Flexibus – the easy way to get around?
A new on-demand rideshare service has been launched, connecting parts of East Sussex with limited or no bus service to major towns including Lewes. So how does it stack up? Travel Man at Travel Log Lewes has been giving it a spin.
With no fanfare and little publicity East Sussex Council has launched its bus on-demand service, called Flexibus.
- Bus passes are valid subject to the normal conditions
- For paying passengers fares are roughly in line with ordinary buses – currently capped at £2 per single journey until 31 October 2023 under the government’s price cap, then rising to £2.50 until November 2024. East Sussex £5 tickets which cover all services will be valid.
- No animals except assistance dogs.
- No unaccompanied under 15-year-olds.
- One wheelchair space and also improved facilities for people who do not need a wheelchair but who have mobility issues.
- Because these are minbuses, there are limited spaces. You can book up to five places in one booking if there is space available. You may find that there are no places available at the time you want to book.
- The service operates between 07.00 and 19.00 Monday to Saturday except bank holidays (so no late-night trips back from the pub)
- Book by mobile app or by phoning 01273 078 203 between 06.30 and 19.30 Monday to Saturday
- You will be encouraged to use normal train or bus services. For example, if you want to go to Milton Street, near Alfriston, you may be asked to go to Berwick Station where the minbus will pick you up.
- Book between 1 week and 30 minutes before your trip if there are spaces. Cancel up to 30 minutes before.
- If you don’t turn up you will be charged. It is not clear what happens if you do not turn up because your train or bus is delayed or whether the minibuses will wait for connections.
- For the time being, at least, all normal services, including CTLA’s dial a ride, will operate as normal.
The minibuses operate within set zones – see here. The first zone to go live near Lewes is the South Downs zone, which covers an area bounded by Glyndebourne, Hailsham, East Dean, Alfriston Southease Station and Beddingham.
For each zone there are some places in nearby towns where you can also book to and from.
In the South Downs zone, you can book from the following places in Lewes:
- The Railway Station
- School Hill bottom
- The Gallops (for Victoria Hospital)
If you are booking to a destination within this zone you need to book to start or finish your journey at one of these points, not your home or anywhere else.
The app or operator will always encourage you to use ordinary transport where available. So for example, if you want to go from your house to Folkington village, the app may ask you to go to Berwick station to be picked up there. Or you may be asked to get the 125 bus if one is due and to walk from the nearest bus stop to the village (This may not be the case if you say you have mobility difficulties). Or, if these solutions do not work, you may be offered a pick-up or drop-off from one of the points in Lewes set out above.
North of Lewes zone
Like the South Downs zone, the North of Lewes zone does not actually cover Lewes, although you will be able to be picked up or dropped off at the same places in town as for the South Downs zone.
Otherwise it covers an area bound by Ringmer, West of Laughton, Little Horsted, Piltdown, North Chailey, Wivelsfield, Ditchling, Ditchling Beacon, Half Moon Plumpton and Hamsey. So you could go from Lewes station to East Chiltington, for example.
Outside of the main towns and other areas well served by buses, the whole of East Sussex county will be covered. Wherever you want to go, however, you are likely to have to use public transport to get yourself to the nearest town (for example, Hastings) and then book a Flexibus to get you to your final destination.
Booking a trip
Fleixbus invites you to book trips using the ‘Ride Pingo’ app. All apps are hard to get used to and Travelman’s keeps crashing. It may be worth phoning for your first journeys. Despite what it says on the app you can take your dog with you, or a folding bicycle
If using the app you will be asked to create an account. Although some of the information tells you that you should register your bus pass there is no way to do it.
Once registered, you can select your proposed journey up to a week in advance. If you are offered a Flexibus as part of your journey you will need to book it. If you have a bus pass select “pay on the bus” when asked how you will pay and show your pass when you get on. You can also do this if you are paying, but will also have the opportunity to pay online by adding a payment method to your account. (This gives the providers the ability to deduct money from your account whenever they think you owe them something)
If you have the app you can also track where your minibus is while you are waiting.
Potential issues with Flexibus
Flexibus may be a welcome service for those in underserved areas of the county. But it clearly presents some issues – namely:
- How often will demand outstrip supply so that you cannot book?
- How often will minibuses be significantly delayed so that you miss appointments or vital connections?
- How long before ordinary services are cut?