The technology at our fingertips is changing how we live our lives and our expectations. A growing number of bus operators are now responding

 

ArrivaClick offers a new way to get to Kent Science Park

 

Those attending last month’s UK Bus Summit in London were asked whether they believe that the bus industry is facing structural decline. Of those who responded, two-thirds agreed.

Do conventional buses, operating on fixed routes to fixed timetables, still meet our requirements in a changing world?  The smartphone has already killed the pub quiz, could the bus be its next victim?

Of course, your smartphone can’t take you to the shops, but it can take the shops to you. Purchases can be made quickly and easily with no queues, no waiting, no hassle. But if you still want to go to the shops you can now get there by using your smartphone to order an Uber or similar app-based taxi service. All of this steadily erodes the bus, siphoning off passengers and taking away essential revenue.

There are two responses. The first is to bring conventional buses to the party by offering information and payment on smartphones and other channels, because if you have become accustomed to the convenience of ‘one click’ ordering on Amazon you won’t take kindly to a retailer that requires you to fumble around for the exact change. This is what Stagecoach has sought to do with its new ‘TravelHero’ app, which combines information and ticketing for buses and taxis in East Kent in a convenient one-stop-shop.

The second response is to reinvent bus services, building them around the mobile technology that now dominates our lives. Arriva is the latest company to try this approach, and Kent has again been selected as the testbed. Earlier this month, the Deutsche Bahn-owned group began a trial of an app-based, demand responsive minibus service in Sittingbourne.

Initially, this new service, ArrivaClick (arrivaclick.co.uk), offers travel within a zone between Sittingbourne’s railway station and the nearby Kent Science Park, 2.5 miles away, but the ambition is to expand this initial catchment area in the coming weeks.

The ArrivaClick model is part Uber, part bus. It’s very similar to Slide Bristol, the experimental app-based commuter service launched by RATP Dev last July (see panel). Once users have downloaded the ArrivaClick app to their iPhone or Android device they can book their ride. They select their preferred pick-up and drop-off, and the app does the rest. As a “corner-to-corner service”, ArrivaClick offers travellers a pick-up point at a nearby corner and a drop-off “within a couple of streets” of their requested destination. This is to help ensure that trip times are as efficient as possible, even with multiple pick-ups.

The technology that underpins the service has been provided through a partnership with Via, a New York based company which currently operates real time ride-sharing services in the Manhattan borough of New York, areas of Chicago, Washington DC and in areas of Orange County, California. Via was founded in 2012 by Israeli entrepreneurs Daniel Ramot and Oren Shoval, and is based on their experience with shared taxis in Israel. Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich is among the investors who have together put funding of over $107m into the venture.

ArrivaClick’s fares are variable, although a launch promotion in early March offered all journeys for £1. A single journey within the initial zone typically costs £3.50, plus a £1.50 surcharge to cover credit/debit card processing costs. However, users can avoid this surcharge by registering for ‘credit bundles’ of £10, £20 or £50, and they can set up an automatic £20 top-up when their balance gets down to £10 so that they are never without credit. They can also bypass the surcharge by purchasing a seven-day pass for £30 or a 30-day pass for £110.

Users can also earn extra credit by referring a friend, neighbour or colleague via email, Facebook, Twitter or SMS. The referrer and the referee each receive £7.50.

ArrivaClick is operated by a fleet of five high specification Mercedes Sprinter minibuses, each featuring 12 leather seats, tables, charging points and free Wi-Fi. It’s the same model of minibus that Stagecoach is
using on its high frequency ‘Little & Often’ service across the North Downs in Ashford, although on that service they have a 17-seat configuration.

We need to find better ways to match supply with demand

Arriva’s intention is for ArrivaClick to appeal to people who would not normally consider travelling by bus by offering them a new service that is frequent, reliable and personalised, with the feel of an executive shuttle.

The project has been overseen by Alistair Hands, who has been commercial director UK bus for Arriva Group since December 2015. He previously worked for travel group Thomas Cook, most recently as director of yield and pricing.

Hands told Passenger Transport that demand is shifting and that bus operators like Arriva need to respond to that. “We need to find better ways to match supply with demand,” he said.

ArrivaClick seeks to achieve this by bringing a different model to the market. It’s a model that Hands believes could be applied in a variety of different ways, complementing rather than threatening existing services. For example, he wonders whether this demand responsive model could be used to satisfy social transport requirements.

“We see lots of other people involved and it’s not clear who will win out. So our trial of partnering on tech, and leveraging both our operational capability and stakeholder relationships, positions us well,” says Hands. “We want to shape the market, not just respond to it.”

Time will tell whether ArrivaClick and other reinventions of the bus can help public transport to remain relevant and turn the smartphone threat into an opportunity.

 

NEW THINKING

Slide Bristol
Launched in July last year, RATP Dev’s Slide Bristol is an app-based shared ride service targeted at commuters. It is operated by a fleet of 16 people carriers. In an article in Passenger Transport earlier this month, RATP Dev said: “Bristol is just the start, we believe there is a market for Slide throughout the UK.”

vamooz
Due for launch later this year, Transdev Blazefield’s new VAMOOZ app will see it launch trips to destinations that are currently unserved by its conventional bus network. VAMOOZ app users will browse the range of destinations on offer or, alternatively, make a suggestion for a trip of their own choosing. They will then commit to travel on that trip at the price offered by the app but this price will reduce as more users sign up.

sn-ap
The brainchild of former Chiltern Railways commercial director Thomas Ableman, Sn-ap is an on-demand digital offering that runs coaches in response to customer demand.

Little & Often
Perhaps not so much “new thinking” as the rediscovery of an old idea – the minibus. Stagecoach last month began a trial of a high frequency transport service for Ashford, Kent. Operated by a fleet of 30 Mercedes Sprinter minibuses, ‘Little & Often’ is a conventional bus service operated on a turn-up-and-go frequency.

 

 

This article appears in the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

DON’T MISS OUT – GET YOUR COPY! – click here to subscribe!