DRT: The right route?

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In the second part of his feature on demand responsive transport, Jonathan Welch continues his conversation with Roger French about its rising popularity

Despite Oxford being generally bus-friendly, the PickMeUp DRT scheme failed to take off. RICHARD SHARMAN

Picking up where we left off our conversation in issue 1528, and expanding on his points about attracting users on to buses by making the service visible, easy to use and understandable, I asked Roger whether the argument that proponents use for trams, trolleybuses and guided busways – the visibility of the infrastructure – isn’t the polar opposite of the one promoted by flexible ‘go-anywhere’ DRT systems. “One of the most successful things we did during my time as Managing Director at Brighton & Hove when we brought in real time information in the early 2000s was we brought in large electronic signs and installed them at stops all around the city thanks to funding from the city council,” Roger explained. “People became aware how frequent buses were. If they were walking past, they’d see the countdown. It can be attractive to get people onto buses.

“It’s ironic that DRT always makes a virtue of saying things like ‘there will be a thousand virtual bus stops.’ But there’s no visible sign to attract anyone. A stop is a great advert for a service, but you lose that with DRT.”

I wondered whether this fixation on stops and visibility is a generational thing and we do just need to persevere. We both agreed that we prefer the ‘old fashioned’ way of printed maps and publicity, but that in the future, mobility will look very different. “Younger people get their information in a different way but we’re not there yet. And that’s the point. There is a market for these types of services, but the market for them is not currently of that generation,” Roger commented, adding that although he prefers paper timetables, he can see the advantage in the technology, and that he likes the reassurance of being able to see that the bus is coming on an app.

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