Go2 service replaces seven conventional local bus services

The coronavirus pandemic has brutally devastated many bus networks around the country, but one small independent operator in Kent has turned to new demand responsive transport (DRT) technology in order to make sure key workers keep moving during the crisis.

The move comes just weeks after Transport for London pulled the plug on its two DRT pilots in Ealing and South London in response to the pandemic and Arriva axed most of its Arriva Click service in Liverpool.

Kent-based Go Coach operated seven bus routes around Sevenoaks, but these have been temporarily replaced by an on-demand service that launched this week.

Branded Go2, the service is bookable using a mobile app developed and powered by ViaVan, the joint venture between DRT technology specialist Via and Mercedes-Benz Vans. For those without access to a smartphone, it is also possible to make bookings by calling a special hotline.

The service operates between 6am and 6pm, Monday to Saturday and aims to pick passengers up within half an hour. Current bus fares continue to apply, and concessionary pass holders are accepted. The service is operated by a small fleet of Optare Solo minibuses that have been adapted to ensure passengers can observe social distancing rules.

Michael Payne, Kent’s cabinet member for highways and transport said he was grateful to Go Coach and the council’s public transport team for pressing ahead with the innovative solution to transport needs in the Sevenoaks area. He added it will allow Go Coach to offer the best possible service they can with the limited bus driver resource they currently have available.

He continued: “As the coronavirus pandemic continues with a country-wide shut down, bus passenger numbers in Kent have dropped dramatically. Kent public transport have worked hard with the operators to ensure services continue as best as they are able, whilst at the same time supporting the sustainability of their business operations.

“With this bookable service, which we have helped fund, residents will continue to be able to make crucial journeys to the shops, work or for medication, at no extra cost beyond their regular bus fares at this time.

“Those booking the service will be able to travel to anywhere within Sevenoaks, without the need to change bus, and additional links to Pembury, Orpington, Queen Mary’s and Princess Royal hospitals have been added to support those NHS workers who rely on public transport.”

Passengers can book travel on the Go2 network using a special app

Austin Blackburn, the owner of Go Coach, said he was proud to be doing something positive to help bus passengers.

“Whilst I appreciate it is not ideal, I hope it will help those that need to travel,” he said. “Developing Go2 would not have been possible in such a short time without the commitment of our staff and our partners at KCC and ViaVan, which has provided the technology to make this work.

“I’m also pleased to say that passengers will be able to exercise social distancing on this new service.”

Go Coach had planned to launch a DRT service in May using four small Ford Transit minibuses. That service had been planned to operate in partnership with Sevenoaks District Council, Age UK Sevenoaks and Tonbridge and Kent County Council.