revolutionLast year, The Economist ran a feature on how our relationship with cars has shifted, particularly since the arrival of smartphones.

Last month, Christian Wolmar, premier transport journalist, said on his blog, “I suspect there is a revolution coming in transport just as disruptive as the internet has been to everything from newspaper publishing to Blockbusters, and we should at least understand the nature of innovation or, at best, embrace it.”

Technology is burgeoning with possibilities. Climate change is looming. And people are sick of sitting in traffic jams. The drums of change in transport are rumbling.

What better place for a transport revolution than Bristol? Currently, Bristol has some of the worst traffic in the country. There are various proposed infrastructure projects to improve traffic along main corridors into and around the city. Buxi, however, aims to complement those by improving the public transport offering for the first and last mile of a passenger’s journey, and to cater to those journeys that don’t lie on a transport corridor.

Buxi C.I.C. is now in discussion with major employers in the North Fringe area of Bristol and the Local Sustainable Transport Fund to provide the service to people travelling to and from work, to help alleviate traffic and parking problems in the area. We’ll keep you posted on developments. In the meantime, keep your ears and eyes open, change is on the way. (And you might just love it.)

Test-run three: to Cabot Park, Avonmouth

strong-arm-mdIf you think about it, Avonmouth should be bustling. It is one of the UK’s major ports for chilled foods. There are also large chemical manufacturing plants and distribution centres for major retail operations. It has good motorway and rail links. In 2010, there were 14 200 people employed in the area and it has been designated an Enterprise Zone with the forecast of creating 10 000 new jobs by 2030.

And yet, in an email written a year ago in support of the WEST bid for LSTF funding, Sue Turner of the Bristol Port Authority described Avonmouth as having the feel of a ‘withered arm’. Why?

One reason, and frankly the one we at Esoterix are interested in, is public transport. There isn’t any. Or not much.

Take Cabot Park (in Avonmouth)as an example. There are some trains but from St. Andrews station to where people work is at least a half hour walk.

Those reliant on public transport to get to work (but not living directly on the train line) have a miserable time.

Most people living in the North West of the city, such as in Filton, Horfield, Southmead and Brentry, have to take one or  two buses to get to Lawrence Weston. They then face a 45 minute walk down Kings Weston Lane, a road without lighting and, for a large part, pavements. Picture that in winter: a long, dark, cold, dangerous journey to work.

Unsurprisingly, driving is how most people get to work. Many employers admit that, if a job applicant doesn’t have a car (and a driving license, obviously), their company will throw their CV in the bin. No car, no job. No job, no car. It’s a vicious circle.

And I’ve told you all that so you have a bit of background before I tell you this: how our test-run to Cabot Park went.

It was frosty, it was dark, it was early one morning in December when we picked up our passengers and delivered them to work. As in our previous test-runs, operationally things went smoothly.

So what did the passengers think?

74% agreed that buxi is a good idea. When questioned, the other 26% turned out to be unsure because of misconceptions about the service. For example, one person thought the service would run only once in the morning and once in the evening and would therefore stop them from working overtime; in fact, the service would run regularly in order to accommodate all the different shift patterns across Cabot Park. Another person assumed the service would be significantly dearer than using a car; in fact, the service aims to be cheaper.

87% of participants currently use a car to get to and from work and the other 13% cycle or use public transport. The majority of the car drivers said they would use buxi daily at the right price (that price generally being the cost of petrol). The cyclists would use the service in bad weather.

There was widespread support for a shuttle service between Avonmouth and St. Andrews stations and Cabot Park.

Many people expressed the wish that “the service had been around when they first started work”. It is well understood that new recruits are more likely to consider adopting sustainable modes of transport than long-time employees.

If Avonmouth is to attract the 10 000 new jobs, efficient, sustainable transport options are needed now in order to avoid the need for large and expensive road infrastructure projects in the future. A recent report by Atkins states that only 1 000 of those new jobs will materialize if there is no significant improvement to transport provision in the area. If Avonmouth is to feel like a strong and healthy arm rather than a withered one, the area needs transport solutions.

The test-run reinforced our conviction that buxi is a good fit for Cabot Park. Buxi can service a large area, delivering passengers to the door of work and adjust to shift patterns of the various companies, without committing to the expense of a scheduled service.

If you agree (or if you don’t!) please comment.

Test-run two: Yate to Southmead Hospital

The 22nd November was a rainy day. Swathes of Britain had been flooded and, although Bristol wasn’t as badly affected as other areas, many of the country roads that commuters often use as alternative routes into and out of Bristol were out of action. This made traffic in and around the city particularly bad.

The 22nd November was also the day that we ran our second test-run, from Yate to Southmead Hospital. Here’s a summary of how it went, rain and all.

As we had in our first test-run, we ran two vehicles during two 3 hour windows, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. However, because individuals’ work hours at the hospital vary considerably, many of the passengers who had registered to use buxi couldn’t because the departure times didn’t suit them. Some got in touch to express their disappointment and continued interest in buxi, including Kerry Cleaver who said

I was really excited at the thought of not having to drive to work but unfortunately the timings don’t fit round my day […] what a shame! I think it’s a great idea though and hope it takes off.”

In fact excitement about buxi was common from all the passengers. One lady normally catches the bus to work. It takes her two hours to get to work (and she often arrives late) and two hours to get home again. Four hours on buses, on top of her full working day. To be collected from close to home and taken directly to work, and to arrive within an hour was a real treat. When asked what she’d pay for the service she said, ‘Any price would be considered’. The sentiment of a woman who is tired and frustrated and feels stuck.

Another passenger normally travels to work by train. This involves a 30 minute walk from the hospital to the station, the commuter train which stops at Abbey Wood is notoriously over-crowded and uncomfortable, and she relies on her husband to collect her from the station at the end of the day.

But for most, (as in Kerry’s case) it was relief that they didn’t have to drive.

Interestingly, approximately 40% of the respondents to the test-run offer lived outside the test-run area. They had their own stories of the daily difficulty they face in getting to work.

It is clear that the people working at Southmead are putting extraordinary effort into getting to the hospital to do their jobs.

During conversations with passengers on the buxis, all expressed an interest in using the service in the future although for some their decision would, naturally, be price dependent. We already know that cost is a key decision factor, even if they currently feel desperate the price has to be fair. And the service has to offer tangible benefits over their existing journey.

Despite the extra heavy traffic caused by the rain, we completed our journeys in less time than the passengers would normally expect to take in their cars. The bus lanes helped a little (even if they are only in operation from 7.30 to 9.30), as did the experience of our ever chirpy drivers, Matt and Chris.

Happy passengers, collected without a hitch, delivered on time, and expressing an interest in using buxi in the future: we gave ourselves a tick. The main lesson learnt was a good one: people travel to and from from the hospital throughout the day rather than just at peak times.

If you took part in the test run, how do you feel about buxi? Your thoughts and experiences, as ever, are crucial to us building the service you want.

Test-run One – Bradley Stoke to Filton

we-are-learningAfter months theorising about passengers and designing a system that we hope they will like and want to use, finally putting buxis on the road for the first time was a major step. When you’re trying something new, you expect it to be a ‘learning process’ (read, you expect to make mistakes). This is a little summary of what we learnt – good and bad.

Firstly, it became apparent that the 1.8 miles from Airbus to Abbey Wood seems an awfully long way to passengers in bad and unpredictable traffic. For them, the time we spent travelling to Abbey Wood was wasted time and lessened the attractiveness of the service. When planning a regular service, this detour would reduce the number of shuttle runs we could do to our destination (Bradley Stoke). And, although in theory we could get more passengers on the vehicles, in practice the extra time the journey takes would deter passengers from Airbus getting on in the first place.

To entice people out of their cars, the level of convenience needs to be high and the journeys need to be an efficient use of the passengers’ time. Sitting in lines of traffic going in the wrong direction just ain’t efficient. So any services we run to Airbus and Abbey Wood have to be separate, not combined.

However, removing one leg of the journey enables us to do more shuttle runs, offering greater time choice to passengers and improving convenience. If this encourages more passengers then it reduces the cost per passenger. Which brings us on to price…

Price matters. Whilst we can argue that taking a buxi is a comparable to or even cheaper than driving, only 8% of our passengers said they would consider selling a car if a regular buxi service were available to them. This means that any fare they pay to use buxi is on top of car ownership, not instead of. This makes price critical.

And price-matching a day-rider bus fare isn’t cheap enough because, on the whole, these are already considered expensive. So, we’re looking at ways to get the price down to a level which is attractive and still provides an excellent level of service and convenience. It can be done but it needs bums on seats: passengers.

So what will encourage passengers to change their travel habits and choose buxi when the service starts? ‘Modal shift’, as it’s called in the transport industry, is notoriously difficult to bring about. However, car driving in the North Fringe of Bristol is reaching a critical point because there simply isn’t enough car parking.

Every employer we’ve spoken to has, or will soon have, significantly less car parking spaces than staff. Employers’ choices include charging for parking and/or issuing parking permits that is, refusing some staff the option of parking at work. But who and on what basis? It becomes very negative.

For the passengers who are already denied parking permission and who struggle to get to work using alternative transport, buxi would be (in their words) ‘a god send’.

People need viable alternatives to get them to work and we’re working with employers to meet that demand. Meeting passengers face-to-face turned out to be affirming, 96% of our survey respondents said they think buxi is a good idea. And whilst we’ve got to work on the convenience levels and price, we’re learning.

We ran a test-run!

julia-buxiWow! On Thursday 1st November, two buxis made six journeys between Bradley Stoke and major employers in Filton, including Airbus and NHSBT.

This day felt like a major milestone after months of work and, I won’t lie, we were nervous. But, we’d prepared thoroughly and it went well.

Julia and I were on the buxis to talk to passengers and get their reactions to the service first-hand. They also filled in a questionnaire on the return journey. Overwhelmingly the response was positive. We were also able to get some insight into their usual travel habits, car ownership, and their attitudes to various pricing models.

This week we’re assessing the passenger feedback in detail and reflecting on what went well, what didn’t go so well, and what more we need to do next time. Because the next time is coming up soon. In less than three weeks we’re running another test-run between Yate and Southmead Hospital.

Watch this space for updates.

A new dawn

A new dawnThere’s article in last week’s Economist titled ‘Seeing the back of the car’. It seems that car use has had its heyday and in the developed world, we’re driving less. Academics are beginning to talk about ‘peak car’, the notion that car ownership and vehicle-kilometres driven have plateaued or are even decreasing (in rich countries).

The article highlights possible reasons for this, including higher fuel prices and the fact that more purchases than ever are made online (rather than shoppers driving to the shop). But there are other more intriguing reasons, in particular that “young people increasingly see cars as appliances not aspirations and say that social media give them the access to their world that would one have been associated with cars”. The common thread in the last two points is the internet. The rise of digital technology is eating away at the need to drive.

There is a vibe that owning a car is, frankly, a bit of a bind, that it feels like ‘being tied down – like a marriage’. This weight of commitment is echoed by a study published on Friday on the Yahoo Finance website: What cars really cost you. The figure is, wait for it… £158,835 over (the average) 42 years. That is a lot of money but transport will always cost something. What is really interesting is the feeling that underlies this study. As a society, we are beginning to rethink our relationship with car.

Buxi offers travellers a new option: convenient, comfortable, reliable transport, from close to home to work. They are free to use their travel time as they wish, accessing messages on their phone, reading a book, chatting to colleagues, or just staring out of the window. When they arrive, they get off and walk away, no parking hassle. Their conscience is greener, knowing that shared transport reduces the environmental damage of their journey.  And, there’s the little issue of money. Travelling by buxi is cheaper than running a car. It’s not free, of course, but it’s much less.

Technology is changing our aspirations but also transport possibilities (buxi is possible because of GPS capabilities and wi-fi hotspots). We are witnessing the beginning of the end of the age of the car. At Esoterix, think the age of buxi is dawning.


We won!

"We won!" Cartoon image of two people doing a high five.Yesterday, the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership announced us as winners of the Low Carbon Mobility Challenge. And we’re mighty proud!

This competition is run to identify and promote low carbon innovations with the potential to cut carbon emissions and other environmental impacts arising from transport in cities.

“The [winning] ideas challenge conventional thinking and show how different approaches to mobility might reduce the overall carbon impact significantly” says Andy Eastlake, LowCVP Managing Director.

We were selected on a competitive basis from entries covering a variety of solutions. The selection was by an expert panel was based on the merits and impacts of our technology for reducing vehicle CO2 emissions, commercial viability and ease of integration.

The judges included senior representatives of: the Technology Strategy Board; the Transport Research Laboratory; the Institution of Mechanical Engineers; the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership and other leading industrial organisations and experts drawn from the LowCVP’s wide membership.

We will now present our ideas to a specialist group of executives from vehicle manufacturers and other potential investors or supporters at a dedicated seminar in early October.


The true cost of driving to work

It’s no secret that government policy has for years supported a car economy and that driving has been relatively cheap. But as our road network struggles to cope with the volume of traffic and petrol prices rise so does the financial cost of commuting by car.

The AA estimates the standing and running costs of a car worth less than £12000 and driven 10 000 miles a year is £0.46/mile. However, in slow traffic fuel efficiency is reduced. On average, traffic in greater Bristol moves at 15mph and at peak times may be less than 10mph. At these speeds fuel efficiency is more than halved. The fuel component of the £0.46 is £0.14 per mile, therefore a more realistic cost for commuting in heavy traffic is £0.60 per mile. Which means, on a bad day, the cost of a 10 mile commute could be approaching £6.00 (one way).

In this American info-graphic, they go one step further and itemise not just the fuel and standing costs of car ownership, but how the time we spend behind the wheel affects our salary. It’s an interesting idea: factor in our time and the cost of commuting is even higher.

However, any journey to work is going to take some time. And we can’t all work from home or even live close to where we work; we need to travel.

In Silicon Valley, the major technology companies offer luxury work shuttle buses as a perk to their employees. The buses have high-speed internet and plush leather seats. They reduce traffic congestion, create transportation jobs, and, in a city where land is expensive, they are able to expand their workforce without committing land to car-parking. But, most importantly, the passengers love it. Wiltse Carpenter, a 45 year old software engineer says of going to work by shuttle bus “It’s changed my quality of life.”

Time is money. Or rather, time is valuable. In the Silicon Valley, quality transport services which give people time by both reducing the length of their journey and freeing them from driving, so they can do something less frustrating instead, has changed the economics of driving.

That’s what we’d like to do in Bristol.

What do you think?

How do you feel about driving to work? What would persuade you to change how you travel?

We’d love to hear your views.

Getting out of a jam

Congestion is something that affects everyone.  It’s an issue we’re all too familiar with, something to moan about by the office water cooler every morning, and a problem that is worsening by the day.

But you know we’ve truly reached a crossroads when the Chairman of Ford outlines his ‘Blueprint for Mobility’ in a bid to tackle such issues.  During his keynote speech at the 2012 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Bill Ford called for the automotive, telecommunication and passenger transport industries to unite and address the growing mobility crisis.

There are approximately one billion cars on the world’s roads today and this figure is set to rise to four billion by mid-century.  Our current transport infrastructure isn’t coping today, so it’s hard to imagine what throwing another three billion motor vehicles into the mix will achieve, other than a recipe for disaster.

Ford proposed, “a system that uses real-time data to optimize personal mobility on a massive scale, without trade-offs or compromises for individual travellers.  A smart system that ties all modes of travel into a single network linking together public and personal transportation.”

We at Esoterix agree; in fact, buxi does just that.  Our system uses telecommunication, information and location technology to provide a smoother, easier journey to work.

(And who knows – maybe one day in the not too distant future we’ll have to find something else to complain to our colleagues about in the morning?)

Questions that need answers

Questions that need answersOn the back of a carton of smoothie (of all places) is a question that hits a transport nerve.

Amongst mock curiosity about ‘mouse flavoured cat food’ and ‘why dinosaurs had such tiny hands’ (hardly topics to lose sleep over), is a question that really is troublesome: ‘What is the socially acceptable distance when sitting next to someone on public transport?’

The problem is troublesome because people have different ideas about what is acceptable and what is not. Putting a number on subjective social nuances is tricky.

In designing a new form of public transport, we (Esoterix) have to think carefully about the problem of ‘other passengers’. Sooner or later, we’ll have to put a number on the ‘acceptable distance’. Economic, logistical, and environmental considerations all play a part, but we believe passenger comfort is key to a successful service.

So, we’re looking carefully at the vehicles we’ll use and the space allocated for each passenger. And, if you’ve got thoughts on what you think is acceptable (or not acceptable), we’d be interested to hear them. Perhaps, mull it over whilst drinking a glass of smoothie?