Swindon and Salisbury.
Interestingly there’s a “New Undertaking” attached to the Licence that “vehicles with eight passenger seats or less will not be operated under the licence without the prior written agreement of the Traffic Commissioner who may require you to agree to certain undertakings Attached to Licence”. as well as “limousines and novelty type vehicles are not to be operated under this operator’s licence” which will no doubt disappoint novelty type loving DRT passengers.
E-Zec Medical Transport Services Ltd has been in business for a number of years (first incorporated in 2000) but a couple of years ago its accounts declared its parent company E-Zec Holdings Ltd was acquired by Leto 2021 Bidco Ltd. In turn, a company called Leto2021 Topco Ltd is the ultimate parent undertaking. The Annual Accounts also state the “ultimate controlling party is considered to be Cairngorm Capital Partners LLP”.
It’s certainly interesting to chart the changing landscape of bus operation in this country with an increasing involvement from tech companies, companies that act as brokers and run call centres and ‘mobility solution’ type companies.
WECA specified the WESTlink fleet of up to 30 vehicles must be fully accessible and I learnt from one of the drivers E-Zec has ordered low floor Mercedes Sprinter 16 seater minibuses – the mainstay of most DRT schemes around the country. However, due to the late notice in awarding the tender and the need for sub-contracting the timescale meant it’s not been possible to obtain the fleet ready for this week’s launch.
Instead a fleet of 16 seat vehicles has been temporarily rented in with step entrances …
… and some with manually operated side doors as well as tail lifts making for a less than optimum start to this exciting BSIP funded era when WECA aim to make “it easier to access and use public transport, we will get people out of cars and tackle highway congestion”. Not if you can’t manage steps it won’t.
How’s WESTlink being communicated and promoted to the public to ensure it meets that all important WECA BSIP objective of “ensuring that people are provided with the right information as and when they need it”? There’s a dedicated WESTlink page on WECA’s traelwest.info website which I’d been keeping an eye on over the last few weeks. A week ago it was still promising information including the “WESTlink zone map” would be “coming soon”. Fortunately the link on that page to the map was activated later that day (last Tuesday) but I’m not sure it really helped much to be able to see it.
It was similar to the 12 zone map presented to that WECA meeting in January but instead of the now expected three coloured zones (North, South and “Future Travel” Zones) it now shows five coloured zones with no explanation that I could see of what the different colours mean.
My assumption was the large splurge of green in the south is the South Zone while the blue in the north is the North Zone but what are the small pink, yellow and orange zones? I’m guessing they mean passengers may book from either the green or blue zone into one of those, or vice versa, but not travel within them.
However on my travels yesterday I learnt that the small orange zone based on Keynsham and the pink zone based on Avonmouth both abutting the blue and green zones are available for journeys commencing or terminating in either blue or green although when I tried to book from the blue zone to Avonmoith it wouldn’t let me, so I’m none the wiser.
The yellow zone apparently is the Future Travel Zone of which more later.
If you zoom in on the map on a computer screen you can see the area covered a little better but the background colour makes it extremely hard, especially for partially sighted people – I doubt this passes muster with the Equalities Act.
Trying to find information about what services were to be withdrawn in the lead up to last weekend was not an easy task either. Lists were available online some of which have appeared in the local media in recent months within reports of the deliberations of WECA meetings. However, ominously these don’t give a very reassuring picture. One report which listed 36 routes began: “the West of England initially sent out a press release after the meeting saying 27 buses would be axed — before later clarifying that 27 would be saved, and 42 would be axed. A list was then sent out of potential services facing withdrawal, which was “not double-checked for accuracy” and only included 36 services. A confirmed list was then sent out the following day.”
Here’s that list as published:
As you can see, some of the routes are continuing for another three months. These are in Bath & North East Somerset where the Council has provided further short term funding. Quite a few on the list are once a week shopping journeys or low frequency routes, while some are routes with journeys geared up for school children giving rise to the quite incredible notion that WECA envisage school children having to summon up a DRT bus to take them to and from school – good luck with that one when schools return in a fortnight. I can just see the headlines in the local media now.
The travelwest.info website also contained details of “Bus service changes from the 2nd April 2023” for some time but it too advises the “lists below may still be subject to change”.
The table below the above screenshot gives a listing in route number order of every service subject to change. It defaults to showing just five at a time but if you don’t want to be clicking away for hours to find your route you can increase the display to show a 100 routes at a time and scroll down to check if your bus route is changing.
I was particularly interested in route 622 operated by Stagecoach between Thornbury and Cribbs Causeway every 90 minutes….
…. as it looked like an interesting route to road test its DRT “replacement” (that isn’t a “replacement” of course) once it ended on Saturday 1st April. The travelwest listing confirmed “Service withdrawn” but that was all.
Imagine if you’re a passenger that used that route to get to work at Cribbs Causeway and you can see the service is now withdrawn, there’s not much reassurance you’ll be able to still get to work this week even if you could work out what WESTlink offers and how to download the App. And they think this is “making it easier to access and use public transport, we will get people out of cars and tackle highway congestion”?
Frankly, if I’d been in that situation I’d have seriously thought about buying a car.
App and phone bookings
The WESTlink App became available for download from around the middle of last week which I’m sure people using the withdrawn bus routes for getting to work, school and other vital journeys were relieved about. It’s a standard VIA type App so I won’t bore you with the shortcomings I’ve commented on in previous blogs about that.
Despite the illusion of a Bristol 0117 area code number the call centre answering the phone line for those who prefer to speak to a human being when trying their luck at bus booking roulette may be pleased to know it’s based in Portsmouth, as I found when I gave it a call, so there’s not much chance of receiving reassuring local knowledge about the West of England. I’m guessing this location is associated with WeDRT (or WeMOVE) also being based in the Solent area and maybe that’s where the call centre for the West Midlands scheme is also based so overheads can be combined.
Finally, to complete this background, as well as BSIP and CRSTS, WECA was also successful in securing £24.4 million funding for what the DfT call “Future Travel Zones” (FTZ). Authorities were invited to bid for this funding back in 2019 with seven applications shortlisted in September that year which were then invited to reapply to what was then known as the “Future Mobility Zones Fund”. (“Mobility” was subsequently renamed “Transport”). WECA, together with the West Midlands, Derby and Nottingham and the Solent area ended up as the four successful applicants.
In awarding the funding, DfT announced WECA “will test innovative tech to bring together people, operators and authorities. The aim is to introduce booking platforms, giving people access to book one journey across multiple modes of transport through the click of a button. They will also work to trial self-driving cars to transport people between Bristol airport, central Bath and the Northern Arc“. In addition to the £24.4 million, WECA is chipping in £3.65 million of its own money and the programme “runs from July 2020 to March 2024”. I know I can be a bit negative and something of a sceptic at times about these things, but I’m not sure we’ll be seeing self-driving cars on the roads between Bath and Bristol Airport any time soon let alone by next March.
The relevance to WESTlink is along with E-Scooters, the pretty much discredited “Mobility As A Service” concept (now I see rebranded as “Next generation app” – see image below) WECA will also introduce “one-stop trial Mobility Hub sites” to “make it easier for people to switch between modes such as bus, bicycle and e-scooter” which since that was devised in 2019 now includes between DRT. FTZ funds will also be used for what’s called “Dynamic Demand Responsive Transport” (“Dynamic”? You just can’t make it up these days!) which “puts passengers in control of when and where they travel, through small capacity but highly flexible bus services to help people access jobs, leisure and education.”
I understand that oddly shaped yellow coloured zone on the map shown earlier is the FTZ …
…. and WESTlink DRT buses can now be booked for journeys wholly within it but not crossing its boundary, which isn’t explained anywhere that I can find and only manifests itself when you try and book.
The proof of the pudding
After all that, as you’d expect I went over to the Bristol area yesterday to try WESTlink out.
I made four lengthy journeys as befits the large geographic area covered by WESTlink. Three of these were in the morning in the north zone and an 18 mile trek across the south zone in the afternoon. I won’t bore you with a blow by blow account of each one and instead just give some highlights.
As usual with a DRT day one experience there were no problems booking travel for the desired time. I scheduled the first journey (taking the option of a 09:55-10:25 window) to coincide with my 09:51 train arrival at Keynsham rail station and the bus was confirmed for 09:55 and waiting for me outside the station (hindering cars from passing) when I arrived.
I booked the next three journeys as needed and was offered a bus in 7 minutes, 19 minutes and 15 minutes. So not bad. Although the fourth booking had a false start giving me an 11 minute pick up but after a no show and my phoning the call centre when I was told it was “pending” I rebooked and got a 15 minute message.
The minibuses were indeed all step entrance – one with manually operated doors (which are heavy to open and quite a challenge to close properly) and three (the most modern buses) had driver operated doors. A retractable step comes out as the door opens but on the manually operated door one, it didn’t come out and I got quite a shock when alighting, almost falling.
The four bus drivers were all superb. All four had seen previous service with First Bus, albeit for short spells. One had also been with CTPlus until its closure last year. Azam, my first driver, was the politest driver I’ve ever come across (I told him so too) while Bart, the fourth of the day ..,,
…. was so friendly and the most obliging and helpful particularly ensuring he got me to the station for my train home from Freshford despite huge challenges from delays at roadworks with 4-way temporary traffic lights and the SatNav sending us along the narrowest road I’ve ever travelled along in a bus ….
…. let alone the narrow road that took us down to Freshford station itself.
Bart deserves a gold medal for his amazing driving. Thank you Bart.
Roadworks also plagued my first journey from Keynsham to Yate. The scheduled 21 minute journey time ended up taking 50 minutes.
The boss even rang Azam to check all was OK, such was the delay.
The next journey across the north zone from Yate to Thornbury was more uneventful taking 27 minutes …
…. and the third, from Thornbury to Almondsbury on the western flank of the north zone took 18 minutes. I chose Almondsbury as the App wouldn’t let me make that former route 622 journey to Cribbs Causeway as it turns out that’s in the Future Travel Zone. So tough luck any former passengers from the 622 living in Thornbury who work at Cribbs Causeway.
I’d been the only passenger on those three journeys but for the fourth – a marathon across much of the south zone from Parson Street station (south west Bristol near Hengrove) across to Freshford – I was surprised to see a passenger already on board as the bus pulled up.
It turned out to be a great guy called John who’s the Local Democracy Reporter for the area employed by Reach but makes news on local government in Bath and North East Somerset available to all media outlets. He was also doing a WESTlink road test for his reporting on the new venture so you can imagine we had a great chat. Indeed he contributed an item about his journey on BBC Radio 4’s PM programme last night which covered the WESTlink launch and DRT in general.
Coincidentally John had boarded the bus not far away in Whitchurch and booked to travel to the Odd Down Park & Ride site on the southern edge of Bath being the closest WESTlink gets to Bath so John’s journey was diverted to pick me up – I’d booked just as his journey was beginning – and my journey included a small deviation to drop him off. DRT as it’s meant to be I guess.
My end to end journey was scheduled to be an hour but due to the aforementioned roadworks it took 70 minutes becoming my longest ever DRT journey.
All in all it was a great day’s DRT riding and some lovely countryside to pass through especially on that last journey.
There were the usual teething issues for a new service – I’ve already mentioned the buses, but for those paying fares on the bus (rather than paying at the time of booking on the App) it’s cash only at the moment with contactless still pending.
Two of the drivers took a wrong turning but quickly recovered it when the SatNav alerted them.
The WESTlink fare is capped at the current £2 maximum. Hours of operation are 07:00 to 19:00 with no Sunday service although the Future Travel Zone has extended hours (05:30 to 21:30) and operates on Sundays (09:00 to 18:00).
Will it be a success? That depends on your definition of ‘success’. It gave me a great day’s travelling around beautiful South Gloucestershire and North East Somerset using my concessionary pass and enjoying my own personal chauffeur, but that’s not really the point of DRT.
The crunch will come when the schools go back in a fortnight and people become familiar with the new arrangements leading to buses becoming busier and not everyone getting their journey needs fulfilled. But the big worry is the looming cliff edge when the money runs out in April 2025. What happens then? Because WESTlink won’t be financially self sustaining, despite what WeDRT claim.
The budget for WECA’s supported bus services was increasing from £3 million a year to around £9 million. WESTlink has been given £6 million funding over two years from BSIP, which works out at, er, £3 million a year – coincidentally what the supported services budget had been.
Blog updated: Wednesday 5th April. The previous reference as originally published in the blog to up to 50 vehicles has been amended to 30 vehicles and the allocation from BSIP funds for WESTlink corrected from £20 million to £6 million over two years.
Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThS
This should be a fun one for you to try out…
From 14th April, HertsLynx is launching a brand new evening service from 20:00 – 23:30 every Friday and Saturday*. Passengers can use the evening service to travel anywhere within the HertsLynx operating zone and can book through the app, website or via the call centre.
The introduction of the HertsLynx evening service is part of Hertfordshire County Council’s Government-funded Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) which aims to increase patronage by introducing a number of important initiatives. It is hoped that the evening services will help to boost the evening economies within areas of North & East Herts, as well as improving access for residents who may be working outside of 9-5 hours, attending appointments or leisure activities.
Furthermore, until 30th June 2023, passengers can travel on the evening service for just £2.00 per single journey. Concessionary Pass & SaverCard holder discount will be also eligible on the evening service**.
Thanks for the info Phil. HertsLynx also sent me an email about it. Sadly it’s past my bedtime but a return visit to Buntingford is on my to do list in the next few weeks.
There is some info on usage. It appears to currently use 7 buses and that it has carried 20,000 passengers since its introduction. To what date this is was not stated assuming a 12 month period that averages about 5 passengers an hour which for DRT is quite good. It may be less though if the period was longer
They are planning to add another two bus to the service and also to in
Introduce a DRT for West Herts
What happens when the funding runs our who knows. On the current numbers they must be during through cash fast
Operating costs must be in the region of £60 an hour plus when you add i the app costs, call centre costs and Web site costs
I’ve just read March BUSES, and I see that Katch (Suffolk DRT) finished in December, with an average of 100 passengers per week.
Also that TeesConnect is expected to cease shortly (or may have already?)
Your predictions are coming true …. !!
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In addition a new route 907 funded by BSIP will operate 7 days a week between Stevenage and Brookfield Centre Cheshunt. It will operate hourly I would have thought it would make more sense to extended it to Waltham Cross or Cuffley Station
It will be operate by Centre Bus which seems a bit strange as they pulled out of Herts so heir nearest garage is Luton
The full timetable can be found on the Centre Bus web site under service c
The route broadly follows the 390 service and the 310 service
Katch may be being restarting
East Suffolk Council is developing the service alongside local community transport operator, CATS (Coastal Accessible Transport Service), in response to the announced closure of the Katch taxi bus service.
Quite why they think it will work this time who knows. It is or was not a real DRT it operated to a fixed route but had to be pre booked. All that does in my view is add to the cost and make the service less attractive
It probably does not help that the bus is unsuitable as it has a manual door that the driver or passengers have to open and close
They appear to have funding for a year so I do not see it lasting much beyond a year
I have got some costs for the Katch app
Initial cost £200K and then £1k a year. I suspect there is no economy of scale. IT is something the government could look at as if a standard app was used it would bring don cost significantly as well as simplifying things for passengers at the moment these apps are just a mess and a very costly one at that
Imagine the irony of a DRT vehicle being stuck in traffic. The flexibility of not using a fixed route totally wasted. Hopeless.
Nice thorough report, Roger.
Re the zones…
Pink = Yellow + Green
Dont king them ideas. They well be painting the buses pink for the South Zone, Yellow for the North Zone and Green for the Future Zone
The buses look very utilitarian not far off of the Ford Bread vans TfL used for minibus services many teas ago not the sort of thing that is likely to attract new passengers. It is rather a down market look
There is a Web site for it. Not very informative though,. You can download an app or book on line or by phone
It quote the North and South Zone but provided no map or what areas they cover
the North and South Zones operate Monday to Saturday 7am to 7pm. No information at to the times for booking the service though. No service on a Sunday
The Future Travel Zone whatever that may be operates Mon to Sat 5.30am to 21.30
and on Sundays and bank holiday 9am to 6pm
It claims these service serve 100 bus stops and virtual stops
It quotes 30 buses so presumably 10 buses per zone
It seem to be a very expensive and complex operation with lots of organisations involved an all presumably wanting to make a profit
E-ZeC which I have only heard of with providing patient services to the NHS do not have a good track record with them not turning up at all or turning up hours late
Presumably this will be a new venture for E-Zec so we will have to wait and see
This must be the largest or one of the largest DRT networks as into the equation of the typical traffic congestion in the Bristol area it will be interesting to say the least
It sounds far to complex and far to inefficient and far to expensive to operate,
Another unknow is what impact the withdrawal of the fixed routes will have on passenger numbers. I suspect many will just give up on buses and will not switch to DRT. There is no guarantee even that the DRT service will continue in any case
As with all DRT service they either carry to few passengers or if they get move than two or three passengers the route becomes to convoluted and or you have a long wait for as bus
As with most DRT’s as ell they are cramped and have little room for shopping buggies etc
and DRT’s spend a lot of time parked up doing nothing
They could burn though cash very fast. Will this DRT buck the trend and be successful? The failure rate of these services is in the 90% region so the odds are well against it
LTA’s are normally very shy about giving passengers numbers and how fast these services are burning through cash. Most do not outlast the initial funding
Some simple sums suggest this service can never be viable
Lets assume 16 passengers sand they all pay the £2 Fare that’s only £32 . The economics simply do not stack up
Thanks for a very detailed summary of a complex set-up.
TeesFlex is continuing for a further 18 months, as it got off to a bad start at the beginning of the pandemic.
Looking at the numbers it initially sounded good with it quoting 1070 passengers a week but that is with 9 buses so about 119 per bus. Divide by the 6 days a week it operates and thats about 20 passengers per day per bus. Divide by 13 as thats the hours it operates then it is 1.5 passengers per bus per hour
It tends to indicate that perhaps 9 buses are not needed
The app does have some useful features in that you can select your departure time or your arrival time. In many cases you arrival time will be more important than the departure time
A problem the app appears to have it will only look at a 30 minutes window. If it cannot book a trip inthat time it appears to just say no trip is available
One thing seems certain – WECA have a very good Bid Writer, based on the number of different funds they have been successful in securing funds from!
I just tried looking for a journey from Freshford Station to Wellow and it’s come up with the message “High Demand we could not find a journey.”. That’s presumably meaning at any time of the day and it’s only the second day of operation.
Even if I had managed to get a journey to Wellow, supposing that happened and there was no journey back. Much as I am sure Wellow is a lovely village I don’t fancy being stranded there.
DRT I’m a nutshell. You always need a Plan B.
Well their Web site claims they have 10 buses per zone. Whether they have 10 available at present who knows. It seem highly unlikely that the service was so busy it could not offer a journey at all that day. More likely a problem with the app
Plan B is use your car or pay for a taxi
Penny numbers of people, if anyone, use these once a week routes, that’s why they’ve withered to the paltry services that they are… the council can pay for a personal minicab for ENCTS card holders etc, and still save millions by not having all these bread vans and drivers hanging about doing nothing all over the place.. and then nothing when the BSIP money ends.
I guess it’s a symptom of the gov’t sound bytes of “we are providing loads of money for NEW services” which are mostly services nobody wants or will use, whilst not providing the very necessary money needed to keep CURRENT services in operation, which DO actually serve a few people, if not enough to be Commercial.
So Midsomer Norton and Radstock etc see more services reduced.. what happened to all those “Discovery” routes they introduced a couple of years ago with much fanfare and new liveries etc??
The Discovery routes are actually Discover routes. Aside from a bit in Bath, they serve relatively little of WECA land being mainly Somerset or Wiltshire. They don’t and never have served Radstock or Midsomer Norton; those are the Mendip Explorer routes.
My apologies, I don’t live in the area anymore, but you’ve sort of made my point for me, because while browsing timetables on the first website, there’s no branding to be found; explorer, discover or anything!
Have the marketing opportunities of branding these services and attempting to generate interest etc been all but abandoned?
Seems a funny way to try to generate more custom… anyone would get the impression their corporate masters just can’t be bothered!
The route branding on the website and timetables was removed during covid and never reinstated. On the website, the only branding to be retained was Park & Ride and Unibus but only metrobus and Bristol Unibus have branding that appears on timetables.
That WECA list of withdrawn services offended my sensibilities as it wasn’t even sorted in numerical order, meaning you have to scan the whole list.
There’s an E-Zec ambulance driver near me, his ambulance spends the majority of time parked outside his house. I always wonder about the effective use of assets when I see it.
BBC Points West had an item about West Link last night. One of the passengers interviewed (there were two on one of his journeys) was a care home worker returning from a night shift. She liked bring able to request a ride, but I wonder how she will get on if it gets more popular.
Another WECA area story. A local MP Darren Jones, notorious for grilling company bosses in House of Commons Select Committees, is collating data relating to “ghost buses” from members of the public. Now we all know that “real time information” is often just timetable data, do the railways do this I wonder. Now the public expects real time info to be what it says. They won’t, and shouldn’t have to understand the complexities of timetable v real time data, you could argue this muddle is a barrier to accessing buses.
I expect Mr Claringbold may be summoned to Parliament soon.
Your reporting and its detailed inclusion of facts is a wonderful service for the industry and stakeholders alike. Those who need to be kept up to date with the reality of what results from political intervention, look no further.
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Ah; thanks very much Mike. It’s a pleasure to do it.
DRT may work to an extent for discretionary travel that has no set time to be undertaken. But this scheme sounds utterly hopeless for anyone who needs to be at a particular place for a particular time, like, going to work for example. How much contingency do you need to leave to ensure you can summon a bus in time? With a conventional bus timetable I can plan my morning routine to the minute with just a couple in reserve for the rare occasion the bus is running early.
I’m not a fan of DRT, but to be fair, if the conventional service was once a day or less, that’s also not very likely to have fitted with needing to be at a particular place for a particular time.
Roger talks about this scheme replacing some school buses, for which once a day suits the intended use. He also talks about it replacing a conventional route that ran every 90 minutes, which, whilst not ideal, is certainly a viable service for work or education.
Most school buses are closed contracts so I dont think many school children will be using DRT
Speaking of escooter’s Paris has just voted to ban them according to the free Daily Mail the Metro.Anyone with a tiny bit of wisdom could have told them the problems that they would cause but would Sir Boris listen.Strange we have a Firearms Act ,a Dangerous Animals Act,a Dangerous Dogs Act but not a Dangerous Vehicles Act.
Brilliant journalism as always. What’s that definition of insanity? Keep on doing the same thing and expecting a different result
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One message that has got through to WECA Mayor Dan Norris is the driver shortage. To be fair, he’s used public money to help set up training facilities to try and increase the supply, and he regularly points out to proponents of franchising that it does not change the supply of drivers.
He’s also made an interesting assertion that smaller buses may attract people who wouldn’t want to drive a full size bus, and I think there is some truth in that. However, having looked at the vacancies on the E-Zec website, the shift pattern and rates of pay don’t look very tempting, but Roger’s experience – admittedly on day one – doesn’t seem to be showing that this is a barrier to great customer service.
Hi Roger, just to say that the £2 singles in Bath and Bristol are provided commercially by First. It’s the £3.70 capped single/£5 return on the interurban services that are WECA funded.
Many thanks – post updated to reflect this.
The data on how effectiveness the £2 fare is limited at present, but the general view is it has gone little to increase bus usage. It tends to indicate that the lack of services and poor reliability and lack of information on services is the real constraint and not the fares
This came up on today’s transport info . org feed suggesting the £2 is having some positive effect. Interesting that awareness of the scheme was lowest in the West Midlands. Perhaps the differential with normal fares in the area isn’t that great and therefore not of such interest to bus users there.
I live in East Sussex & County
Councils web site now says”
Digital Demand Responsive Transport (DDRT)
A soft launch of two zones of the county’s DDRT scheme will commence on 24 April with the full planned provision of 10 vehicles operating across East Sussex to commence in May.
DDRT services will operate from 7am to 7pm from Monday to Saturday (inclusive).
More details to follow so watch this space.” There are many different transport pages on their website so you may not even come across this page when looking. I don’t really feel that there promoting this and if it’s going to happen I think people will feel like they didn’t know it was coming. I don’t even know where these two zones are.
I understand from the lead councillor for transport that no existing fixed route services will be withdrawn as part of the soft launch of DRT in East Sussex.
In this case, Bob is wrong with his assertion that “Most school buses are closed contracts so I dont think many school children will be using DRT”. Some of the routes that have (or are being) withdrawn are services catering for children who are not entitled to free transport. One carried about 50 of them – it will take a lot of 16 seaters to replace that !
Positive experience to report here. My wife works at Weston College, near Uphill, and we live in South Bristol. She’s on holiday this week so decided to try a mock-commute via Westlink, to see how it works. The bus turned up at the time requested, and delivered her (and our two kids) from our home to the door of the college, all for £2 (£1 child). Much quicker than taking the X1 or train from Parson Street to Weston, then changing onto a local bus down to Uphill (40mins vs 1h30) She’s enthusiastically WhatsApp-ing colleagues to inform them of the new service.
No matter how dynamic it is, if it won’t take you where you want to go it’s not very good is it. The killing off of the 85 and 84 service means that here in Charfield, on the northern fringe of both South Gloucestershire and WECA and with doctors, dentists, retail and even schools over the border in Gloucestershire, we’re stuffed. Our elderly and other non-drivers can’t get to their health appointments, and although. recent change means our sixth formers can perhaps get to school on DRT (and what if they’re constantly late and excluded for lateness because of dynamic routing?), the rest of us are reliant on personal transport. The irony is ‘they’ intend to open a new railway station in the village ostensibly to reduce car miles, but of course everyone using the station will be driving to and from it.
The great attraction of DRT for local authorities, I fear, is that the level of resource can be reduced incrementally – fewer vehicles per zone, larger zones, shorter operating hours – without risking a claim that they are failing on their Statutory Duty.
And the media interest in the “Funding cut means unreliable DRT gets a bit less reliable” story would be far lower than “Villagers cut off by removal of service 123”.
The legal opinion obtained by the Campaign for Better Transport in 2011 suggests that local authorities can plead poverty as the reason for providing a very thin service, but that they are open to claims of unfairness if some people get no cover at all. So DRT, offering an “it could be you” transport service, seems to tick the Statutory Duty box, however thin the coverage.
There is no statutory duty on a local authority to provide transport – it is entirely a discretionary function. The CBT campaign against Cambridgeshire essentially suceeded on the lack of an impact assessment. Having made this, Cambs CC made cuts (though not totally as originally proposed).
So there are several councils that do not fund any local bus services at all – Derby, Luton and Southend spring to mind (and Thurrock and Slough about to join the list) – while there are others where the funding is largely from developers (“Section 106”), Oxfordshire being a case in point, with some detail in the blog responses from an Oxfordshire County Council manager.
Wiltshire uses car park revenue to support bus services, I believe supported services account for around half of the county’s bus network.
Thank you for this highly useful article. I live in a retirement village in Sandford where we lost the incredibly useful 126 bus between Weston-super-Mare and Wells last autumn. We now have nothing unless you are mobile enough to walk ½ a mile to catch the 51 (WSM – only and two hourly instead of hourly). So you can imagine that I look forward to trying WESTLink. I will let you know what happens. I am new to the DRT concept.
While I am here, have you even written an explanation of Bus Pass finances? Who gets what when I tap my pass? They only know I have got on but have no idea where I got off. In London my Diamond Travelcard (North Somerset) doesn’t work which, according to NSC, is because the TFL system is out of date. So nobody gets anything when I use a bus in London, which seems a pity! Please refer me to anything you have written on this.
This is the report in the Bristol Evening Post that was written by the journalist that Roger encountered – https://www.bristolpost.co.uk/news/local-news/tried-somersets-new-demand-bus-8328055
The only useful thing about WESTlink from my point of view is you can now make journeys that previously weren’t possible by bus before the April timetable changes. For example you can now get from Oldland Common to Keynsham (a distance of approx just under 2 miles) which is a journey that hasn’t been possible for over a year since the withdrawal of the 18 at the end of August 2021.
Not a fan of these DRT in Leicestershire they don’t work at all. More needs to be done to encourage coach and other firms to enter the market. Rural areas don’t need double decker’s but need a service that links to places.
The villages near Lutterworth Town centre have no link to Lutterworth or nearby places. If only two or three people want to travel the DRT won’t run. Hence people are leaving the villages as ghosts