TransWilts CRP, CIC and Melksham RUG
Public and sustainable transport in Wiltshire

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Is the RUH hopper a limited, duplicate service running unnecessarily and at high cost?

The Royal United Hospital covers Bath and North and West Wiltshire - an area of about 20 miles by 20 miles. But it's situated just a few hundred yards from the boundary of that area - and furthermore it's "hidden" behind the city of Bath from the area it serves, in the 'burbs of that city. It was our "local" A&E hospital even when I lived in Easterton, beyond Devizes - and that's a drive of over 25 miles, the AA telling me it takes 52 minutes.

I have an appointment at the RUH on Tuesday morning - I think it's their first of the day - and like many I'm not sure that I'll be able to drive to / from that appointment. So I used the Connecting Wiltshire website for travel advise. To get to my appointment:
• longish walk from Spa Road to Melksham Station
• train to Trowbridge
• train to Bath
• short walk to bus station
• First bus (14) to hospital.
To get back:
• 9 minute walk to Manor Park
• First bus (1) to Bus Station
• 16 minute walk (?) to Dorchester Street
• Faresaver bus (x72) to Melksham / Spa Road
I have avoided the option that had me using First Bus, CT Coaches and Faresaver. Although the system tells me that I can use the x72 back to Spa Road, local knowldege tells me that the x72 on that road is suspended from 21st September for a period of about 7 weeks ... and that if I hadn't realised prior to the bus leaving the Market Place I would have been carried all the way out to the bypass and the next stop about a mile beyond at Bowerhill. The system gives me no indication of what my fare will be.

The RUH Hopper bus collects people from north and west Wiltshire and takes people "directly" to the hospital, with hourly arrivals at the RUH. Phone in by 10:00 on the day prior to your appointment and they'll schedule you on a run with a specific arrival time, and schedule your return too. Flexiroute, to phone again to find your pickup time ... fare (from Melksham) £10.80.

Rather than the hassle of the public transport, at goodness knows what total cost (and interesting replanning if the appointment overruns), I'm trying out the Hopper on Tuesday. It sounds like an excellent servive which may overcome the issues I've highlighted above above with public transport to the hospital - I will report back and let you know.

However ... from Wiltshire Council published figures, there are less than 3 people on average on each run of the Hopper bus. Each individual passenger journey is subsidised by the taxpayer by over £10.00. And only 2 return trips per day are made by people actually paying the published fare. Others - staff, regular users and concessionary bus pass holders pay only a fraction of what I'll be paying, and they make up 93% of passenger journeys. So it's a good service, and it meets the need of 2 or 3 people an hour to get to the hospital, but it is rather expensive. Typically, questions are asked about bus subsidies if the subsidy is in excess of £3.50 per journey,

Wiltshire Council are, rightly, concerned at the large sum they're paying per journey to and from the RUH, and indeed they have suggested two options:
a) Complete withdrawal
b) Modification to reduce the need for subsidy.
Option (b) involved increasing the cost by 50%, and reduducing the services from 11 to 8 per day. And the think this would reduce the cost from £150,000 to £90,000 per annum - so adssuming that passenger number didn't changes, that's still a subsidy of £6.00 per journey, which is way in excess of what they pay elsewhere - they have withdrawn services that took people to and from work with a subsidy requirement of just £1.50

It strikes me that there is a third option. And that is "sort out the exisiting public transport".

There are - in addition to the Hopper service - 4 buses an hour from Chippenham / Corsham, 2 from Melksham (1 of which starts back at Devizes) and 2 from Warminster, Westbury, Trowbridge and Bradford-on-Avon into Bath Bus Station. And there are six buses an hour on route 14 from Bath Bus Station to the Royal United Hospital (and they carry on to Weston). Why not extend the buses arriving into Bath from Wiltshire to Weston? Even if some of the buses I'm changing are already very busy, the extra traffic (at half a passenger per bus) really isn't going to make much difference to the loading.

So what are the effects of this change?

• Two buses an hour rather than one from all West Wilts towns to the RUH (rather than 1 hopper as at present)
• Evening and Saturday and Sunday direct services which Hopper does not offer
• No nightmare of rescheduling when an appoitment overruns - just wait for the next bus
• No need to book ahead
• Consistent journey time / does not depend on who else is on the service that day
• Saving of £150,000 on current expenditure

There are some negative issues:

• in some cases, local bus-to-home provision may be needed (the "door to door" only operates in certaon areas, we note
• route 14 from Odd Down would turn around in the centre of Bath - at least some journeys. May not be good news for through passengers.

There would also need to be a check to make sure that all vehicles used on the hospital service were truely disabled accessible, and perhaps to add a few "robustness minutes" to their timing. from Odd Down would turn around in the centre of Bath - at least some journeys. May not be good news for through passengers.

There would also need to be a check to make sure that all vehicles used on the hospital service were truely disabled accessible, and perhaps to add a few "robustness minutes" to their timing.

The alternative I offer provides a more frequent service, running or longer hours and 7 days a week not 5. It saves the council around £150k per annum. OK - it doesn't have the personal touch, but surely it offers a more thorough service at a much reduced price - for council and for travellers. And so I commend it to you.
(written 2015-10-18)

 
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  [4690] Buses in Wiltshire - potential changes and where we stand at the moment - (2016-05-30)
  [4692] How are bus support payments currently calculated? - (2016-06-07)
  [4703] What do people use the bus for in Wiltshire - survey interim results. - (2016-07-11)


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Some other Articles
Build up classes into applications sharing data types in Ruby
Clarrissa-Marybelle - too long to really fit?
Melksham - two small townships, or one big one?
Is the RUH hopper a limited, duplicate service running unnecessarily and at high cost?
Method, Class, Module, Package - how to they relate in Python?
RSpec - Ruby testing (stand alone example / no cucumber)
Saturday morning at Well House Manor
The principle of mocking - and the Python Mock package
Setting up and tearing down with the Python with keyword
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