East Sussex County Council (ESCC) approved a new transport initiative last week which is set to overhaul the provision of bus services across the county. The council’s Bus Services Improvement Plan, which has been submitted to the Department for Transport for vetting and funding assistance, includes proposals for what is called Digital Demand Responsive Transport (DDRT).

DDRT involves a shift from routes plied on set timetables to services that can be dialled up on line. The aim is to transport passengers more flexibly and economically to standard destinations, but also to link more efficiently with the conventional bus and rail network. 

ESCC plan to introduce 13 DDRT schemes covering the whole of the county apart from the town centres of Hastings and Eastbourne. These latter areas are regarded as already well served by conventional bus routes, though these services are proposed to be “enhanced”, primarily by increasing frequency.

The transport team at ESCC issued a brief statement describing the purpose of extensive application of DDRT as “to create a step change in mobility opportunities in our smaller towns and rural areas”. They will commence with “pilot schemes” followed by a more general roll-out. “We will use DDRT to address demand to areas such as ‘hard to access’ employment sites, transport husband interchange opportunities, as well as to provide links to education, work, shopping, medical, social and leisure services.”

Experience of DDRT schemes elsewhere, e.g. those operated by national provider Arriva under the sobriquet ArrivaQuick, is so far inconclusive. A minibus service set up in Liverpool in December 2018 was suspended in the Covid-19 lockdown and has not been revived. A similar scheme in Sittingbourne, Kent ended before the pandemic with a return to fixed-route services.

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