Hertfordshire County Council’s digital Demand Responsive Transport (D-DRT) Scheme has been addressing transport challenges faced by groups in rural areas for the last two years. Demand Responsive/Community Transport Team Leader Alice Missler describes how the scheme works and the benefits for the community.
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In March 2021, Hertfordshire County Council was awarded £1.48m from the Department for Transport as part of the Rural Mobility Fund. The area identified for funding was the rural areas of East and North Hertfordshire, where there was a gap in the fixed line transport network.
The HertsLynx service was launched in September 2021, based around a two-phase operating zone. The ‘free-floating’ operating zone has hundreds of virtual bus stops, with the vehicles travelling between any of these stops within the zone. A passenger can book a journey between any of these stops.
Then we have key hub towns such as Royston, Hitchin, Bishop Stortford and Stevenage on the border of the free-floating zone. Passengers can travel to or from any of these towns, but they can't travel within the same town, because there’s already sufficient fixed-line public transport.
Passengers book by using the HertsLynx app, our booking website, or they can, call our designated booking line – an important option for residents who don’t use digital technology. About 5% of bookings are made through the call centre, 15% via the booking website and 80% on the app. We know that 10% of our passengers are concessionary pass holders and 25% are between the ages of 11 and 25.
The main purpose of the service is to improve access for residents to healthcare, education and employment, along with contributing to the council’s desire to create a cleaner environment and sustainable, responsible growth. We want to help drive the county’s strong economy and infrastructure, while meeting the needs of our communities.
The algorithm at the heart of HertsLynx
A passenger chooses where they would like to be picked up and dropped off. The system’s algorithm tells where their closest virtual bus stop is (with a walking route) and they can track a vehicle for 30 minutes before they’re due to be picked up, monitoring its progress in real time.
The algorithm groups passengers together who are heading in a similar direction at a similar time. There’s a 20-minute buffer on every journey time, which allows for other passengers to book at a similar time if they're heading in a similar direction – but only if the booking won't adversely affect an existing passenger.
Signs of success
We measure success by impacts on residents. We think especially about reducing social isolation and improving access points as factors of success, but we also exceeded trip estimates in the first year and are set to do the same this year.
We conduct six-monthly surveys for residents in the operating zone and we can see patterns of shifting from people typically relying on a private car, taxis or family and friends, but who are now using HertsLynx instead.
Finally, one of the real benefits of demand-responsive transport is that the service isn't static: it can and does remain aligned with the needs of residents. We introduced our evening service in April, on Fridays and Saturdays, operating until 11.30pm, and we’re about to expand our operating zone to Hartford and Ware, with the addition of two new vehicles (making a fleet of seven vehicles) from late autumn.
To find out more about how CIHT is working with the Bus Centre of Excellence to improve the sector, join the CIHT Masterclass see here
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