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The Not So Flexibus:

Jamie's Transport Matters

Jamie Collingwood Published: 31 January 2023

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Jamie Collingwood holding a bus

Flexibus: a name you may or may not have heard of. The Wymondham Flexibus is an on-demand (well, kinda – more on that later) minibus that serves Wymondham and its surrounding villages, giving villagers transport to any other village or into Wymondham without needing a car. The interesting part though, is that it doesn’t have a timetable.

Instead, the bus service uses a methodology known as Demand Responsive Transport – DRT – which means that its route for the day is determined entirely by customer requests. So, if no one requests it, the bus won’t leave the depot. But as far as I am aware, though the service is used, it’s very underutilised, and I only occasionally see it in Wymondham or passing through a village.

Perhaps that's because it only operates from 9am until 2:30pm in school term time (or 8am-4pm during school holidays) and only from Monday to Friday. And making a request for the bus is far from simple: you have to call up Flexibus by telephone or fill out a request form on the Norfolk County Council website, but this has to be done by 3pm on the day before travel!

This might be fine for someone who doesn’t work ‘normal’ hours (i.e. 9am-5pm), lives in a village outside of Wymondham, wants to get into town in the late morning or early afternoon and isn't likely to change their plans. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do much for those that this doesn’t apply to, and its drawbacks are blatant.

So the question I ask is this: how can it be improved? Well, to do that we need a solution to the biggest issue of them all, that is the requirement to book by 3pm on the day before travel. It turns out, however, that we’re in luck - a bus company called Go Coach (based in Sevenoaks, Kent) already has the solution, and they are using it right now. They leased software which allows users to make a journey request by choosing a pickup and drop off location on their app and for a bus to arrive ASAP (in practice this can be in under 5 minutes). Users can also call up if they don’t have the app and the bus company will put their journey in for them. For Wymondham and surrounding villages, I imagine a wait time to be longer, not least because there would be fewer buses circulating than Go Coach’s Sevenoaks setup and fewer passengers to use it, but with the new ability to request a bus with no upfront warning, it wouldn't be unrealistic to have it arrive, say, within half an hour.

Flexibus would then provisionally be able to extend hours, perhaps extending onto weekends, and if demand for the service grew then multiple buses could run during peak hours therefore reducing journey times. This would allow people living outside of Wymondham to get into Wymondham earlier/later in the day, on weekdays and weekends, which would provide them the opportunity to access Wymondham’s high street, bus services and more. If Norfolk County Council cracked this, the Flexibus could become a genuinely useful piece of public transport to get people into Wymondham town centre.

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