A DIY transport system

Buses. You know what they're like. None turn up for ages and then three drive right past. So you end up calling a taxi because you're already twenty minutes late for work.

Britain's public transport system is hardly the sharpest knife in the box but then we've known that for some time. Thing is, most of us just put up with it. Because it's the norm, because there's no point in rocking the boat, because there's no alternative.

Or is there?

One commuter got so fed up with his daily two-and-a-half hour commute that he decided to set up his own alternative public transport system – it's called Fellowtravellers.

Michael Wharton is a 41-year-old father-of-two who lives in Farsley, Leeds and works as a community worker in Batley.

His daily trip to work used to take him just half an hour in the car, but one day about three years ago, his car died on him.

"The engine seized on my way to work," recalled Mr Wharton, who is currently in charge of the UK's newest alternative public transport system.

"I couldn't afford to get it fixed, nor could I afford to get a taxi to and from work every day.

"So I discovered public transport. I had to get a bus to Pudsey train station and then take that train to Leeds and then change at Leeds to get another train to Dewsbury. Then in Dewsbury I had to get another bus and that took two-and-a-half hours.

"It ruins your home life. I have a wife and two young children and it means less time with them. When you are on public transport, you feel like a prisoner trapped on a service that's not working.

"My attitude to public transport is that it's failed. Big providers have failed. They just get too big and are then unable to respond to people's needs.

"If the bus does not come, there's no one to complain to. When it does come, riding on public transport is not a pleasant experience any more.

"I thought, there must be another way. That's when I started thinking about Fellowtravellers."

The premise is simple – commuters (or providers) log on to www.fellowtravellers.co.uk – and either search for an existing route or suggest a new one.

If enough people suggest a route, Mr Wharton passes the details on to providers, who can also browse suggested routes and even post their own to gauge interest.

One provider is running trips from Batley to Leeds on a regular basis. Raashid Khawaja, 37, is a private hire taxi driver and one of the first to take advantage of the service. The married father-of-three said: "At the moment, I am taking four passengers from Batley to Birstall and then picking four more up and taking them from Morley to Leeds. They are people going to work.

"It's a very good idea because people do not have to wait around for a bus and they do not have the expense of using their own car. In terms of the trip, the costs for them is lower because they share. It's economic and convenient. It's good for me because I know it's a job I have got and I'm not waiting around for one. I think it could have a tremendous future."

The scheme has also won backing from Northumberland County Council, and one provider is setting up a route in Cheshire. Mr Wharton is hopeful other local authorities will consider it.

He said: "It's like a dating agency for travellers and providers. The Fellowtravellers website shows providers where the demand for routes is, before they invest anything. For the providers, it's guaranteed income."

Mr Wharton added: "There are other savings too. The website is driven by consumers and does not have the massive management structures the bus and train companies do.

"There's basically just me and I get paid a small commission from the provider.

"In terms of helping the environment, it's good because if the scheme works, it will help reduce congestion.

"All I need is for people who are fed up with public transport – and people who want to give up using their cars – to log on and start using the site."

The website itself, designed by Leeds-based Jezebel Design, was only launched on February 9 and therefore has few established routes.

Only time will tell if Mr Wharton's vision of a demand-led alternative public transport system will appeal to the public.