A DRT chronology

Regular blog readers will know I’ve been sampling DRT schemes from the passenger perspective ever since the craze began with Slide in Bristol in 2016. I’ve yet to find a scheme that works in the interests of passengers and provides a better service than a fixed timetable bus route but this hasn’t stopped local authorities, encouraged by tech companies and since 2020, the DfT, making funds available, to introduce further schemes, despite all the original app based operations ceasing as complete failures.

While all this carries on over in Wiltshire a very successful rural bus route which combines a fixed timetable with flexible on demand route variations has been running between Pewsey and Devizes since introduced in 1999 as Wigglybus now using the ‘Connect 2 Wiltshire’ brand.

Another long standing rural bus route which offers a flexible routing on each journey depending who has requested it by telephoning in advance is route 99 operated by Compass Bus between Chichester and Petworth in West Sussex.

A similarly successful fixed/flexible arrangement has run in Lincolnshire for many years using the Call Connect brand.

The Salisbury Reds operated routes 101/2/3 in Wiltshire, Compass Bus route 99 and Call Connect in Lincolnshire all use the humble telephone with no expensive technology or app required. Perhaps that’s why they’re so successful.

In response to reader requests, here’s a chronology of the new breed of app based DRT schemes introduced in Britain over the last five years with hyperlinks to blogs about my ride experiences.

August 2016: RATP with Padam Mobility launched ‘Slide” in a part of Bristol; ceased in November 2018.

March 2017: Arriva launched ‘Click’ in Sittingbourne; ceased in November 2019.

September 2017: Black cab booking app Gett combined with Citymapper to introduce a peak hours shared taxi route between Highbury & Islington and Waterloo Station branded as route BB1 (BlackBus 1) at a £3 fixed fare. It ceased on an unknown date not long after.

(My journey with Gett was before I started blogging but I recorded my journey on Twitter – the only DRT journey I’ve experienced with three other passengers travelling independently – making it quite cosy in a taxi.)

October 2017: McGills introduced ‘Connect & Go’ taking passengers between Upper Skelmorlie and Weymss Bay in North Ayrshire, funded by Strathclyde PTE. The service was expanded to include nearby Inverkip in March 2018 and continues to operate and is phone based with no app.

February 2018: Ford Motor Company backed ‘Chariot’ launched four routes in London to a fixed timetable but only bookable by an app; ceased in January 2019.

May 2018: First Bus (with Esoterix) launched ‘MyFirstMile’ in Bristol; ceased in December 2018.

June 2018: Go-Ahead owned Oxford Bus launched ‘PickMeUp’ in Oxford; ceased in June 2020.

August 2018: Arriva launched Click in Liverpool; ceased in March 2020 although one vehicle continues in Speke funded by MerseyTravel.

April 2019: Arriva launched Click in New Lubbesthorpe, Leicester funded for three years by Section 106 payments from a housing developer. After the three funding ended in July 2022 the service was replaced with a two-buses half hourly fixed timetable route into Leicester operated by Vectare and branded Novus Direct with a two bus NovusFlex branded DRT operation locally in the New Lubbesthorpe and Narborough areas as well as links into Leicester not covered by NovusDirect.

March 2019: Newcomer Blue Bus launched B-Bus providing an app based demand responsive pick up bus service from hotels close to Paddington to Luton Airport as part of an ambitious plan which would see routes to other airports from all over London. It ceased within a few weeks.

May 2019: Zeelo introduced a peak hour fixed timetable app -only bookable commuter coach service between Newport and Bristol; ceased not long after at an unknown date.

May 2019: TfL launched GoSutton as a 12 month trial in the London Borough of Sutton operated by Go-Ahead London; ceased in May 2020.

August 2019: Zeelo introduced a peak hour commuter fixed timetable route only bookable through an app between Crawley and Gatwick Airport; ceased within weeks at an unknown date.

November 2019: TfL launched Slide as a 12 month trial in the London Borough of Ealing operated by RATP; ceased in May 2020.

Autumn 2019: Tandem launched an app based shared taxibus service between Wellingborough and Rusden Lakes aimed at shoppers and between Wellingborough and Raunds and Thrapston at peak times aimed at commuters; both ceased in that form at an unknown date morphing into bespoke contracts for warehouse style companies taking employees to work.

February 2020: Tees Valley Combined Authority launched ‘Tees flex’ as a three year funded ‘trial’ operated by Stagecoach. In February 2023 the contract was extended for a further 18 months.

May 2020: Go-Coach Hire in Sevenoaks replaced all its fixed timetable bus routes based on Sevenoaks during the first Covid lockdown with a DRT operation using fewer buses. Routes reverted back to fixed timetables as lockdown restrictions eased but the Company is now using the Go2 brand for app or phone requested journeys to supplement its slimmed down fixed timetables on rural routes with a Go2Direct brand for private hire taxis doing the same thing.

July 2020: Watford Borough Council funded a new Arriva Click operation in the Borough for a three year ‘trial’.

September 2020: North Lincolnshire Council morphed its long standing ‘CallConnect’ scheme (joint with Lincolnshire Council) into an app based DRT scheme branded as JustGo operated by Go-Ahead owned East Yorkshire.

December 2020: Developers in Ebbsfleet (Garden City) began funding an Arriva Click scheme to serve new housing pending a bus rapid transit scheme in later years.

April 2021: Milton Keynes Council replaced its tendered bus routes with a fleet of taxis operated by self employed drivers under direction from Via in a scheme called MKConnect.

April 2021: West Midlands Combined Authority introduced West Midlands On Demand (operated by National Express) and a taxi complimentary service (operated by a taxi company through Tandem) to serve Warwick University and its two campus sites (one of which is well served by buses). It was later combined with a Dial-A-Ride operation in the area.

May 2021: Suffolk County Council introduced a limited service between Wickham Station, Wickham Market and Framlingham stopping at designated bus stops and branded as Katch. The one year pilot was extended by six months and ended in December 2022 with insufficient passengers making use of the service. However, in April 2023 Katch was revived for another 12 months trial – see entry under April 2023 below.

July 2021: Worcestershire County Council introduced a two bus DRT scheme in Bromsgrove called Bromsgrove On Demand as part of its ‘Worcestershire On Demand’ initiative operated by Diamond Bus.

July 2021: North Yorkshire County Council introduced YorBus between Ripon and Bedale in July 2021 operated by the County Council directly.

August 2021: Aberdeenshire Council introduced Ready2Go with five vehicles based on Inverurie operated by Watermill Coaches. It ended in April 2023 following pressure from local councillors and users to revert to conventional buses. The Council stated “a number of issues have been impacting the service including high running costs, relatively low numbers of passengers travelling at the same time on each bus and passengers being unable to book a bus journey. The recent Insch bus service survey indicated, on balance, a preference in that area for a timetabled service over Ready2Go with customers noting a deterioration in Ready2Go service reliability in more recent months as demand has increased across the service area.”

September 2021: Hertfordshire introduced HertsLynx with £1.4 million from the DfT’s Rural Mobility Fund for a four year period centred on Buntingford initially with three minibuses but expanding to five and operated by Uno.

September 2021: West Yorkshire Combined Authority with Leeds City Council are funding a three year “pilot” costing £2.234 million called FlexiBus operated by First Leeds with seven minibuses. 

October 2021: East Cheshire Council launched go-too operating two buses itself for a three year period with £1.26 million from the DfT’s Rural Mobility Fund based on Nantwich.

October 2021: Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority introduced a six month ‘trial’ using four Optare Solo buses operated by Stagecoach using the brand name ting in West Hunts. In early 2022 it was announced the six month ‘trial’ would be extended for a further six months …

…and later in the year further announced Vectare would be taking over the ting operation in November.

November 2021: Surrey County Council publicly launched the Surrey Connect DRT serving four small areas west of Leatherhead with £660K funding from the DfT’s Rural Mobility Fund. It’s operated by Mole Valley Community Transport and expanded in April 2023 to cover the whole District Council area of Mole Valley.

March 2022: Norfolk County Council used its £700K grant from the DfT’s Rural Mobility Fund to introduce a Flexibus+ branded DRT scheme in an 85 square mile rural area south of the market town of Swaffham. Operated by Vectare it’s been given four years to become financially viable.

April 2022: Essex County Council introduced a DigiGo branded scheme across two areas in the rural area between Braintree and Chelmsford – Central Essex and South Braintree – using six electric buses and 22 drivers for a two year trial thanks to £2.575 million funding from the DfT’s Rural Mobility Fund.

April 2022: Staffordshire County Council upgraded its long standing Moorlands Connect DRT/Dial-a-Ride scheme in part of the Peak District National Park using £1.038 million funding from the DfT’s Rural Mobility Fund to pay for Via’s software and App. The scheme covers an area from Ashbourne in the south to Buxton in the north and over to Leek in the west.

Photo courtesy Ashbourne Community Transport

May 2022: Borders Buses began operating Pingo – a two vehicle scheme (and a third when needed) with 16 seat Mercedes Sprinter minibuses which can also carry bicycles in rural Berwickshire.

May 2022: Stagecoach Midlands began operating IndieGo PLUS on behalf of Warwickshire County Council with three Mercedes Sprinter minibuses and a fourth spare in an area west of Warwick with £1.02 million funding from the DfT Rural Mobility Fund. This compliments two longstanding more traditional Dial-A-Ride schemes elsewhere in the county in Atherstone, Coleshill and Rugby branded as ‘IndieGo’.

July 2022: National Express Transport Solutions began operating FoxConnect serving villages in the south west of Leicestershire with £1.3 million funding from the DfT Rural Mobility Fund.

August 2022: Following the demise of Arriva Click after three years operation in New Lubbesthorpe, Leicestershire Vectare began operating Novus Flex linking New Lubbersthorpe with Narborough as well as a fixed timetable Novus Direct route between New Lubbesthorpe and Leicester. Novus is part funded by the developer on a reducing subsidy over three years from August 2022 and part a commercial venture by Vectare.

August 2022: Nottinghamshire County Council introduced a four bus scheme branded as Nottsbus On Demand with £1.5 million funding from the DfT’s Rural Mobility Fund at the end of August in the rural area between Gainsborough and Retford and Newark. The area is split into two zones with two County Council owned minibuses operating the North Ollerton Zone and two six year old minibuses operated by Stagecoach in the South Ollerton Zone as well as on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings in Mansfield. (A fourth scheme based on West Rushcliffe was introduced in May 2023 – see below).

September 2022: PickMeUp is back but this time in High Wycombe as the Buckinghamshire Council funded scheme with a DfT Rural Mobility Fund grant of £736,000 begins a three year trial. Up to seven minibuses formerly used in the abandoned Oxford scheme of the same name were initially operated by Go-Ahead owned Carousel Buses but in June 2023 the operating area was extended and a fleet of eight new Mercedes Sprinter minibuses introduced.

October 2022: Gloucestershire County Council used £1.35 million from the DfT Rural Mobility Fund for two schemes in the county each for two years branded as The Robin. The North Cotswolds scheme is operated by Pulham Coaches and the South Forest of Dean by Lydney Community Transport each with two minibuses (one operational and one spare),

February 2023: Stagecoach began operating a DRT service with Section 106 funding until 2026 from a large residential development by Barratt Homes and Persimmon Homes in the village of Aylesham north of Dover in Kent. The area covered includes other nearby villages left without a bus service when Kent County Council withdrew funding for the subsidised shopping journeys which previously ran. The operation is branded as Stagecoach Connect.

April 2023: West of England Combined Authority withdrew up to 40 tendered bus routes in the South Gloucestershire, Bath and North East Somerset and Bristol City Council areas and instead contracted E-Zec (through VIA and WeMove) to operate up to 50 minibuses branded as WESTlink across a wide area subdivided into three main zones North Zone, South Zone and a Future Travel Zone with two smaller zones bordering the north and south which are available for travel to either. £20 million of funding for a fixed two year period to March 2025 is praying for the WESTlink.

April 2023

As noted under the entry for May 2021 the DRT in East Suffolk branded as Katch ended in December 2022 but in April 2023 was resurrected for another 12 month trial this time being overseen by East Suffolk Council and funded by East Suffolk Community Partnership being operated by Coastal Accessibility Transport Services (CATS) – a not for profit community led organisation that has been running car sharing and Dial-A-Ride community type operations since 1997.

May 2023

East Sussex launched its ten zone FlexiBus DDRT scheme across the county with one bus in each zone with the objective of providing a service to areas without existing public transport services. The software is provided by The Routing Company and the venture is being funded out of East Sussex’s £41 million Bus Service Improvement Plan funding.

May 2023

Nottinghamshire County Council introduced a fourth Nottsbus on Demand branded scheme in May 2023 operated by Kinchbus based on West Rushcliffe.

Fflecsi in Wales

Transport for Wales have been introducing a number of Fflecsi branded DRT schemes throughout Wales from mid 2020 including in Blaenau Gwent, Cardiff, Conwy Valley, Denbigh, Holywell, Glyn Peninsula, Newport, Pembrokeshire, Prestatyn and Rhondda. Details are available on a dedicated website here: https://www.fflecsi.wales

The Cardiff Fflecsi replaced a fixed timetable on route G1 in north Cardiff in June 2020 but reverted to a fixed timetable while the Newport scheme was withdrawn and reverted to fixed timetable buses in September 2022 and the Blaenau Gwent scheme is ending in June 2023.

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