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Transport / Demand-led buses on the mind of transport officials

The Viking bus station. Photo: Shetland News/Hans J Marter

TRANSPORT officials in Shetland are keen to explore whether demand-led public transport could work in the isles, a meeting heard on Monday.

This would focus on buses, for example, running when there is the demand, rather than to a set timetable.

Local transport policy officer Robina Barton told a meeting of Lerwick Community Council that ‘public mobility’ company ViaVan could be involved in exploring if this could actually work in Shetland.

“We are looking at asking them to do a piece of work for us to do some modelling around how that demand responsive approach could work in Shetland,” she said.

Last year ViaVan helped to implement on-demand bus services in Sevenoaks in Kent in response to less people using public transport in the pandemic.

Under this system people in Sevenoaks could book a spot on a bus through a mobile app, and it is said to be akin to a “shared taxi” – meaning that journeys will only take place as when and where required.

Community councillor Stewart Hay noted that while some bus services in Shetland are busy, others are not.

He said it was an ideal time to think about “how we can deliver transport to people at their needs”.

Barton also said she expected “quite dramatic changes” in the next few years when it comes to transport provision.

She added that car sharing and the opportunity for people to use a hired bike after coming off a bus are two other examples of how transport could alter in the future.

The pandemic has already encouraged local transport partnership ZetTrans to provide passenger numbers on Shetland’s buses to allow people to plan in advance in case they expect the service will be too busy.

Barton was speaking at the Lerwick Community Council to give members an update on an ongoing review into public transport fares.

She highlighted there are two strands to this – setting a base fare, and deciding what discounts to add.

Some SIC councillors are keen to see ‘free’ bus travel for all.

Barton reassured members that there is a representative of public transport users involved in group talks.

However, SIC councillor John Fraser questioned: “A 15 year old young man or lady is going to have very different wants and needs to say a pensioner, so are the different age groups represented?”

Barton said that young folk have been included in thoughts about potential discounts for groups of people.

But “in terms of their wants and needs, I think that young people’s wants and needs is more about where they’re going and when, rather than what it’s costing them”.

Barton said in “terms of the fare policy we would be thinking more broadly in terms of groups of people”.

Community council chairman Jim Anderson, meanwhile, took the opportunity to raise that the Yell ferry service for instance stops to allow staff to have lunch.

“Do we need to start using the assets that we have more wisely?” he questioned.

Barton said she was not the best person to comment on ferries, but “they are obviously subject to legislation in how much the crews can work, and they have to utilise the crews in a canny way” due to the limited number of available staff.

She added that there is a growing need to think about the best way transport assets can be integrated with other modes of travel, “so that our whole network works together as intelligently as it can”.

Barton also said that it is expected that work on installing card payments on the Yell Sound service could begin this week.