Monday, 2 September 2013

No progress on Demand Response Transport

I have today criticised the City Council administration’s complete lack of momentum towards the provision of Demand Responsive Transport, to fill gaps in bus service provision across Dundee.

A year ago on this blog, I pointed out that, back in 2008, as the then Planning & Transport Convener of the City Council, I had discussed with the then Dundee Accessible Transport Action Group (DATAG) bringing in pilots of Demand Responsive Transport to improve public transport both in Dundee and across Tayside/Stirling for those with accessibility problems in terms of existing provision.    

As the then Chair of TACTRAN, the Regional Transport Partnership, I had moved forward a consultation exercise for its buses strategy and, within this, specifically, community transport and demand responsive transport.    Two pilot projects were agreed – an urban one for Dundee and a rural one for Perthshire/Stirlingshire.    However, at that time, I was disappointed at the slow lack of progress since the SNP administration took over control of Dundee City Council in 2009 and took the chairmanship of TACTRAN.

As I pointed out then, Demand Responsive Transport – or ‘Dial a Bus’ – would help bring some form of bus service to those communities across the city that have no or poor services at the moment.   With flexible routing and scheduling of small or medium-sized  vehicles operating with pick-up and drop-off locations according to passengers needs, it would be a boon particularly for elderly people and those with mobility difficulties.

After questioning by me, TACTRAN advised me in July 2011 that :

“Dundee City Council is leading on implementation of the DRT scheme, in partnership with TACTRAN.   Revised options are being considered for the delivery of DRT, with the aim of introducing a pilot scheme during 2011/12.    It is anticipated that the scheme will commence in December 2011 at the earliest.    £30,000 is allocated within TACTRAN revenue budget and £125,000 within the joint TACTRAN/DCC Capital budget in 2011/12 to support the introduction of DRT in Dundee.”

In August 2012, the City Council’s Head of Transportation advised me:

“The options of community and social enterprise delivered DRT have presented extraordinary challenges in terms of capacity and legal/procurement matters.    We have been looking at further operational models and are looking to bring forward solutions early in 2013.”

After further questioning by me last week, the Head of Transportation updated me further stating:

“As you know the issues involved in Demand Responsive Transport (DRT) in the city are wide ranging and complex.  Officers are continuing to develop the concept of DRT, and during the course of this work have taken on board robust stakeholder feedback indicating that the current Taxicard scheme is very popular. Therefore the current focus is on developing an enhanced new generation smartcard based Taxicard scheme. Plans are in hand to design and then procure such a system during the remainder of FY13/14 and this task will be undertaken over the coming months.

When a new taxicard scheme is fully operational the design of a DRT system that meets the needs of the main user groups, while still being deliverable within available resources, will become the main focus of activity.  

As I am sure you understand the task of meeting the diverse range of needs presented by stakeholders provides us with a considerable challenge.  Meanwhile work continues to find out if there is an appetite in the city for developing the concept of a social enterprise or community transport managed system to complement/augment the more traditional in house/contracted route.  I will also be engaging with NHS Tayside colleagues in relation to DRT and the need increase mobility options for people with restricted mobility.    

I am confident that taken together all of this activity continues to maintain progress towards the council's strategic aim of delivering a range of transport networks.”

It is very clear from this that there is a policy vacuum on Demand Responsible Transport from the council administration and a lack of political will and momentum to see it happen.   

Whilst the taxicard scheme is helpful for those who qualify, it provides only the most limited sort of service.   People with mobility difficulties and the elderly who qualify for taxicard are given the equivalent of only two single journeys per week which is hardly the sort of service that allows people to get out and about every day.

There are good bus services across much of Dundee, but there are numerous communities in the city that have limited or no service.   Demand Responsive Transport – Dial A Bus – provides a possible cost-effective solution to give these residents a bus option.    It will particularly benefit those with mobility difficulties and elderly residents, but the pilot proposal needs some real momentum behind it and it is very concerning that the council is making such poor progress.