On the crest of the initial COVID-19 wave in the United Kingdom, the town Sevenoaks, in Kent opted to do away with seven fixed-route bus lines and trail a on demand direct network. Instead of having busses fallow a fixed route and schedule, the residents of Sevenoaks have been asked to download a app for their telephone or to book a trip via the hotline provided by Go Coach.
Residents still have to go to a bus station to be picked up. Once they have placed their ride order the software by Via, one of the partners of ViaVan (the other being Mercedes Benz Vans), calculates which bus will be the most efficient to pick up the new passenger and directs the driver on the adjusted route. Then the app informs the resident where the bus is at the moment, when it will arrive, the bus license plate and driver name.
This is not the first such network in the UK, or in the world for that matter. There are decades old established services that came about whiles relying on two-way radio dispatch, particular in now post Soviet contries. ViaVan has also partnered with several local companies in the United Kingdom, read more in this Smart Transport article.
For someone who hasn’t driven, used or lived with this type of transportation network, it might be hard to understand how this would work or feel, and they might dismiss it as a new fad that could and should never replace their beloved fixed route services. For those sceptics I suggest watching Geoff Marshall how took the time to make a video of the network in Sevenoaks.
The sceptic will still raise the objection this type of service has flaws, it will not be able to move as many passengers as a fixed route network. True, and in Geoff’s video at minute mark [11:20] he discusses these issues / circumstances with the general manager of Go Coach. Go Coach has reintroduced fixed routes in August 2020 again, but intends to keep the on demand flexible service as well. And this is perfectly understandable, flexible routes are one tool in the box, one option that can be used to solve a unique transportation requirement of a village, town or city. It might serve as a minor additional service to extend reach of a network, like in Vienna, or it might form the second highest passenger volume mode of transport, like in Kiev. The public transportation network of Sevenoaks might well develope into a combination of fixed route and flexible route services, a Linear Network with Flexible Feeders.