31 July 2007

GNER Taxibus

Part of the contract that allowed train company GNER to retain its franchise last year was the implementation of home-to-station 'taxibus' initiatives. Stagecoach in Peterborough won the contract to provide one of these last autumn between the new estate of Hampton and Peterborough rail station. The service is operated in conjunction with Peterborough City Council and GNER resulting in around 150 journeys per week operate. Used are a pair of Ford Transit minibuses, capable of seating 15 people plus the driver. The service is specifically called a taxibus for a reason: it is not truly demand-responsive in a manner that you'd assume it would be to fully cater for the needs of the people using it.

Commissioned following a massive hike in parking prices at Peterborough station, tickets for the taxibus can be bought for daily, weekly, monthly, bi-monthly or annually, in each case a significant pro-rata saving can be made. For example an annual ticket for travel costs under £500 - in itself more than 50% less than paying for parking at Peterborough station.

Hampton was chosen as the location for the door-to-door service as it was seen to be in keeping with the "green" ethos of this new estate, known on paper at least as "the environmental city". Users need to phone GNER the day before they plan to travel to book the service. Each day the drivers are given a list of names and addresses. Approximately 15 journeys are made between Hampton - Peterborough in the morning, buses running at a 20 minute frequency to connect with specific trains at Peterborough station. This section of timetable operates from 0550 - 0900. The remainder of the timetable provides again around 15 journeys to the same frequency based on arrival times of trains at Peterborough from 1650 - 2030.

A dedicated team of 4 drivers operate the service with 2 drivers needed daily, operating all journeys between themselves on a split-duty basis. The other two operate standard Stagecoach duties, generally driving the citi 6 service between Peterborough and Hampton in an attempt for them to become as familiar with the area and the residents therein as possible. Drivers require a full, manual PSV licence to drive the 16-seater Transits - vehicles not dissimilar to a rather large car, yet many drivers at Stagecoach in Peterborough have licences restricted to automatic vehicles only and unable to drive these. Drivers allocated to this rota have every weekend off as the taxibus operates Mondays to Fridays only.

The vehicles are numbered within the Stagecoach national fleet numbering system yet do not display their fleet number. They carry GNER vinyls throughout and a small "operated by Stagecoach" sticker. They're maintained by the local Ford dealership not Stagecoach.

49803 (NC06 DHZ) Ford Transit M16 7/06
49804 (NH06 YED) Ford Transit M16 7/06

Stagecoach operate these services as a registered bus route between the Serpentine Green shopping centre to the northern extremity of the Hampton estate and Peterborough rail station which has conflicted slightly with punctuality for commuters at Peterborough station: with multiple pick-ups within Hampton at pre-arranged times, drivers are forced to divert via Serpentine Green where no one boards as they do not know they can; the drivers do not have a ticket machine; and no literature can be found at the bus stop there. This in turn has seen occasional trains missed, though with the service GNER provied it's never too long before the next train to London.

It is anticipated that this scheme - on trial for 2 years - will be continued by whoever takes over the East Coast franchise, to be announced later in the year.