Plans for widespread “On-Demand” bus services

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‘Ambitious’ plans to improve bus services are to be considered by East Sussex County Council next week.

On Monday (25th October), Cllr Claire Dowling, East Sussex County Council’s Lead Member for Transport and Environment, will decide whether to sign-off on the authority’s Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP), before it is submitted to Government at the end of this month.

Drawn up in response to the National Bus Strategy – Bus Back Better, the plan sets out how the Council aims to significantly increase bus use around the county by improving the overall network, making it more reliable, more affordable and more accessible.

The Council’s mission as a local transport authority is to ensure that East Sussex residents and visitors enjoy the highest possible quality bus services that provide a frequent and comprehensive choice, reduce congestion, and make a positive contribution to better air quality and decarbonisation.

This mission is supported by our authority’s bus operators who will play a key role in its delivery.

The East Sussex BSIP is a highly ambitious plan that seeks to stimulate and drive significant improvements to bus services across the local authority area and the wider region.

Council’s Report

While its overall aims may be straightforward, the plan itself is a wide-ranging and complex document.

On-Demand Buses

Perhaps the biggest change proposed within is the replacement of many traditional bus routes with Digital Demand Responsive Transport (DDRT) schemes.

In simple terms, these DDRT schemes would see fixed bus routes replaced with routes which change day-to-day based on passengers pre-booking journeys via a website or app (a modern digital version of “dial-a-ride” service).

In total, the plan lays out proposals for 13 such schemes, which would cover the whole of the county apart from Eastbourne and Hastings (although both towns would be expected to have DDRT schemes operating within parts of them).

Many of the non-DDRT routes which remain could also see some significant changes, with the services to run more often and into the evenings in many cases.

These amended services would be expected to run at least hourly, which the Council intends to be its new minimum standard. This minimum standard would include evening services as well.

Crowborough

In Crowborough, all but the 28/29 “Regency” service (which is run on a commercial basis) would become part of the DDRT scheme. The report states the “On Demand” service would be connected with the Brighton to Tunbridge Wells service:

New Crowborough area DDRT, in place of the current Monday to Saturday daytime only service 228/229 and also North Wealden Community Transport services 224, 226, 227. Some fixed service provision may remain where there are greater passenger flows on particular journeys. DDRT will provide the benefit of new peak, daytime, and evening provision on 7 days a week. It will be integrated with Brighton & Hove Buses improved service 29 linking Tunbridge Wells, Uckfield, Lewes, and Brighton. Passengers to/from Tunbridge Wells will interchange in Crowborough town centre with through ticketing available. The DDRT will offer connections with rails services at Crowborough Station. Alternative provision will be available for students who currently use the 228/229 locally within Kent.

East Sussex Bus Service Improvement Plan

The plan lays out proposals for focused investment along five ‘key transport corridors’: Brighton to Tunbridge Wells, via Uckfield and Crowborough; Brighton to Peacehaven; Hailsham to Eastbourne, via Polegate; Hellingly to Eastbourne, via Stone Cross and Langney; and Eastbourne to Hastings, via Bexhill.

New Concessionary Travel Scheme

The plan proposes more integrated and seamless ticketing and concessionary schemes across East Sussex, Brighton & Hove and West Sussex.

A discount scheme for under-30s, similar to the older persons’ bus pass, is proposed. This could see younger people pay an annual fee (between £250 to £350 depending on their age) for unlimited bus travel within the county.

The plan also proposes measures to make buses more punctual. As part of this, the plan would see the Council invest in ‘bus priority’ works across the county, intended to make buses run more efficiently. These could include new bus lanes or traffic light priority works (where green lights favour buses) at key junctions.

Mobility Hub

Bus Interchanges

On top of this, the plan lays out proposals for the Council to create 11 ‘mobility hubs’ in towns across the county, to make it easier to interchange between buses and other forms of transport.

These hubs would be in: Bexhill; Crowborough; Hailsham; Heathfield; Lewes; Newhaven; North Hailsham; Polegate; Rye; Seaford; and Uckfield.

As part of this, the Council’s current plans to improve Uckfield Bus Station could be expanded.

A mobility hub is proposed at The Broadway in Crowborough and better stopping and waiting facilities at Crowborough Station.

The Council would also invest in bus stops and shelters, to make them more attractive and provide clearer information to passengers.

The overall BSIP comes in response to the Government’s Bus Back Better strategy, which requires Councils to create such documents to secure funding.

If approved and adopted, the strategy would begin in 2022/23. For its first year, the Council’s strategy would focus on bringing bus usage back up to pre-pandemic levels and assessing how demand may have changed as a result.

In the long term, the aim would be to increase passenger numbers and to significantly increase the bus network’s performance against a range of criteria.

The Bus Service Improvement Plan will be consider by the Lead Member for Transport and Environment at a meeting on Monday 25th October 2021. Download the Executive Summary and Full Plan (272 pages long).

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