New ride-booking service ‘set to be better than buses’ in Milton Keynes

A meeting called to scrutinise a new ride-booking service that is set to replace many subsidised bus routes in Milton Keynes turned out to be more of a councillors’ praise-fest for the new system.

Thursday, 26th November 2020, 12:54 pm
Updated Thursday, 26th November 2020, 12:59 pm

One councillor reckons demand responsive transport (DRT) harks back to the days when the city was run by a forward-thinking development corporation, while another said it could eventually challenge commercial buses by providing a much better service.

Former Labour borough mayor Cllr Martin Petchey (Stantonbury) said: “It’s really nice living in Milton Keynes and being once again, like we used to be, in the days of the development corporation, at the cutting edge of something new and pioneering.

“It was one of the great joys of living in Milton Keynes in development corporation days.”

DRT means people will be able to phone, use a website, or a phone app to book a ride which will turn up in 15 minutes (or 30 minutes in rural areas) to a point no more than 400m away and whisk them to within a street corner of their destination.

Single tickets will cost £3.50, £2.50 at off peak, and concessions will be available, the strategic placemaking scrutiny committee heard.

The council is working on other aspects of a contract that is going out to tender in time to replace some subsidised bus routes from next April.

It expects to cut the cost of public transport subsidy from £2.9 million to £1.4 million.

The new ride booking system is set to expand in MK next year

Councillors switched off the live YouTube feed of the meeting when they were discussing the financial details.

But in the public session one of the Tory councillors who had challenged the council’s original decision to proceed, welcomed DRT as a “very welcome shift in principle.”

Cllr John Bint (Broughton) said it was “blindingly obvious” that DRT could take more people to where they want to go, instead of “going where the buses want to go.”

“We’ve got in front of us a once in a generation opportunity,” said Cllr Bint who said it could persuade people not to drive their own cars.

The holy grail of what’s known as “modal shift” in council-speak, where drivers abandon their cars to use reliable public transport, is something that local authorities have been long searching for.

“This might do something hugely useful to get motorists out of their cars and I think that is very exciting,” said Cllr Bint.

Cllr Bint also said DRT could challenge the council’s plans to introduce a “mass rapid transport” system of guided bus routes.

A DRT service is already running on the service 28 route from Bletchley to Furzton, CMK, and Westcroft after Vale Travel decided not to extend its subsidised contract until March.

The committee heard that it has been well received and had received a rating of 4.9 out of five by users.

It’s also helped them to identify issues to shape the new contract.