Inverurie’s Ready2Go demand responsive transport (DRT) pilot initiative launched in August 2021 by Aberdeenshire Council is to be withdrawn from April. Operated by Watermill Coaches on the council’s behalf, the Monday to Saturday service involves five minibuses covering Inverurie and the surrounding area.
The service uses a mix of physical and virtual bus stops and, on average, the council said around 1,100 passenger trips are being made each week. In response to a recent bus service survey in nearby Insch, 60% of respondents who use Ready2Go said they would recommend the service to a friend, the council reports.
Aberdeenshire Council said that the DRT scheme appeared to be performing well against policy objectives such as encouraging modal shift away from the car and supporting health and well-being targets. Users were also said to like the Watermill Coaches vehicles and drivers. However, it said a number of issues had 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 Insch bus service survey indicated 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, the council said. It will now seek tenders from operators for replacement timetabled journeys covering the previously withdrawn fixed routes from Insch and Rothienorman to Inverurie.
Despite the withdrawal, the council said that given the positive aspects of its delivery of the pilot, the project will continue building on the lessons learnt so far and a Rural Transport Project Officer is being recruited, part-funded by Nestrans, to evaluate the service and develop a strategy for addressing transport connectivity issues in North East Scotland. The continuation of the pilot will also enable Aberdeenshire Council to explore, along with its partners, additional funding streams for DRT services which currently have a high profile in both national and regional transport strategies.
Ewan Wallace, Head of Environment and Sustainability at Aberdeenshire Council, explained that while it had been a difficult decision to withdraw the service, the wider project would continue to assess the future suitability of DRT options, taking into account the evolving smart technology used to manage such services. He said: “There have been many advantages demonstrated by the Ready2Go service in that it has enabled residents to travel directly between places previously not served or requiring connecting transport. Within Inverurie, for example, there are Ready2Go virtual bus stops at locations not served by other bus services.
“We know that many customers who have had good experiences of Ready2Go will be disappointed by its withdrawal, however the high cost of running such an extensive service, covering long operating hours and a large geographical area, coupled with ongoing difficulties in accommodating passenger demand have been key factors in our decision.”
Passengers can book using an app or by telephone during office hours. The council said that data from its analysis suggested that the Ready2Go service had been successful in helping to reverse ongoing bus patronage decline. Responses from a questionnaire for children and young people and a further planned survey of Ready2Go customers of all ages will be used to inform the future development of a DRT strategy for the north-east of Scotland, the council said.