Essex County Council (ECC) has been successful in its bid for £2.575million to the Department for Transport (DfT) for two Rural Mobility Funded (RMF) projects in mid Essex.

In February 2020, the DfT launched a £220m package - ‘A better deal for bus users’ - which included the £20m RMF. The primary objective of the RMF is to trial on-demand transport solutions in rural and suburban areas, which work better for residents than traditional transport services, such as timetabled bus services.

ECC has been successful with bids to run two pilot schemes in mid Essex and south Braintree.

These schemes encompass the principles of Digital Demand Responsive Transport (D-DRT) - a passenger-focused form of public transport, characterised by flexibility and the operation of smaller, shared vehicles.

D-DRT operates when and where a passenger requests a journey - unlike a conventional bus that runs to a fixed timetable and route.

It uses smaller vehicles such as minibuses, with bookings made via a smartphone app (supported by a telephone booking line for those without access to a smartphone).

Bookings can be made on-demand or in advance (like a taxi); with payment made via the app, a guaranteed seat and real-time tracking of the vehicle available.

Both schemes will deliver a vital, modern and forward-thinking solution to connect and level-up areas in Essex that currently have little or no provision of public transport and will be supported by a fleet of fully electric minibuses.

D-DRT has the potential to transform the local transport offer, fill gaps in public transport provision and complement commercially viable timetabled bus services.

The two pilots will enable ECC and the DfT to collect evidence and assess the efficacy of D-DRT services. The experience gathered from the two pilots will be used to inform development of future local transport offers in Essex and across the UK.