Those of you who have followed the blog from the outset will know that if I am to escape the idyllic setting of my village I am wholly reliant on Suffolk Links (SL), who provide Demand Responsive Transport (DRT) on behalf of Suffolk County Council. For those of you who don't know how it works it is a cross between a bus and a minicab. You ring in advance, book the bus to take you within a defined area, and it will turn up and take you there, for the same price as a bus fare, but also accepts Concessionary Passes. This is good, however there are a few down sides too. Firstly other people have the cheek to use the service, which means that the time you want cannot be guaranteed, and occasionally there won't be time to get you exactly where you want to go, so a plan B, C or even K is needed. Lastly you can only have two live bookings at any one time, which is frustrating if you need to get out more than twice a week. But I couldn't live without it and the positives far outweigh the negatives.
The service runs Mon - Sat 7am - 7pm so evenng and Sunday travel is a no-no, making bus rallies difficult unless you know someone called Tim! It is designed to link areas without a reguar bus service to the bus network, although it is increasingly used to take old ladies to the supermaket or the hairdressers. At this point I need to also mention Dial-a-Ride (DR), which is the other form of demand transport, which is the one for customers with more serious personal needs, who cannot walk to and from bus stops, and should be the one to take old ladies to the hairdressers. More on that later.
On Monday I had the pleasure of being chauffeured around by the Transport Manager of my local SL operator, who had been forced onto the road due to staff sickness. This gave me the perfect opportunity to quiz him about the operational side, snd plans for the future. It wasn't a very optimistic prognosis. Over the next 5 years funding for DRT is going to be cut by 50%. This is not good news. As yet it is unknown how this will impact on services, but it has been suggested that the service will have to operate strictly as per description, and will operate bus stop to bus stop, not door to door as it does now. That's actually fine by me as I mainly use it to connect to the bus network, what is left of it that is, and here is the problem as I see it. You cannot connect to a bus network if there is no bus network left to connect to. With increasing cuts to rural services demand for DRT is increasing itself and let me give you today's little adventure as an example.
I was asked at short notice to play the organ at a funeral near Wickham Market. 6 months ago I could have caught the 196 to Saxmndham, the 64 to Wickham, played for the funeral and made the journey in reverse without a problem. But. In the last 6 months we no longer have a 196 on a Wednesday, and now the 64 is 2 hourly and doesn't connect with anything the journey by service bus is now impossible. So a 15 min call to the amazing girls at Suffolk Links Monday morning ensued and this is how my journey had to be made. Due to over demand on a Wednesday (due to the 196 going a different route) I could only be taken to Framlingham, where I had to wait 35 mins for the PH Travel operated 62 to Wickham Market. Pleased to see 15 passengers on that one. I walked from Wickham to the village I was playing at. Returning the vicar gave me a lift back to Wickham where I caught one of the few remaining 64's to Saxmundham (66984 FYI) where I had another 45 min wait for SL to get me home. Luckily the sun was out so no probs, but if I hadn't known the bus network and times like the back of my hand I couldn't have made the journey. Sometimes being an anorak has its uses.
That is as the service is now, so Lord only knows how tough it's going to be when the cuts start biting. One idea the Transport Manager and I discussed was this. The reason SL take old ladies to the hairdressers and not DR is blatantly obvious. DR, despite being operated by the same people does NOT accept Concessionary Passes, and Suffolk Links does. Thus SL gets over booked and DR buses are twiddling their thumbs. No one seems to know why this is, although it could have something to do with the fact Suffolk Links drivers (saints) are paid whereas DR drivers are volunteers. But surely if DR accepted passes then more passengers could be catered for on SL. If SL is only going to go bus stop to bus stop in the future then this must be considered. Of course if the rural bus network suddenly experiences a revival over the next few years, which is my aim then it will ease the pressure on SL and it will be able to serve the people who need it most, rather than catering for people who used to have a regular bus service but don't now.
I have no idea how the system is in Norfolk and Essex, so if anyone could let me know so a comparison of systems can be made I'll be grateful.
That links me nicely (groan) onto a couple of pleas I received yesterday asking for more coverage of Essex. Guys, nothing would please me more than to cover more of Essex, but it is a HUGE county with an equally HUGE bus network, and it's hard enough keeping up wth Norfolk and Suffolk. A few months ago I appealed for an Essex correspondent to keep me abreast of the Essex scene. I got no replies so I repeat my plea. If anyone from Essex would like to help me publicise the Essex scene and campaign for better rural services there then please get in touch and let me know - I'll be delighted to hear from you!
Now the bonus pics. Firstly today saw the first sightings of First Lowestoft heritage bus 30888 back in service sporting the really eye catching Lowestoft Transport .livery. My thanks go to Bus Badger and Tim Miller for sending in the pics.
|30888 at Norwich Bus Station pic (c) Bus Badger
|Gleaming in the sun at Beccles pic (c) Tim Miller
|Anglian 353 fresh out the paintshop today. pic (c) Tie Miller
Looking forward to a flood of Essex emails!