The scheme is managed by Keith Goodwin who, with scheduler Bryan Carey and Assistant Manager Debbie Harris, supply the public with a range of options, centred around a demand-responsive transport system with a fare structure and a door-to-door service for paid-up members, of which there are currently 720. Of course, bus passes are also accepted after 9.30am.
“In fact, 60% of what we do is shopping trips,” says Keith. “The Door To Door service is open to members who pay £15 a year to join and then pay what is basically a mileage charge for each trip, worked with a banded fare structure.”
The service – run under the auspices of a Section 22 Community Bus Permit – is so focused on this core business that one of the vehicles even has a dedicated space for supermarket shopping boxes. But all of the vehicles are wheelchair accessible.
Not all passengers want to go shopping. A proportion book a ride to reach luncheon clubs, day centres and other social activities: “Most of our customers have either mobility issues or perhaps can’t carry shopping,” says Keith. “It’s a lifeline for many people; some have told us that, before they took their first trip with us, they hadn’t left the house for two years.
“Many have no immediate next of kin to care for them but for others, it’s just a matter of pride that they don’t like to ask for lifts. But that’s what we’re here for.”
The crew of nine regular drivers work a shift pattern from 8am until 6pm. Two additional drivers handle group hire. All are paid: “The majority are people who have retired and often work because they want to give something back to their community,” says Keith. “As a result of the age profile, we have no problems with D1 entitlement.”
Keeping its focus on quality has led to several initiatives. For example, in terms of the vehicles’ maintenance, NDDS operates to PSV standard, with mechanical checks every eight weeks and daily walk-round checks, and NDDS achieved a CTA Quality Mark Level 1 in May 2014.
“The CTA Quality Mark was a great opportunity for us to take a look at ourselves. It was a lot of work,” says Keith. “We are always on the brink of new legislation, and getting the Quality Mark resolved a lot of issues.”
The fleet logistics are handled on computer using CATSS – a software system developed by Thames Valley CIC (Community Interest Company), itself owned by three community transport organisations. The software has thus been designed with operations like NDDS in mind, handling everything from scheduling to staff and vehicle management.
The need to run a tight ship is underlined by constant pressure on grant aid, though Keith says this forms less than half NDDS’ income: “We raise a further 10% from donations and additional money from a local trust funds,” he said. The rest is income from membership, hire fees and fares.
Although this gives NDDS a certain amount of independence, Keith says the future is always uncertain: “We could do so much more with more money. We find it difficult to find funders who will make a long-term commitment. The service relies on the trust and council.”
One factor restricting s is NDDS’ requirement to work within the confines of Northampton Borough Council: “We get quite a few calls from villages outside of the borough but our registration restricts us to working within the council area,” says Keith. “That said, we have a ‘refusal rate’ of just 5%.
“We don’t advertise ourselves because we want to maintain that reliability. If we overstretched our resources we’d not be able to deliver the services we want people to rely on.”