How The Chariot Can Change Travel

I once mooted how you could take the booking system of Uber, the telephone service of Cango and the flexibility of a bus; to create a rural transport solution.

Yesterday something similar was announced by Ford-backed Chariot in Greater London. Yes, I know, London is hardly rural, it does however provide a concept for the elements to show they work.

With a trial licence now granted by TfL across four routes, users must pre-book a guaranteed seat on a fleet of Ford Transit minibuses. The services are apparently designed to fulfil a gap in the market of first-line and last-mile services to other hubs which in this case are rail and tube stations.

I have always been a supporter of last-mile transport in places where there is not enough demand to divert regular services, but a social need for those that would use it. Many of these services are currently subsidised by local town or county councils to provide the necessary connections, but over time the out of money has dried up and cuts are made to the services that need the most subsidy. Quite often these are the services where the few users left are in the most need for it.

Chariot already has a history

Ford run the Chariot service in the US already and on first inspection the technology and process is the same as in San Francisco and New York, as well as Austin and Seattle.

A quick look around their San Fran operation shows, for example the Pacific Rush;

  • running between Pacific Heights, through the Financial District to South Park
  • between 0630 and 1000 (every 7 minutes) and
  • returning between 1530 and 1940 (every 10 minutes)

and in London…

  • Erith & West Heath to Abbey Wood station
  • Shooter’s Hill to Greenwich North Tube
  • Battersea Park & Nine Elms to Kennington (via, but not stopping at Vauxhall station)
  • Wandsworth Riverside direct and largely Non-stop to Clapham Junction

All four routes operate Monday to Friday rush hours, not that there isn’t a rush hour in Greater London, and the few times I have looked at their live tracking there have been 2 or 3 vehicles running.

Interestingly, the routes are not the most obvious. For example passing busy stations at Vauxhall and Wandsworth Town and not are stopping. It is likely that this is because the routes would duplicate a busy TfL red bus route, the Chariot being neither red, nor accept the London transport smart card Oyster. Fares are also two-thirds higher than its primary competitor, at £2.40 rather than £1.50. Of course, season tickets do reduce this on both counts.

Moving the concept to a new environment

Outside the TfL boundary bus services are falling in many parts of the country.

Both independent operators and the big companies have been feeling the brunt of things and some of the problem is that there is no longer the innovation beyond leather seats and free Wi-Fi.

What most operators are quick to withdraw on though are the obscure and minor services that once run across the length and breadth of the country.

Ironically, as I go to check my figures the service has changed, but my favorite example of one such service is in Hampshire.

The Number 54

The Number 54 bus is a lifeline for a few.

Until recently, you could get the bus on a Wednesday from the minor villages and hamlets north-west of Basingstoke, into the town, and back again.

If the buses ran to time, you could get a whole 90 minutes in Basingstoke to do what you needed to do, shop, eat, visit the doctors. We all know that the NHS is rolling in so much money they can guarantee a right-time appointment for you! There is no place for sarcasm in such a serious post, but you get the point of how tight the service made you spend your time?

The irony of my research is that now, the service which also serves the towns hospital, gives you 2.5 hours in town, although not suitable for visiting hours. This may be because of the change of operator, being a Hampshire County Council supported service.

The fact that the service only runs on on a Wednesday is not in the slightest bit important for its long term demise.

There must be a better way

The problem is that the County Council are trying to save money whereas traditional operators are not prepared to take a financial risk with a financially marginal service.

They might gain a few more passengers is there was a long term commitment, but people’s jobs and plans would rely on the service.

This is where the Chariot model comes in.

Adapting the Cango Model

Cango was a partly pre-bookable, partly scheduled bus service under contract. A number of bus operators have run Cango services under contract over the years but many have now reverted back to infrequent scheduled bus services.

One of the problems, certainly from experience and by talking to others, was the inflexible planning model. You had to phone and book before 5pm the day before travel, to a central phone number at the council. These pre-bookable services run during the off-peak for shoppers and doctors rather than workers and schools.

Not really that useful for the market that would pay to support the rest of the service.

A commuter village service

The Chariot model can adapt to the commuter market so easily; small buses, negotiating the villages in the early morning and connecting at a transport hub or bus stop. It can run more often because it doesn’t have to duplicate existing services; meeting with buses or trains at a number of points on it’s journey.

In the example of the 54; a commuter service could start at Oakley run through the villages and hamlets Kingsclere and then run through the villages and hamlets to Overton. This, at a guess, would take between 30 and 40 minutes end to end; but adding in some stops as only bookable via an app or a website browser.

The only downside to such a responsive service is that in the short term, the state of public bus services means that it takes 56 days to register most scheduled bus services. This means that if demand increases, then there is a risk that people will not be able to book on a service of their choice. In London it is easy to introduce a frequent service, but less so in the provinces.

Making the service fully pre-booking only, similar to what National Express used to do with the majority of it’s services, would be a solution to start with, however at the same time this hinders access for all, which is the whole point of the exercise to start with.

Of course, one possible solution would be to run a scheduled service and additional services via a pre-booking only facility. That is then bordering on a grey area that the Traffic Commissioner may have to test.

Either way…. Chariot has promise not just in it’s London trial, but elsewhere in the UK; if the vehicle and the demand is not enough for a County Council supported service.

The Christmas Lul

A few years ago, you could never have broken my festive spirit. The rain pattering on the windows was merely the snow that is yet to form and the house was full of glitter and tinsel.

As we approach NORAD’s special day though, things don’t seem to be the same anymore. The tree is up and the lights are on but nobody is really home.

You see, I have been busy working on new projects. Leaving hospital radio behind back in May, probably setting fire to all the bridges as I left, I had already missed the boat on a number of things I really wanted to try out. I was making decisions of whether to buy a laptop that allowed me to try and develop the HBA website – I did not feel justified to ask them to supply one – or buy BitCoin.

I am of course, sat here on £1200 of – at the time – high spec laptop now writing a blog post. That is not to say I don’t now put it to good use….

I also missed out of the infancy of my current project; gaming and streaming. For those that are closer to me will know, I now put about 20 to 30 hours a week into this, despite being late to the game, and will never find out if I could have been successful. I started to tinker with it about 15 months ago, the occasional stream a few times a week, trying to get a feel for the games that I play and how I could exploit them online.

Streaming and Gaming?

So yes. I know, I am a bit old and I am probably a bit too mediocre at it.

I like playing strategy games. For those of you who remember Sim City, I play Cities:Skylines, which is like the next generation of that. I play strategy games like Civilization VI, Transport Fever and more recently more simplistic simulations like Airport CEO and Production Line.

You can find what I am currently doing on my Twitch Channel (it’s basically like YouTube, but just for gaming and ‘live streaming’) and I am now working towards a website connected to it where I can put my game reviews, tips and things. Some of the articles on the Golden Blog will probably move across and some of the articles that I have never managed to finish will get completed.

I have been quite busy at this though since starting the computer upgrade back in June. I have to justify what is quickly approaching a 4 figure sum for computer parts – it probably is now I have a new RX580 Nitro+ – not the cheapest of hobbies!

How Can I Be Successful?

Oh behave! I am not doing to be a millionaire success, I probably won’t even make back my investment, but it is nothing to say I won’t try. As some of you already know, the Department for Work and Pensions are not top of my Christmas card list right now.

So all I ask is that I try and make back the £200/month lost to the PIP scandal. Did you know someone who is registered blind is no longer entitled to a single penny in assistance! Of course as I am already hammered by the 40% tax and the repayment of child benefit I will have to clear more than that.

You know of course…. I will never get close

So – HOW Can I be Successful?

Oh right… you mean how do I make money from it? Well.

So far I haven’t.

From nothing, over 12 months (well, since June really) I have had about 2,000 unique views of my output and around 100 ‘followers’ who choose to … follow.

All that has given me enough momentum to be offered an affiliate agreement with Twitch, which means people can subscribe with a number of donations ranging from $4.99 to $24.99 a month. Amazon Prime users also qualify for a free subscription to give out per month, which translates to a little in the kitty. Some channels, including mine, can take one-off donations via StreamLabs (via Paypal) and there are other micro-transaction options.

Twitch Prime also Gets you free games though, on top of ad-free viewing of the rubbish I produce. Recently I have picked up some free Hearthstone cards, which I occasionally play, sometimes you pick up a free game from the retro catalog.

BUT

The lul at the moment is that indeed, I am nowhere near making my first dime. It’s been more than 6 months since the DWP took away the PIP for the good lady and I still have not done anything to make up the shortfall.

I still plug away though, the extra 20 to 30 hours a week trying to make myself a success. It is not in the slightest bit festive though, even if I may wear the red hat and beard.

You can see some of my work on my Twitch Channel.

Is the National Minimum Wage Working?

I have deliberately left this post about the National Minimum Wage until after the General Election because it is ranting rambling and I did not want anyone to accuse me of cheating their vote.

I don’t often write about politics, especially not the National Minimum Wage. I try not to discuss politics much. Apart from my wife, no-one really know which way I voted in the EU referendum. Even now, some hours after voting, where I put my is between me and the ballot paper.

All around me, people are saying it was the best thing since the white sliced loaf and people everywhere are prospering because of it. When you question it though, you are simply a moron:

I don’t get it. So someone correct me!

National Minimum Wage basics

So the basics are quite simple. Back in the late 1990’s the Government decided that it was going to state a minimum wage for all paid employees across the country.

Over the years there have been numerous increases. Employers are required by law to increase the rate of pay for minimum wage employees, with any employees that spend years hovering just above this wage being increasingly captured into it’s net.

There is no requirement for employees to deserve the pay increase, no need to work hard for it, or show performance.

What I don’t get about the NMW

The minimum wage has never really sat well with me. We are in a country of commercialism where industry largely relies on the supply and demand, and the payment of taxes. So why, all of a sudden, are market rates not working?

If people are getting paid £2 an hour, then the coats of the local economy will reflect that. If a country of people being paid £2 an hour, the wider economy will reflect that.

People paid £2 an hour will not pay £4 for a beer.

If no-one wants to pay £4 for a beer then the price of beer will have to fall; remember though, the company paying £2 an hour has less overheads than one paying £7.40, so there is an off-cost.

People are Scared to Speak Out

Is it that the people who are working the shop floor are worried about losing their jobs? An entire company of staff all complaining they are not paid enough but not prepared to do anything about it? Of course when we were back in the 1970’s, the time that many blue voters want to forget, the shop stewards had a role; fair work for fair pay or the shop floor walked out.

Thatcher broke the unions, in step one of the plan to stop people taking charge of their own future. Now the mere act of daring to take any form of industrial action is viciously attacked, particularly when it’s the junior doctors or train drivers.

Very few workers now have a voice strong enough to take action. So instead they loudly complain that there are massive numbers on zero-hour contracts (via The Guardian) or take their vengeance out on the soothsayers of doom about the NMW.

Zero-hour contracts…. oh yes that will be self-employment.

A Plausible Future – One Wage For All

I was doing some sums. Over the last three years, the National Minimum Wage increased by 3.1%, 7.5% and 4.2%. Last time I checked I would have had to go on strike to get anything more than RPI and it will be a matter of 7 years before I am on National Minimum Wage.

Slowly, more and more people will hit the minimum wage threshold, police officers, fireman, paramedics, nurses, all being paid the same as a shelf-stacker in a supermarket or a commercial building cleaner.

I am not saying that these roles are not important and there are some amazing people that stand out in their workforce and should be on bigger and better things; but what is then to stop the Government of the day nationalising the entire country, paying everyone the same wage for a plethora of jobs? One Universal Credit anyone?

A Probable Future – Discontent

Can you see the skilled public sector professionals taking this? The NHS is continuing to teeter on the edge of a complete relations failure with Junior Doctors as the NHS forces through new contracts and Junior Doctors leave the NHS (via the Daily Mirror) and earlier this year nurses threatened to strike over a tiny 1% pay increase (via Sky News). Think about that for a moment; the NHS consider nurses to not be suitable for a similar pay increase to that enforced by the National Minimum Wage.

I know I was laughed at, when my trade union asked what we should negotiate for in our next pay review. I said we should aim for the same increase as the NMW.

A Plausible Look at Cost

With any increase in costs, a company is going to look at displeasing the shareholders, or displeasing the consumer.

Supply chains are huge. Raw materials, raw material transport, manufacturing, packing and transport to retailers, retailer distribution, the shop front. Six companies having to pay more for staff, six chances for the cost along the chain to increase.

So inevitably for that small increase in your pay, you could be paying far more out for the same product.

…. but there is more….

  • The more you are paid, the closer you get to the tax-free allowance limit, or indeed the more tax you pay
  • If you are claiming carers allowance, at £10 an hour you will now be limited to 11 hours per week to be able to claim it
  • Likewise those on income-based benefits will have to cut their hours to keep qualifying, or potentially lose the cash handouts
  • You will also have to pay more for basic foodstuffs as well as luxury goods.

Why Do We Have NMW?

Is it to make you feel good about having more money for a shorter amount of time?

Or is it really a way for the Government to quietly fill its coffers? One last thing to think about:

  • If you are paid more, the Government will get more back in Income Tax
  • If you no longer qualify for benefits, the Government will keep it in their bank
  • If the cost of goods go up, the Government will get back more in VAT
  • If the cost of Your Living goes up, the Government will simply raise the National Minimum Wage, get more back in income tax, in VAT and get less benefits

IS the National Minimum Wage Working?

Yes…. if you are the Government.

How Do You Solve a Problem Like: Demand Responsive Buses?

An elderly yellow Optare Solo passes me by, occasionally, off on a meandering trip to the countryside. All around it the other buses are bright and clean, with free wi-fi and some with USB charging for your phone, but not this one elderly bus.

They all work from the same bus depot, but the problem is that the service it operates on probably makes far less money. For those that live in Hampshire and the New Forest, I suspect you have occasionally also seen the ‘Cango’.

The problem is that the Cango does not really work. It is a great idea that did not work with the times and develop to be an essential demand responsive bus service. The question is though, why didn’t it?

A Demand Responsive Bus?

Why Not? Around here there are really only a few different type of bus service:

  • Frequent commercial and profitable buses. Running at least every half hour and customers only having to walk a few minutes to find a bus stop
  • An hourly service which is more community desired. Sometimes run with council support to the fringes of the town
  • The rural service that runs a few times a day, or only a few days a week

Actually, in that rural service section there is one around here that runs once a week, on a Wednesday, giving  just 90 minutes in town to do business and go home.

So Here is an Example

In the New Forest there is a pre-bookable service that operates Monday to Saturday. There are two types of bus stops on the service; Green stops where buses will stop and Yellow stops in villages which must be pre-booked.

Travelling between two green stops is easy – you turn up and go. Travelling from a Green to a Yellow, a Yellow to a Green or between two Yellow stops requires booking.

This is all great, but this is also where the system falls down; bookings are not really that flexible.

  • You have to phone between 7am and 9am on a Weekday to book, although that can be for a booking either in advance or on that day
  • or have to phone at least a day in advance for the first service of the day, because it departs from it’s first stop before 9am
  • and have to phone at least a day in advance to book for a Saturday as the telephone only operates on Weekdays

Not surprisingly many of the former Cango services in Andover and Basingstoke now operate simply on a fixed route.

The Problem: Cango is Not Everywhere

There are so many villages though that are increasingly cut off from public transport. These are hamlets so small that they might not even have a village shop, some will just have a church or a public house. The residents of the village may change, but with the lack of transport it won’t be young families unless they can all drive.

You remember that once a week bus service? Not 10 years ago there was a morning town bound commuter service and an evening return journey as well; people moved knowing they could get the bus to work.

But Is There A Solution?

I think there is.

Private Hire cars are demand responsive like the Cango. Yes they are more immediate, you can usually phone and get a car in minutes, but the principle is the same.

So why can’t we apply the same principle between a service like UberPool (the car sharing edition of Uber) and a demand responsive bus service?

What is UberPool?

So the principle of UberPool is simple. You request an Uber, you allocate it to UberPool and another rider and divert the car to pick them up and head in the same general direction as you. When I did a quick G<search> of UberPool it touted savings of up to 25% when you do this.

Of course you don’t get to pick who you ride with and only 2 people may pool together; so they could be an obnoxious person with a hygiene problem.

This means multiple pick-up and drop-off management on a small scale is possible and indeed Uber already offer it.

Expanding the Pool

So if you expand the concept, adding in some timing points for example, you could run a demand-responsive and real-time bus service.

Welcome to Basingstoke and Newbury. There is a direct bus between the two which runs mostly via the A339 and stops in Kingsclere village. North of the A339; Thatcham, Baughurst and Tadley have a frequent bus service, but the villages to the south don’t.

It would not take much work to work out which of these villages could handle a minibus. In fact from memory, many of the villages have handled 53 seat school coaches for years, on private contracts.

So you could have a service programmed that would depart Kingsclere at a time, maybe meeting a bus coming in from Newbury, and have a pre-determined time arriving in the center of Basingstoke; but with a defined “roaming area” within the area south of the A339. If Uber can allocate people to cars, then surely you can allocate people to a bus?

As Flexible as Uber

Even after the bus sets off, just like Uber diverting cars to passengers the GPS can guide the bus. If someone requests a pick-up that means the service would not get to Basingstoke in time then it would have to be rejected; but over time people would realise that you still need to book a little time ahead. It would not need meticulous pre-planning though.

It should not be too difficult to use destinations to allocate space on a bus with some creative bin-packing, managing the number of spaces available on the service.

Unlike Uber of course, the roam zone as we could call it is defined. Maybe on the way into town there could be pre-set stops you can alight to catch connecting regular buses or – in Basingstoke’s case here – get on or off at the Leisure Park.

Mixing Uber with CityMapper

CityMapper were trialing their technology in Central London recently and this apparently included real-time data collection for a better demand responsive basis.

So you do not need to rely on bus driver recollections to work out whether some services need two minibuses, or whether there are specific times of day that are popular in specific villages, the data is already provided.

In fact, could this even be tied into calling Uber style cars to match the demand when the need arises?

The Problem is Regulation

This is a bus service at heart. Has anyone ever tried to do something new with a Government department? It can be like drawing blood from a stone getting past a panel of civil servants.

Yes there are already demand responsive services like Cango, but demand responsive with unadvertised duplication and limited seating restricted by an app? There is an Uber for that, and no Government department seems to like Uber at the best of times.

Now, if I had the skills and money I would already be trialing it. I am no Uber or Citymapper though, just a crazy idiot with a strange idea… oh and I just gained an extra hour a day (average) on my hands.