Pick Me Up! Transport & Tech

I love it when two of the things I use daily meet and work beautifully. What would you say if I told you I booked a BUS via an app and was home within fifteen minutes?

Oxford Bus Company today launched its new PickMeUp Service, the ability to book a bus via an app to get you to your destination. It’s not a taxi at all, it genuinely is a bus, after all, you don’t know who you’ll pick up next, or who will be the next to get off and it’s more social than a taxi ride.

The concept is simple, it’s an on-demand ride sharing minibus service. You’ll be picked up from a ‘virtual stop’ and software will help determine the best route to take to get you to your destination, along with other passengers.

Being someone who doesn’t drive, I’ve used public transport all my life and anything to make my journey a little bit more enjoyable or easier is always a bonus, so I know I had to give this new service a try. There are a couple of things to review, the app, the technology, the bus and the journey itself.

The App

The PickMeUp App is really easy to use. Registration takes around a minute. Booking a journey is really simple, you select your pick-up point and drop off point, confirm booking & payment and away you go. You’re kept up-to-date of the arrival of the vehicle, it even gives you the registration number, so you can look out for it. Text messages also tell you when the vehicle has arrived and the name of the driver. It’s quick, easy to use and fast.

The app also includes a nifty Notifications Centre, Journey History and details of your upcoming journeys – as unlike other apps, you have the ability to block book journeys, which is very handy indeed, especially for commuters. You also have the ability to set your home and work address.

Some apps claim to be “real time”. A local taxi firm in Oxford has an app that’s “real time”, but in reality, it’s not, or at least not when compared to the PickMeUp App. Seeing the bus was a minute away on the app and then it appears a minute later with me proved that. With the local taxi firm, they say they’ve arrived and you’re still searching for it…

The Technology

Linked in with the app is the technology behind it. How does the bus know where to go? How does it know who to pick up? After a brief chat with the driver and read up on the technology used, there’s a clever navigation system the driver uses that gives them the best route to take for where the passengers want to go. Ultimately, you’ve got to pick up and drop off passengers, it’s a bus after all, but the navigation system constantly works out the best route for everyone. You’ll notice when you’re booking via the app, that this also tells you it’s searching for the perfect journey. It’s intuitive stuff and a real testament to how technology is shaping the future of the public transport sector.

The Bus

The vehicles used on the service are Mercedes Sprinters. My driver told me they have a fair few of them dotted around the city, constantly moving awaiting the next pick up. Their system places them in strategic locations to ensure maximum coverage.

I remember the days when busses this size had a step entrance, hard seating and felt small (For those in Oxford, I’m thinking of the City Nipper!). But no, these Mercedes Sprinters are bright, airy, comfortable and spacious. My driver told me they have 13 seats and can carry around 7 passengers standing if there isn’t a wheelchair on board.

With comfortable seating, USB charging points and Wi-fi, even if the bus had been full, it would have still been a comfortable journey. The bus was immaculately clean too.

The Journey

I was picked up at the John Radcliffe Hospital by Claudio, who himself was extremely professional, friendly and had time to answer my question “So, do I ring the bell, or do you know where I want to get off!?” The pick-up point at the JR was a little ambiguous, I’d walked to the pick-up point location and realised there was no way the bus would be able to park there, nor make a turning. I wasn’t even sure if I’d reached the right point, so walked to viewing distance of the traffic. Luckily Claudio realised I was probably after him and parked up. We attracted some attention from a passer-by who took a leaflet, hopefully he’ll use it next!

Being the only one on board meant I had the entire vehicle to myself. Sadly we didn’t pick anyone up. This journey would usually take me two busses, or one bus and a walk normally, but I was picked up and dropped off within about ten/fifteen minutes. We even managed to navigate, very professionally and expertly, the narrow and congested Divinity Road, and for Oxford locals, you’ll know how bad this road can get. Expertly driven by Claudio, this road didn’t phase him at all. You’d not get a standard bus down this street that’s for sure, another benefit of using these smaller busses and the PickMeUp service in general.

The drop off location was on the main road from where I needed to be, ironically at an actual bus stop & not a virtual one, which equally caught the attention of those waiting for another bus. It was a quick, pleasant and stress-free journey.

So, will I use it again?

This has to be one of the best things I have tried this year and of course I’m going to use it again! At just £2.50 per trip, no matter how long it takes, it’s a bargain. I was only the second passenger for my driver on his shift, but he seemed hopeful once the word gets out, people would start using it. And I am too, it would be such a shame for this not to be a success. It’s got so much potential, from the technology used to make it happen, to the actual journeys themselves. So long as it remains competitive and affordable when compared to taxi trips within the city, this new service has clout.

We know Oxford is heavily congested. Parking at our hospitals isn’t great and the endless amount of roadworks make things even more difficult. But if we start to use services like PickMeUp, they’ll become more intuitive to our needs, traffic will become less so, and journey times will ultimately become quicker, even if you use a standard bus to get around.

I’ll use PickMeUp again for sure, I’ll use it alongside the standard bus services you get in Oxfordshire, because in my opinion, Oxford now has more choice in terms of public transport than it ever has done, we’ve just got to utilise it.

There’s more about PickMeUp here.