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Dial-a-Ride service changes see bus drivers across east London speak out in defence of ‘vital lifeline’

PUBLISHED: 07:00 26 February 2018

Dial-A-Ride minibus, Photo: Tfl

Dial-A-Ride minibus, Photo: Tfl

Archant

Drivers of “a vital lifeline” for east London’s most vulnerable residents claim a booking system introduced more than 10 years ago has led to a steady worsening of the transport service.

Dial-a-Ride is run by Transport for London (TfL) for the capital’s older and more vulnerable residents to allow them to remain active in their communities.

A bus is routed to pick up as many as eight members at a time and drop them at their chosen location.

It currently has 45,621 registered members across London and places no restriction on the number of trips that a member can request, subject to any limitations arising from TfL’s available resources.

The system’s drivers claim that before the Trapeze system was introduced, staff were able to work out on a logical case-by-case basis what routes to take and how best to serve dial-a-ride members.

Under this new system, drivers claim there have been a host of issues including service members being unable to make group bookings and that drivers are left burning fuel by having to repeatedly “criss-cross” themselves while going to pick ups.

Drivers in Havering, Redbridge, Barking and Dagenham and Newham also claim they are being routed into neighbouring boroughs, and once there pass empty buses more local to the area that could have easily made the same trips.

The majority of drivers agree that this has led to the “dead mileage” of each bus – the amount of time it is burning fuel without carrying members to a destination – doubling, which has increased fuel costs.

Michael Lloyd, Havering Members of Dial-A-Ride and Taxicard representative, told the Recorder: “Dial-a-Ride is a fantastic service and a vital lifeline for the most vulnerable residents across London but it needs to be efficient.

“Dial-a-Ride has spent £7.76 million. This excludes any cost of any of the updates for Trapeze scheduling system.

“TfL pledged that each update would resolve the Trapeze system’s inferior scheduling but it seems as though nothing has changed.”

As a result of this system drivers are saying it is become much more common for their buses not to be full, which they say is a waste of resources.

In addition, the bus drivers say members have noted a sharp increase in the number of requested trips they are having rejected by schedulers.

A Freedom of Information request to TfL revealed that the number of journey requests refused by Dial-A-Ride schedulers across the capital since the new system was introduced in 2005 has risen by a staggering 69pc.

The number of recorded refusals in the year before the new booking system was introduced stood at 99,821, but by 2016/17 this had risen to 168,647.

Despite the increase in Dial-A-Ride’s number of refusals, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan revealed at a recent meeting at City Hall that the service received just 1,088 complaints in 2016/17, after completing 1,175,497 journeys.

This is down from 2011/12, when the service received 2,103 complaints but completed 1,375,879 journeys.

A TfL spokeswoman insisted the organisation has repeatedly invested more money into Dial-A-Ride, with operating costs rising from £20,500 in 2005 to £35,700 in 2017.

She said: “Trapeze was introduced in 2005 and has served as the basis of the booking and scheduling system for Dial-a-ride since then.

“There have been numerous upgrades over the years to further refine the system and will continue to do so.

“We understand there is sometimes ‘criss-crossing’ of drivers as one of the key elements is ensuring passengers are not on the bus for an extended time. “Scheduling individual journeys is more complex than groups, however we do aim to do the most efficient scheduling possible for passenger convenience, operational efficiency and fuel savings.

“We continue to meet most journey requests, currently over 90pc. We also ask drivers to give us feedback which we can use to try and prevent such occurrences in future.”

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