Milton Keynes' new dial a bus service slammed as 'grim' by some passengers but 'great' by others

Replacing buses with vans has led to confusion, it's claimed

Tuesday, 25th May 2021, 12:36 pm

The new 'user friendly' MK Connect bus service has prompted more complaints than compliments since it was launched last month.

Milton Keynes Council scrapped many of its subsidised bus routes on April 1, replacing them with a bespoke "demand responsive transport system" that people can book via their phones or online.

The fleet of seven-seater electric vans offers a more efficient, cleaner and greener way to get around the city, says the council.

An MK Connect vehicle. Photo: busandtrainuser.com

MK Connect, operated by Via shared ride service, was flagged to work like a minibus that comes when people want, where they want. It has replaced around 15 per cent of the city's total bus services.

A Via spokesman said: "When you are ready to go, book a journey straight from your phone, tablet, computer, or by calling our contact centre. You’ll be picked up in minutes and dropped off steps from your destination. Once you enter your pick up and drop off addresses, we’ll provide you with a ‘virtual bus stop’ where you will meet your driver — usually a nearby corner 150-250 metres away. This helps minimise detours and keeps things moving quickly."

But the change from familiar buses has caused problems for some passengers, particularly older people who are not confident with smartphones or computers.

One user said: "I feel this radical change is not being highlighted enough leaving many residents struggling to get about their normal business. I can only go from my experiences which have been pretty grim. "

She had always used the Bletchley to Wolverton number 7 bus services that passed through Emerson Valley, Furzton, Shenley Lodge and Shenley Church End.

And she says the new service has proved difficult to use, more expensive and more frustrating.

"Download the app you say? Many people do not have a smart phone or understand apps! You have to go on line to get the phone number again lots of people don’t have internet."

The passenger said disabled users were struggling with the high steps on the vehicles. "The vans are not bus user friendly and it’s hard to open the doors and climb in and out."

However, Via say passengers with a wheelchair or disability will always be matched with a fully accessible vehicle, and the service is accessible to passengers with vision and hearing impairments, as well as those with additional needs.

Other former bus users say the new demand responsive transport (DRT) service is too expensive, with charges set at £3.50 during peak hours and £2.50 at all other times. Some claim their concessionary passes are not being accepted.

Some users, however, have hailed the new scheme a success and big improvement on the old traditional buses.

"It's not restricted to bus routes and drops me close to wherever I want to go," said one. "It's another feather in the cap for Milton Keynes."

MK Council says the change is more economical as previously they were pouring money into subsisided bus routes that were being underused by the public.

A large proportion of passengers use the non-subsidised commercial services, and these are continuing to run as normal,

Cllr Jennifer Wilson-Marklew, Cabinet member for climate and sustainability at the time the change was made, said: “The new MK Connect service will be a more efficient and greener way for people to get around the city."

She added: "As a non-driver and frequent bus user myself, I know that the service in Milton Keynes doesn't work for the majority of people. MK Connect, a partnership with Via, could change that for thousands of people currently let down by routes that don't run where or when they need them.”

MK Connect is available on evenings and weekends across MK, operating from 6am to 11pm on Monday to Saturday and 9am to 6pm on Sunday

Concessionary passes under the ENCTS scheme are still be valid for free travel after 9.30am on weekdays and all day at weekends.

For more details of the DRT service, see MK Council's website here.

An expert from busandtrainuser.com has tested out the service. You can read their review here.