£460,000 could change the way many in East Cambridgeshire get from A to B in massive public transport shake-up

Dial-a-Ride AGM, Witchford. Picture: Steve Williams.

Dial-a-Ride AGM, Witchford. Picture: Steve Williams. - Credit: Archant

East Cambs is to be the £460,000 pilot for a scheme to allow a greater mix of people to access community and schools transport that currently costs the county council £3million a year.

Dial-a-Ride AGM, Witchford. Jo Philpott who runs dial-a-ride and can possibly expect to expand with

Dial-a-Ride AGM, Witchford. Jo Philpott who runs dial-a-ride and can possibly expect to expand with the new announcement - Credit: Archant

The county council says that represents 720,000 trips a year – and they are convinced it can be managed better.

The council will use the Government grant to see if it can find other users for transport that serves special schools, mainstream schools, day centres, healthcare facilities, and a mixed geography of rural areas and market towns.

Fixed bus routes, a flexible minibus service; a social car scheme; and a booking and information centre will replace existing services, including school buses, community transport (dial-a-ride), subsidised local bus routes, and adult social care transport.

Three networks of fixed bus routes are envisaged, centred on Ely College, Soham Village College, and Witchford Village College; each network would also include services for their partner primary schools, where required.

The Zipper Bus,

The Zipper Bus, - Credit: Archant

The majority of routes would be open to school pupils only, and routes / schedules would be set to allow the most efficient use of vehicles.

The northern half of East Cambridgeshire District will be used for the pilot, centred on Ely and including Littleport and Soham and many villages.

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The principle behind Total Transport is simple – that, on the ground, it doesn’t make sense for different vehicles to collect neighbouring residents who are making similar journeys but for different purposes (for example, healthcare, education, or social care).

Currently, the council issues separate contracts for different transport services, and pays for each on a standalone basis.

The Zipper Bus,

The Zipper Bus, - Credit: Archant

For example a minibus may be booked with one company to undertake a school journey at full price, with a second company being contracted by the social care team to do a nearby journey, also at full price.

The report says: “Bringing both of these requirements into one place would allow a single contract to be issued at a lower combined cost than the two separate prices.

“The council says this principle, and variations of it, applies to many services across the pilot area, and indeed the county.”

The biggest single spending category is home-to-school transport, followed by special educational needs (SEN) home-to-school transport, which together accounted for over 70 per cent of spend.

The Zipper Bus, at Witcham, driver Robert Skinner, with Councillor Bill Hunt,

The Zipper Bus, at Witcham, driver Robert Skinner, with Councillor Bill Hunt, - Credit: Archant

Existing commercial bus services, specifically Stagecoach routes 9/X9 and 12, are not affected by this proposal. Similarly route 15/15A/15B (Ely circular) will not be impacted, as it is separately funded by East Cambridgeshire District Council under a specific developer agreement.

One side affects of the changes will be up to a fifth of those using the council’s home to school/college services may find their arrival or departure times altered.

The report notes there is “there is no requirement to provide separate vehicles for primary and secondary age pupils. It is therefore proposed to use shared vehicles across primary and secondary age ranges in the pilot area, when this offers the most efficient option”.

And it is likely people in the Little Downham/Pymoor, Prickwillow/Queen Adelaide and Wicken into Soham areas will be able to use buses normally reserved for school children.

Cllr Steve Count, leader of Cambs County Council. Picture: Steve Williams.

Cllr Steve Count, leader of Cambs County Council. Picture: Steve Williams. - Credit: Archant

The Ely Zipper service would continue in broadly its present format, but with local discussion to agree actions to improve its long-term viability, including the use of the vehicle to support a school journey.

The council says is the pilot is successful it could be rolled out across the rest of the county.

On the plus side the council says a service open to all local residents would assist with community cohesion, by raising awareness of different needs and interests.

On the minus side the changes required to times of transport to and from social care settings may be unsettling for service users; there may also be an impact on their carers.

And replacing local bus routes would require individuals to pre-book journeys, which may be considered an obstacle to travelling.

If concessionary bus passes are not accepted on the flexible minibus service (this would be a discretionary decision by the council) then pass holders who can currently travel for free would incur new costs.

Council leader Steve Count said: “Total Transport is such a simple but effective idea which could make a real difference to people’s lives and allow the council to save money while providing a better service.

“The new service will offer far more choice than is currently enjoyed by many users and the pre-booked journeys will mean no more wasted trips. The next few months will see lots of work and communication with the people and groups who will benefit most from Total Transport to make sure they understand how it works and how it will work for them.”

Next stage in the process is for officers to consult and hold drop in sessions in the pilot area of the north part of East Cambridgeshire covering Ely, Soham and Littleport ahead of the scheme launching in September 2016.

Those residents wanting to share their views can complete an online consultation via the council’s website, or can email total.transport@cambridgeshire.gov.uk to be sent the link.