In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, ViaVan has announced the launch of the UK’s first demand-responsive public bus service for exclusive use by essential NHS (National Health Service) workers, powered by a mobile app.
“Stagecoach Connect” will be free for NHS staff, and was launched at Sherwood Forest Hospital NHS Trust in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire this week (ends 22 May), in partnership with Nottinghamshire County Council. The service has the potential to grow and support other NHS trusts across the UK, including in Humberside.
The service was concepted and launched in just two weeks as a way to use technology to expand access to safe, flexible and efficient transport to-and-from hospital shifts in the morning and late evening hours. Previously, hospital staff either drove a personal vehicle or took a bus with limited operating hours, no visibility into seat availability, and manual routing by drivers.
Now, Stagecoach Connect, powered by ViaVan’s technology for demand-responsive transport, will enable healthcare workers to pre-book a seat in a dynamically routed bus during extended hours. The service is designed as a complement to existing fixed line services provided by Stagecoach and bus operators around the country. Stagecoach Connect will create a cost-effective and seamless transport option for workers, without the need for a private vehicle.
Through the use of a mobile app, healthcare workers will be able to pre-book a seat up to one week in advance to match upcoming shift schedules, track the location of their bus, and change or cancel a booking. Riders will select a desired pick-up and drop-off location, and will be matched with a seat in a high-capacity bus that is fully compliant with public health guidelines for social distancing. ViaVan’s technology will direct healthcare workers to a nearby “virtual bus stop” for pick-up, allowing for quick and efficient shared trips without lengthy detours, fixed routes or schedules.
The NHS is one of the world’s largest employers with approximately 1.7 million workers across England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland working at hundreds of locations.
The rapid implementation of the program demonstrates the flexibility of demand-responsive technology for vital public sector services. The service showcases the potential for cities and organisations across the UK, like the NHS, to leverage smart, digital platforms as a solution for equitable access to mobility for both essential workers and communities that need to travel as we emerge from the pandemic.
“We are proud to work with Stagecoach to quickly launch Stagecoach Connect during the Covid-19 pandemic, and to leverage our flexible digital platform to help our partners rapidly introduce and scale mobility solutions for essential workers,” says Chris Snyder, CEO of ViaVan. “With the future of public transport in the United Kingdom at a crossroads in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis, cities today have an unprecedented opportunity to employ technology to make public transit work safely and efficiently while ensuring affordable and equitable access for all.”
“Along with other transport operators, we have worked hard to continue to provide key links to essential services, and have adapted our schedules to meet the needs of key workers,” said Martin Griffiths, Stagecoach CEO. “But, we know from our discussions with the NHS that a more tailored solution would deliver better employee transport. In just two weeks, we worked with our partners, including ViaVan, to develop a dedicated service to ensure essential hospital workers have fast and easy access to public transport around the clock.”
“We firmly believe that demand-responsive transport, backed up by technology, has huge potential for the NHS and other major organisations seeking a better and more sustainable solution to crowded car parks and unnecessary ‘single use’ polluting car trips,” says Griffiths. “As we come out of lockdown into our new normal, we are looking at how this type of service can support the public and private sector in getting back on its feet, and helping communities across the country recover.”
ViaVan, and parent company Via, are partnering with dozens of municipalities, public transit agencies, healthcare organizations, and nonprofits around the world to support mobility for essential healthcare workers and parcel delivery, and to help utilise existing transit infrastructure during this time of emergency. In Berlin, ViaVan and Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (BVG) rapidly adapted the popular BerlKönig on-demand public transportation service to serve essential healthcare workers exclusively. In the UK, ViaVan transformed and accelerated the launch of a demand-responsive bus service with Go Coach in Kent to temporarily replace all fixed-route bus lines, both reducing cost and servicing essential rides.