Aberdeenshire Council says a far greater understanding of how enhanced DDRT services operate has been developed during the first 11 months of the service.
Continuation of the initial experimental period will provide time for the council’s passenger transport unit to undertake further appraisal of the role of such novel services.
The Monday-Saturday Ready2Go Around Inverurie service involves five minibuses operated by Watermill Coaches under contract to the council covering Inverurie and the surrounding area, including the communities of Insch, Rothienorman, Oldmeldrum, Kintore, Kemnay and Monymusk.
The service picks up and drops off booked passengers at physical or virtual bus stops.
It does not have a fixed route or timetable; the management software calculates the route and times dynamically based on each individual passenger booking.
On average there are now 1,100 passenger trips made each week on the Ready2Go service, which is proving popular with the majority of passengers and achieving high levels of satisfaction.
Customers are able to place bookings at any time using the free app which is available from the Apple Store or Google Play Store.
Passengers without a smartphone who are unable to use the Ready2Go DRT app can phone the council on 01467 535 333 to book their bus Mondays to Fridays between 9am and 4pm.
You need to book for each trip as the bus will not pick up passengers who have not booked.
Passengers can also cancel using the app or by phoning the booking office on 01467 535 333 and leaving a message on the cancellation answerphone.
This is monitored Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm.
Passengers can request a bus for an immediate ride or ask for a future departure time.
The estimated time and pick-up location are provided when the booking is confirmed.
Before the trip is due, passengers are provided with automated text updates confirming their pick-up.
The app enables passengers to track their Ready2Go bus on a map in real-time.
The public transport journey planner in the app also provides the times of any other bus services operating in the area.
An analysis by consultants Stantec, commissioned by the Council and Nestrans to evaluate the pilot, found that the DDRT service has been performing well compared with the previous timetabled fixed route supported bus services.
In particular, there are indications that the service has reversed falling passenger numbers and is better catering for what would be otherwise unmet travel needs.
In doing so, the service is also delivering wider benefits, including reduced social isolation and loneliness, improved personal independence, greater employment opportunities and physical and mental health benefits.
There are also indications that a shift from car to bus travel is being achieved.
Ewan Wallace, Head of Environment and Sustainability at Aberdeenshire Council, said: “Our pilot service was introduced to test a revised approach to the provision of supported bus services which came at a particularly apt time given the change in travel needs and travel demands arising from the Covid pandemic.
“The data from our analysis suggests that the Ready2Go service has been successful in helping to reverse ongoing bus patronage decline.
"The continuation of the pilot will allow us to work with our supplier on software development to further improve the service for a more rewarding experience for all our passengers across the Ready2Go area.
“Furthermore, it will enable us to explore, along with Transport Scotland and other organisations, additional funding streams for DDRT which is currently high profile in both national and regional transport strategies.
"In this respect, our Ready2Go Around Inverurie service is at the forefront of trialling rural DDRT both within a Scottish and UK context.”
Infrastructure Services Committee chair and Nestrans chair Cllr John Crawley said: “The feedback and data from the initial trial period is encouraging, particularly in terms of increasing passenger numbers.
“By extending the service for a further year we’ll be able to gather more information on passenger trends and we hope those using the service will continue to find it useful.”
Committee vice-chair Cllr Isobel Davidson added: “It is particularly encouraging that the Ready2Go service seems to be proving popular with young people.
“There is evidence that the app approach suits a large number of people but the council will continue to provide support for those wishing to book by phone.”
Further details about Ready2Go are available on the Council’s website: www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/roads-and-travel/public-transport/ready2go/