On the wrong route

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John Geddes suggests that DRT is not the solution to financial, social or economic pressures when it comes to replacing rural fixed bus services

There’s not much debate about the fundamental problem. The number of people in rural areas needing to use a bus has been falling for years, and Covid-19 has added an extra lurch. Those remaining users definitely need help getting around, but in many areas they are simply too thinly spread to make a timetabled service viable, even with substantial subsidy.

Enter ‘demand responsive transport’, or DRT. If we recoil from the sight of timetabled buses running around without passengers, DRT has the answer: run the bus where people want to go, when they want to go. Instinctively it seems such an attractive solution. And it has been embraced with great enthusiasm by central and local government. But is DRT really a viable solution for rural areas?

Timetabled services have some important benefits. They converge the demand: I may want to go to town at 10.00 and you may want to go at 12.00, but if there is a single timetabled bus at 11.00, we will probably both be on it: we will choose to compromise rather than spend more for a taxi (or not travel at all). And timetables are predictable. When the hospital offers me an appointment with a consultant in six weeks’ time, I can check the timetable and be pretty confident about where I can be at roughly what time.


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