Increased approximately 4 times the number of customers for the same funding and improving the service by going to preferred customer destinations

Presenting Problem:

This review was initiated by a Local Council as part of their schedule of service reviews.  They sought to understand the level of service and identify opportunities for improvement within their community bus service.

A manager had already gathered and analysed baseline data prior to this review.

Context:

The community bus supports residents to live independently, providing transport to support a higher quality of life and wellbeing as well as encouraging social interaction. Although available to all residents, bus users were typically older people and people with a disability.

The community bus service is a fully funded Council service and includes three buses with volunteer drivers. The service previously included fixed route, door to door and charter hire services. Community bus users pay a gold coin donation on entering the bus.

Analysis Showed:

  • Asset down time showed that the three buses were under-utilised with significant idle time and some services were running with no passengers.
  • Although bus records appeared to indicate transporting high numbers of people (trips), it was discovered that very few residents were using the service. These residents were regular repeat users.
  • Actual user numbers for the fixed route service were not available, so sampling provided approximate data.
  • Demand for the fixed route had been declining over time but demand was increasing for the door to door bus service.
  • Budget information showed a very high per person cost, due to relatively low patronage.
  • Benchmarking with other Councils showed that few others had fixed route services, and none at the same service standards.
  • Destination information showed “over-servicing” transport for shopping and “under-servicing” transport for social, community engagement, medical, exercise and other interests.

Consultation

Consultation with customers, potential users of the service and volunteers provided valuable insights about perceptions of the community bus including:

  • There was a general reluctance to use the service and older people would only use the bus if they had to because they had lost independence and had no other transport options.
  • the bus was not going to preferred destinations.
  • the fixed route left elderly waiting at the curb in poor weather conditions, and
  • volunteers were involved to help others through a community service, but fixed route numbers were declining.

Information was gathered about where people needed to and wanted to be transported as well as opinions and goals of Elected Members,

Based on the information and feedback provided by key stakeholders, different service models were able to be considered.

Outcomes:

Council had the option to realise ongoing savings of $24,000 per annum by reducing the number of vehicles, while still maintaining the same service by using the assets more efficiently.  Instead, they chose to change the service model to increase the number of customers and keep the same number of vehicles and financial outlay.

The model was changed by transitioning the fixed route component to provide more door-to-door services, taking customers to their preferred locations, as well as shopping.

Engaging with customers and volunteers resulted in changes to the service with no complaints or negative press. Fixed route users were not disadvantaged and all users had more destinations available. Vehicle types were changed to better accommodate those requiring accessibility.

FromTo
~100 fixed route users
33 Door to door users
133 in total
480 community bus users
Fixed route 7,500 trips*
Door to door 600 trips*
8,100 in total
16,182 trips*
2 main destinations, both shopping centres Destinations now include shopping centres, community centres, museums, libraries and library events, day trips and mystery trips – various locations, community events, Churches, local community group activities, swimming centres, etc.One lady had not been able to go swimming for 15 years is now delighted to catch the bus to aqua aerobics class regularly.
*Trips are defined as one way to the destination. Most customers take two trips – to the destination and back home – a round trip going both ways would be therefore be half the number. Occasionally customers only go one way and get home by other methods of transport.

Learning

Using data to review the service, together with benchmarking can provide insights for new service models. Listening to existing and potential customers and acting on this learning results in a greater service quality, user uptake, and benefit for the community.

This review was completed in July 2016, benefits realised from 2018 and this summary was completed in January 2021