An innovative new bus service that will connect rural communities, will shortly be introduced by Northamptonshire County Council.
The demand response system – known as County Connect - will focus on five separate areas in the county and centre round hub towns, where passengers can then connect with regular inter-urban buses.
It differs from conventional bus services in that customers book a seat on specially designed low-floor mini-buses either by telephone, text message or via the internet and arrange to be picked up at a specific time at their nearest village bus stop.
People can book to travel to any other stop in the area served, not just the local town centre and rather than just providing occasional ‘shopper’ journeys, the service is designed to make all kinds of journeys possible, including medical appointments, and regular journeys to college or work.
For many small rural communities it will be the first time they have had access to public transport, and in scores of others infrequent services running less than three times a week will be replaced by daily services.
As well as the existing CallConnect branded service in North East Northants, the new CountyConnect service will be launched in September across:
- Nene Valley, focused on Oundle, Thrapston and Raunds
- Welland Valley, focused on Market Harborough
- Long Buckby and Daventry
- South Northants, focused on Towcester and Brackley, including off-peak links to Banbury
Cllr Andre Gonzalez De Savage, county council cabinet member for infrastructure and public protection, said: “This new, flexible transport system has been pioneered already in the county with CallConnect and this has proved to be remarkably successful and popular.
“The need to save millions of pounds meant that we needed to rethink the way we provided subsidised public transport but in a way this overhaul was badly needed anyway.
“This new County Connect service offers reliable travel and because it is only used where there is a demand, costs are kept low too.”
Technical support for the service will be provided by Lincolnshire County Council which has been operating a similar transport system for a number of years.
The new service comes as part of a complete overhaul of the way the county council provides subsidised public transport in the county as the authority attempts to make £73 million in-year-savings.
The council consulted with every settlement in Northamptonshire to assess what sort of transport would provide the best solution for each area, while working on a greatly reduced budget.
The council’s budget for subsidised public transport had been £3.1 million and this was used to subsidise conventional bus routes that were not deemed commercially viable.
The council’s budget which was approved in February scrapped this funding pot but a new fund of £1 million was introduced for a variety of solutions to provide subsidised public transport.
As well as demand responsive transport the authority will also continue to provide subsidies on some conventional bus routes and will adapt existing community transport schemes so they can provide travel to a wider customer base.