An on-demand bus service linking rural communities in North Wiltshire is to be operated by The Go-Ahead Group on behalf of Wiltshire Council.
Called Wiltshire Connect, the network will allow people to summon a low emission bus using a smartphone app to pick them up and take them anywhere within a prescribed operating zone. It will be run by Salisbury Reds, a subsidiary of The Go-Ahead Group, but funded and managed by the local authority with support from the government’s Rural Mobility Fund.
The network stretches across the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – a popular area for ramblers, cyclists, horse riders and day trippers. Places of interest accessible via Wiltshire Connect include Savernake Forest, one of the oldest woodlands in England; Wilton Windmill, the only working flour windmill in the south-west, and Crofton Pumping Station – which houses the oldest working beam engine in the world.
The service comprises three zones – the Pewsey Vale which began operating this week; Marlborough and Great Bedwyn which begins on September 4th, and Marlborough and Hungerford which starts on October 30th. All fares will be £2 under the Government’s English national bus fare cap.
Wiltshire Connect is one of a new generation of demand-responsive transport services being pioneered in rural and semi-rural areas across the UK. Buses collect and drop off passengers at designated pick-up points, using software to match passengers going on similar directions and select the most efficient route.
Demand-responsive buses were identified in the Government’s national bus strategy, Bus Back Better, as an important way to serve lower density, rural areas where conventional bus networks are difficult to maintain.
The Go-Ahead Group already operates three demand-responsive bus networks: JustGo in north Lincolnshire, PickMeUp in Buckinghamshire and The Robin in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire.
Mark Anderson, Go-Ahead’s Customer and Commercial Director, said: “These buses are a terrific initiative, and we’re proud to be operating them for Wiltshire Council. We believe demand-responsive transport is an important concept in providing reliable bus service to rural communities.
“Wiltshire Connect will make it easier and more convenient for local residents to get to schools, hospitals, shops and work, or to connect with fixed bus and rail networks. Visitors will be able to summon a bus at the touch of a button to visit some of the west of England’s most stunning chalk downs, villages and arable landscapes.”
Cllr Richard Clewer, Leader of Wiltshire Council, said: “Wiltshire Connect is a revolutionary new bus service that will serve thousands of Wiltshire residents, connecting communities and helping to tackle rural isolation.
“These innovative new services combine semi-flexible and on-demand buses to give people a service that takes them where they want to go, at a time that suits them and for a reasonable price. People can either hop on and off a timetabled semi-flexible service, or book in advance using the smartphone app or by calling us – it’s very easy to use.
“In our Business Plan, we set out our commitments to have vibrant, well-connected communities, and to build an efficient and effective transport network that offers a viable alternative to the car, and Wiltshire Connect does just that for all residents in the Pewsey Vale are and beyond.”
(Picture – Go-Ahead)