AN INNOVATIVE bus service with the attributes of a taxi called Arriva Click is set to transform public transport across Kent following trials in the county.

Arriva UK Bus has become the first national operator to launch a fleet of small luxury carriers which are responsive only to customer demand, using modern technology.

The company has come under attack in recent months over cutbacks to its established routes, which have seen the axing of the No 6 route between Pembury and Tunbridge Wells.

And the initiaitve could prove to be a massive boon for those who have found themselves isolated in rural areas as budget cuts caused austerity take hold.

The ArrivaClick smartphone app is enabling travellers to summon a minibus to collect them at a specified time and take them wherever they wish to go.

Their journey is then matched with other customers who are going to the same destination, and each minibus has capacity for 12 people.

Customers are guaranteed a seat on the Mercedes minibus, and the new vehicles boast leather seats, tables, USB points, free Wifi and electrical charging points.

So far the project has been tested at Kent Science Park in Medway, where more than a quarter of the 1,750 workers used it.

It was subsequently widened to encompass large swathes of the town of Sittingbourne, operating between 6am and 7.30pm. The company has pledged to pick up clients in 10 minutes.

Journeys will cost £1 per mile as an introductory price, while passengers who are accompanied by family or friends will see the additional travellers travel half price.

The venture was developed in partnership with a US transport solutions company  called Via, which provides ‘dynamic shared ride’ services in New York, Chicago and Washington DC.

To take advantage of the service, customers download the app on their mobile phones and create an account to buy credit, which can be topped up.

They are given a cost for the journey – it is a cashless system – and an estimated time of arrival at their destination.

If they choose to accept these conditions, they can then track the bus’s arrival at the meeting point on the app while they wait.

Oliver Monahan, Area Managing Director for Arriva in Kent and Surrey, said: “ArrivaClick reflects what we know about our existing customers who value timeliness and flexibility as well as recognising a shift in consumer and market behaviour which has seen people expecting a service that is bespoke and tailored to their needs, whilst also being responsive and sitting in the palm of their hand.

“ArrivaClick delivers all of the above and is a totally new way of travelling. We see similar ways of travelling on the continent and we believe there is a demand for this type of service here in the UK too. We hope that it will encourage people to try alternative ways to travel.”

The American firm Via has provided a custom-built passenger and driver apps alongside powerful backend technology which uses algorithms to regulate the routing and dispatch functions.

These algorithms allow passengers to be picked up and dropped off in an endless stream, without having to go out of their way to cater for other users.

Zachary Wasserman, Head of Global Business Development at Via, said: “This is the first time Via has partnered with a transit organisation to provide a full end-to-end operating system.

“So far we have enjoyed great growth in the United States that has seen us provide more than 12 million rides, and we’re looking forward to growing the service in the UK.”

The Sittingbourne experiment has been up and running for two months, and the long-term ambition is to roll out the programme on a nationwide basis.

For more information, visit www.arrivaclick.co.uk