- "Communities keep communities moving" concept has become
an established part of the local transport system
"A valuable contribution to securing mobility in the long term" – that was how Oliver Wittke, North Rhine-Westphalia’s minister of construction and transport, described the region’s 70th community bus – a Mercedes-Benz Mobility Sprinter. The minister was speaking on the occasion of the inauguration of the new bus service on 18 September 2006. Friedhard Drebing, mayor of Nordkirchen, Werner Linnenbrink, departmental director of transport operator Westfälische Verkehrsgesellschaft, and Dr Janet Bischof, chairwoman of the local community bus association, were also present.
Some 50 community bus associations provide an exceptional mobility concept in North Rhine-Westphalia. Operating on the principle of "communities keep communities moving", the associations use their own "community buses" to provide local public transport in areas such as sparsely populated rural districts and on the fringes of many towns where it would otherwise be impossible. Community buses have been in use in North Rhine-Westphalia since 1983 when this became the first of Germany’s regions to adopt the idea from the neighbouring Netherlands where the concept of the "Buurtbus" ("neighbourhood bus") had already become established at the end of the 1970s. The idea took off in Germany, too, especially in North Rhine-Westphalia. If transport companies find that passenger numbers are too low to support traditional local public transport on certain routes, they can incorporate a community bus in their range of services. Community buses are minibuses with volunteer drivers. They operate on routes with fixed stops in accordance with a regular-service timetable prepared by the community bus association. Today, with no less than 70 separate projects up and running, community buses are an established part of the transport system in North Rhine-Westphalia where they play a key role as the smallest link in the public transport chain. Community buses now operate as regular-service buses on franchised routes with timetables, fixed stops and approved fare structures while the relevant transport companies take care of the statutory and technical issues. In the case of the Nordkirchen community bus association, these aspects are handled by Regionalverkehr Münsterland (RVM) [the regional transport operator for the Münster region] which also performs the same role for five other community bus associations. Nevertheless, the community bus remains a trans-port solution which is founded on the local community’s readiness to take the initiative in line with the "communities keep communities moving" concept. The MWMTV (Ministry of Industry, Enterprise, Technology and Transport) supports each association to the tune of 5000 euros every year and offers a one-off subsidy of 30,000 euros for the purchase of a new vehicle.
Finished in white with a striking red front, the Mercedes-Benz Mobility Sprinter minibus is an ideal choice as a community bus. Equipped with seven passenger seats plus the driver and co-driver seats, it has the right capacity to serve the rural communities on the route between Capelle, Nordkirchen and Südkirchen which are not covered by traditional regular-service buses. The passenger seats are mounted on aluminium rails for quick removal or reconfiguration if it is necessary to accommodate a wheelchair, for example. All the seats are equipped with three-point seat belts. The passenger area is illuminated and also has a nightlight feature which dims the lighting to a comfortable level when travelling during the hours of darkness. Each opening and closing operation of the electric sliding door, which is controlled from the driving position, is accompanied respectively by the automatic deployment and retraction of a step which makes access to the vehicle easier for elderly passengers or those with restricted mobility.
The minibus is powered by a four-cylinder in-line diesel engine with a displacement of 2148 cc and an output of 60 kW (82 hp). This unit, which is fitted in combination with a five-speed manual transmission, complies with the currently applicable Euro 3 emissions standard. Disc brakes all round, ABS, ASR (acceleration skid control) and the ESP Electronic Stability Program offer a high level of safety.
Like all other community buses, the Nordkirchen community bus meets the needs of individuals, municipalities and local public transport companies alike. It safeguards and increases the mobility of the population of the rural region of Münster and makes a not inconsiderable contribution to the common good. The successful symbiosis of community bus and local public transport provides the flexibility which is universally sought after. The community bus serves all the areas where traditional public transport would be unprofitable or impossible while allowing the local public transport company to make savings without damaging its image. Rather than simply being abandoned, routes with low passenger numbers can be kept going with the community bus. Every community bus association stands and falls with the commitment of the volunteer drivers – the house-wives, students, pensioners, unemployed persons and workers who form its backbone. In Nordkirchen there are currently 16 drivers who, quite literally, join the different communities together.