Inverurie residents will be the first in Aberdeenshire to hop aboard a new Uber-style public transport system being tried out in the north-east.
The mobile phone app, whereby residents can book travel as and when they need it, will be trialled in and around the town.
The decision to run the pilot programme comes following a public consultation on the “demand-responsive” approach.
Aberdeenshire Council had initially hoped to trial the new system, which replaces traditional fixed-route timetables buses, in both Inverurie and Deeside but ruled out the latter for now due to cost restraints.
A community consultation on the initiative found 76% of its 300 respondents agreeing that now is a good time to try out the new system, and 82% saying if the scheme operated in their area they would use an app to book their bus “some, or all, of the time”.
Unlike the council’s existing A2B dial-a-bus services, which has set weekday booking times and a one-hour notice requirement, the new system allows passengers to book a vehicle when they want to travel – with the first available bus then dispatched.
Passengers can book through an Uber-style phone app which will also show them their pick-up time, directions to their bus stop and to track their transport’s arrival.
The system will also provide the times of any other bus services operating in the area. Passengers without a smartphone can still book their lift by phoning or emailing the council’s passenger transport unit.
Ewan Wallace, the local authority’s head of transportation, is hopeful that the venture may be rolled out more widely later this year.
He said: “I am delighted to see plans for an enhanced ‘demand responsive’ transport pilot scheme being progressed.
“We are confident this scheme will provide an improved and more flexible type of service for many passengers.
“Unfortunately we cannot, at this time, proceed with the Deeside option owing to both cost and operational issues.
“However, these may change in the Covid-19 recovery period and it may therefore be possible to revisit the option in the future.”
Transport operators are now being invited to tender to provide the service in the Inverurie area from August 2021, involving five minibuses operating Monday to Saturday.
The Inverurie service area extends as far as the settlements of Insch, Rothienorman, Oldmeldrum, Kintore, Kemnay and Monymusk,
The fixed route bus services which are proposed to be withdrawn and fully or partly replaced by the new DRT service include the 22 Inverurie Town; 240 Saturday service and 416 weekly shopper bus Rhynie – Auchleven – Inverurie; 41 Insch – Inverurie; 308 Turriff – Rothienorman – Inverurie; 421 Alford – Kemnay – Inverurie; and the 49 route section between Oldmeldrum and Inverurie.
Several “demand responsive” transport systems are in operation in rural parts of England.
They are hailed as “more efficient and more green” as they reduce the number of journeys being made across the area.
But when Aberdeenshire councillors met to discuss the proposal earlier this year, Mid Formatine member Paul Johnston argued that in some areas, such as along the Inverurie to Ellon route, timetabled services should remain.
Mearns councillor George Carr sought assurances that the existing phone booking line will remain for those unable to use the app, and welcomed a promise of “virtually no time lag delay” in the app booking process.