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miniplus June issue 31

operator Staying organised It starts behind the scenes, and Paula is assisted by Sally George, who handles bookings. Little Bus is for people who are unable to use conventional buses, and all of its 2,000 users are registered. Like everything else operationally with Little Bus, registration administration and the inputting of data into the booking system is handled entirely by D&G, although it has regular meetings with Cheshire East Council. After they register, users are sent a pamphlet with information about how to use Little Bus. They can then book journeys via phone lines that are open between 0930- 1230hrs Monday to Friday; Little Bus runs between 0930-1600hrs on the same days. Naturally, users must be Cheshire East residents, and Little Bus covers the whole of the authority’s area from Crewe in the south to Knutsford and Macclesfield in the north. That’s quite a task with just nine vehicles in service, especially as Cheshire East’s landscape varies from urban Crewe where short-distance demand can be high, to rural areas surrounding Macclesfield, where demand is lower but distances between calling points are much longer. “Passengers book at least one day prior to travel, but we have a number of regular users who make the same journey every week. In those cases, they don’t need to call us and we keep serving them until they tell us that we are no longer required,” says Paula. As if by magic… To maximise efficiency, bookings in the more remote areas are grouped together on a day-by-day basis. As an example, villages surrounding Macclesfield are typically served once or twice per week depending on the level of demand. At registration, users are allocated geocodes based on their location. Ad-hoc journeys are accommodated as effectively as possible via a mix of computerised and manual scheduling. It is often possible to move existing bookings slightly to accommodate other passengers, so when the scheduling software draws a blank the tried-and-tested way of doing things by hand is utilised. “We have a space for unallocated passengers, and after the phone lines for the following day’s bookings close, we go through them manually and find a place for them,” adds Paula. Part of the scheduling is an allowance for infirm passengers. When the user is in a wheelchair, 15 minutes is given for them to get on or off, and boarding and alighting times are varied for other passengers depending on driver feedback; when it is 28 | June 2017 | miniplus.co.uk 1. 11 accessible minibuses make up the Little Bus fleet, with nine in use 2. Discrete branding displays the link with D&G’s bus operations received, requirements are inputted onto the passenger’s record and they form part of the schedule from then on. The driving force The nature of Little Bus’ passengers means that routes and stopping points can change at short notice. Alterations are communicated via text message. Each driver usually covers the same area every day, although a handful may ‘float’ to cover holidays and sickness. “Keeping drivers in the same areas is something that we feel strongly about, because passengers get used to seeing the same person,” says Paula. “We sometimes have to change drivers for operational reasons, but continuity is best because we are often dealing with older people who may have Alzheimer’s or dementia. It is very important that they see a familiar face at the door.” Next of kin details for all users are held on record. While most passengers are of an older demographic, Little Bus also carries some younger disabled users, and each bus may be used by up to 40 travellers on a busy day. Utilising the assets Slick scheduling and grouping passengers geographically is all done in the name of 3. Minibuses have varied internal layouts to suit passengers’ needs 1 4. Depot is shared with buses used on D&G’s stage carriage work 2 working minibuses as hard yet as efficiently as possible, and there is a variety of vehicles in the fleet including coachbuilt models and conversions. “We have a variety of internal layouts; the maximum is 15 seats but others have fewer than that where seats have been removed to create space for wheelchair users,” says Paula. As Little Bus shares a depot and


miniplus June issue 31
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