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Public and sustainable transport in Wiltshire

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Getting to the Royal United Hospital - the Hopper and the alternatives

Written 23rd February 2016 / completed and posted 24th

I had an outpatient appointment at the Royal United Hospital in Bath's western suburbs this morning; left home at 06:50 and caught the bus (272) a couple of minutes before 7 at Mallory Place ... into Bath at 07:58, half an hour there for a quick breakfast and so on to the hospital on a no. 14 in sensible time for my 09:20 appointment - so that's leaving my front door 150 minutes befor my appointment.

I was through in about an hour - came out of the hospital buildings at about 10:20. Bus into Bath, and then a wait for the 11:28 bus that got me back to Mallory Place at about 12:30 - home at 12:35; journey duration 135 minutes. Total cost to me - [82][c2]ã6.50; total transport cost to the taxpayer- [82][c2]ã0.00 (Aside - huge "Thank you" to the NHS team who were superb and free at the point of delivery, though I know I've paid for you through my taxes!).

The journeys I've made to and from the hospital today have been very much in the limelight, as there's a direct service currently running from homes and town centres in North and West Wilts to the Royal United Hospital. Had I chosen to prebook that service, I would have needed to book the journey that got me to the hospital for 08:20, so that would have been around 07:10 from home on past form. Coming back, I would have cautiously predicted I could catch the 11:30, which would have got me home at around 12:40. It would have cost me [82][c2]ã10.80 return, and I would have been supported by the taxpayer to the tune of [82][c2]ã10 each way - so that's a total operating cost of [82][c2]ã30.80 (being a not-for-profit service).

So what are the differences?

In Melksham, the Hopper comes right to the front of our drive. It's a low floor / lift access vehicle well equipped for wheelchair use, it has a trained drive who's compasionate and caring for his clientelle, and it runs direct - using back streets (which are sometimes a bit like a roller coaster) to get through in a minimised time, although that can vary depending on where else you're picking up and you can see some places you never thought existed!

To use the Service Bus, I have to walk about 100 yards and I appreciate it being that close. The bus can "kneel" and a ramp be lowered - and indeed the vehicles have largely been replaced by new(er) ones within the last year. They have a wheelchair space too, though the drivers aren't so much carers. Most of them are pretty good, but there are exceptions. Within Bath, you're on smoother main roads though there are some bumpy lanes in the countryside.

Transit and wait time wise, things sorta balance out. The need for an appointed time for outward and return journey on the Hopper balanced with the need for an extra wait for connection at Bath bus station on public buses.

The biggest "downer" on the public bus - in my view - is the need to change at Bath Bus station. In my view, not enough attention was given in the design and build of the new bus station to passengers, and not enough ongoing attention is given to them either. There are few worse places to change!

Seating is sparse, with what little there is half-heartenly bolted down and flimsy so it shudders when anyone extrs sits down. Otherwise you're standing around while you bus sits on its stand untile the drive lets you on a couple of minutes before departure. The room labelled "Cafe" is no such thing - it's an empty room, and toilets are available only during the day.

Each of the 15 (?) bays has a timetable panel, low enough for a dwarf to read so too low for many of us, and above each bay in an enamel sign telling you the bus routes that use it. Newcomers need to walk along to find the right bay, checking the timetables in detail if they're not headed for a terminus. There is a map of the city buses, but none for the buses that go beyond the city so you're required to have a pretty good geographic knowledge of the area. No information is provided about the buses which stop on the north side of the bus station - even though some of them are within yards of you when you're in there. Display screens tell you about the next 15 buses or so, and the bays they're supposed to run from. Often they're right ... but often they're wrong and if you're lucky a driver who's not on the schedule bay will put his head into the bus station and shout out "Salisbury bus on bay 3" or whatever it is. If you're not lucky, you'll get left behind. The other problem with the display screens is there are only two of them - so far apart that neither can be seen from the middle.

Knowing which ticket to buy can also be an issue. My bus journey had a realtively simple fare - a First day ticket at [82][c2]ã6.50 ... but that did mean that when I got back to Bath Bus station I couldn't carry on via the x72 from across the road which would have saved me half an hour and got me to an alternative stop just a little further from home, as it's run by a different company.

A lady from West Lavington, travelling to the hospital had purchased a "Wiltshire Day Rover" ticket at [82][c2]ã8.50 to allow her to travel on any bus - however she was denied travel on the no. 14 from Bath Bus Station to the hospital, and had to pay additionally. To my knowledge there is no through bus ticket available from Devizes and the surrounding area to the Royal United Hospital.

Other concerns on the public bus relate to its ability to go house to house, and additional facilities on the vehicles.

Yesterday, Wiltshire Council voted to withdraw financial support for the Hopper, and funding through other channels such as the NHS has already been explored and found not to be available. I am aware of other avenues being explored, but the continuation of the service beyond May is very questionable

What if the Hopper ceases to run?

Undoubtedly more journeys to the hospital would be made by car, by taxi, and by calling on the hospital's non-emergeny patient transfer service run by Arriva. Journeys will also transfer to the bus, as described in my example above. The very fact that people have been using the Hopper at a rate of 15,000 journeys a year indicates that the alternatives are less acceptable to them, and patient transfer and taxi service are likely to cost considerably more per round trip than a round trip on the Hopper.

The service bus offering is cheaper than the Hopper, it runs 7 days a week rather than 5, it runs into 6 evenings too and it does not need pre-booking. So what's wrong with it? see above!. But these issues could be addressed.

Possible action 1:

Take bus services 231, 271, 272 and 265 into Bath and rather than terminate them at the Bus Station, extend them to Weston via the Royal United Hospital once an hour. This would add one hour onto the round trip of each route, requiring one extra vehicle - which however could be saved by turning alternate vehicles on route 14 in Bath (Odd Down to Weston) at the Bus Station. That would leave 3 through buses an hour (every 20 minutes) Odd Down to Weston, as well as the three new services - so 'no change'. Observation at Bath Bus station shows just one or two through passengers on the 14.

There is concern at the potential interaction between City and Country services in terms of transfer of delays (I noted yesterday that 2 buses from Weston into the City and no fewer than 3 from the City to Weston were all at the Hosiptal at the same time ... first one to the city left full, second one empty and overtook it en route), so robustness wouldn't be a new problem. I also note that the intermeshing of the services would be inconvenient if the country routes were to be moved to a separate operator or operating division, or indeed withdrawn.

Sample case in more detail - [here]

Possible action 2:

Another operator might be tempted to run services into Bath from Wiltshire and carry them on to the Royal United Hospital. The obvious choice would be Faresaver as they already compete with First on the 231 and 271 / 272 corridors, but there are other Bath based operators too and they might be tempted to take a look at a commercial service - either in competition with exisiting routes from Bath to Wiltshire, or by taking them over.

Possible action 3:

Sort out some of the issues at Bath Bus Station and about through ticketing. In my view there could be major benefits here - not only for people travelling to the RUH, but also other users of the bus station.

With improvemnts which need not be expensive to implement, I would expect the majority of Hopper users to transfer to the existing bus network, and in addition many other who use their cars or taxis to get to the hospital would be tempted to use the bus too. Just needs a through service and / or decent interchange, and through tickets usable on any operator. That shouldn't be beyond us in 2016!

Story in pictures:

Early morning - the public bus to Bath


Why is there a big poster about pre-Christmas bus times still up on 23rd February, and no map of the out of town buses?


Buses running from across the road are not advertised in the Bus Station


Can you see the departure board, or is it too far off? In any case, it only shows buses leaving from stops on the right, not from stops on the left!


Some patients arrive on the no. 14 bus


Buses seem to all come at the same time - 5 x No. 14 at around 10:30 when only one vehicle each way was needed!


Getting onto the bus back to the centre of Bath


Two Hopper vehicles awaiti their passengers at 10:25


The Patient Transport service at the main entrance to the RUH

(written 2016-02-24)

Associated topics are indexed as below, or enter for individual articles
Z407 - Option 24/7 - the way forward for Wiltshire buses
  [4619] Buses - not about the buses, but about the people who use the buses - (2016-01-10)
  [4621] The power of scripting - (2016-01-12)
  [4624] Campaigning for a sensible bus solution and not against anyone! - (2016-01-17)
  [4625] Where does Wiltshire bus subsidy money come from? - (2016-01-19)
  [4630] The story behind the bus cuts, and what they could mean - (2016-01-24)
  [4631] What would the Wiltshire Council bus cuts mean for Melksham? - (2016-01-25)
  [4636] Rail user groups worried about what is happening on the buses - (2016-01-31)
  [4648] Why is bus funding a much hotter topic than a new set of traffic lights? - (2016-02-16)
  [4657] Rumours of bus changes by First in Wiltshire - what we know and suspect - (2016-03-01)
  [4658] The end of competition on a bus route - the effects from then end of the 234 - (2016-03-02)
  [4660] What is happening on the 231 bus? What are you going to do about it? - (2016-03-04)
  [4667] Wiltshire Supported Bus consultation - final few days - (2016-03-30)
  [4669] Buses - how did we get into the situation we are in? - (2016-04-02)
  [4690] Buses in Wiltshire - potential changes and where we stand at the moment - (2016-05-30)
  [4691] Real life PHP application using our course training MVC example - (2016-06-05)
  [4692] How are bus support payments currently calculated? - (2016-06-07)
  [4693] Wiltshire supported bus service consultation, early 2016 - interim results published - (2016-06-09)
  [4694] Supported Bus Services in Wiltshire - analysis of written-in comments - (2016-06-11)
  [4703] What do people use the bus for in Wiltshire - survey interim results. - (2016-07-11)

Z511 - Public Transport - Road
  [119] PHP course. Come by train. - (2004-11-15)
  [187] a popular bus number - (2005-01-23)
  [459] Kiss and Ride - (2005-10-09)
  [474] Vintage Bus Day - (2005-10-23)
  [764] Journey planning - Xephos v Transport Direct - (2006-06-16)
  [818] Heard, yes. Considered, no. The case for the train. - (2006-07-30)
  [1085] Lawrence Webb's Melksham Taxi service - (2007-02-18)
  [1125] Train service - petititon reply - (2007-03-31)
  [1254] Comparing bus stops - (2007-07-01)
  [1315] Two years of campaigning for a train service - (2007-08-22)
  [1428] Travel Across Wiltshire - the game - (2007-11-11)
  [1511] Buses from Well House Manor, Melksham, to Bath - (2008-01-18)
  [1560] HST Power Car TravelWatch SouthWest - (2008-03-01)
  [1567] Melksham - Swindon. Train v Bus v Car - (2008-03-07)
  [1668] Talk on TransWilts train service to Green Party - (2008-06-07)
  [1723] Bath - Melksham - Devizes. Bus route changes, new timetable - (2008-07-26)
  [1777] The Rise and Rise of First Bus Fares - (2008-08-29)
  [2075] Supporting Parkinsons and Trains - (2009-03-11)
  [2083] Do you support a decent train service? Please sign up! - (2009-03-15)
  [2268] Westbury Bypass Refused - looking forward - (2009-07-04)
  [2328] Melksham - no trains, no southbound buses through the town - (2009-08-08)
  [2372] Public Transport from (and to) Melksham on Sundays - (2009-08-23)
  [2431] Moving busstop! - (2009-09-30)
  [2515] Why we have two buses an hour - but not a half hourly service - (2009-11-28)
  [2522] Integrated public Transport - what could be done for Melksham - (2009-12-01)
  [2533] Five guests, three groups, one car - (2009-12-11)
  [2662] Is Melksham public transport actually used? - (2010-03-05)
  [2672] Dear Planners, please provide viable alternatives - (2010-03-11)
  [2771] Melksham to Calne by public transport - (2010-05-20)
  [2789] Melksham to London (Heathrow, and Central London) - (2010-06-02)
  [2791] Bath to Melksham buses - times - (2010-06-03)
  [2857] Park and Ride at Batheaston - will it solve Wiltshires Ills? - (2010-07-06)
  [2903] Bath to Devizes bus via Melksham - changing again in September - (2010-08-04)
  [2919] London to Calne, Corsham, Melksham, Bradford-on-Avon, Chippenham by public Transport - (2010-08-13)
  [2933] Bath - Melksham - Devizes buses from September - (2010-08-23)
  [2958] What do these road markings mean? Could Confusion Kill? - (2010-09-17)
  [2982] Travel, Transport and Tourism - A vision for Melksham, 2026 - (2010-10-03)
  [2983] Strong arm tactics in the bus industry? Poor result for the customer! - (2010-10-03)
  [3126] Car Parking in Melksham - thoughts on the proposed scheme, and wider thoughts too - (2011-01-09)
  [3194] Buses - what they cost and their future direction in the SW and in Wiltshire - (2011-03-06)
  [3290] Changes (and no changes) at Melksham bus stops - (2011-05-15)
  [3301] Using public transport - USA style - (2011-05-25)
  [3404] Buses on the Cambridge Guided Busway - (2011-08-24)
  [3471] Vintage Bus Running Day in Warminster. An example of good bus practise. - (2011-10-09)
  [3486] How important is public transport to people in the Melksham area? - (2011-10-19)
  [3487] Public transport - road and rail - (2011-10-19)
  [3504] Coaches from Trowbridge and Melksham to London - (2011-11-01)
  [3523] When competition is not a good idea - Melksham Bus Absurdity - (2011-11-16)
  [3564] I wish I was not a special case - (2011-12-29)
  [3579] Transport in Cambridgeshire - seen by an outside observer. What can Wiltshire learn? - (2012-01-15)
  [3580] Melksham Area - buses, trains, cycles, and roads. Meeting, 17.1.2012 - (2012-01-15)
  [3631] Getting around Dublin by public transport - some observations - (2012-03-01)
  [3699] Bristol 50? Bristol 25? - (2012-04-17)
  [3849] New bus times - Melksham to Bath - (2012-08-25)
  [3850] Bus times - Chippenham Station to Melksham, with London connections - (2012-08-25)
  [3866] Celebrate! Buses from Meksham to Bath - (2012-09-18)
  [3877] Public Transport Services - from and to Melksham - (2012-10-01)
  [3879] Mixed mode travel - Information systems - (2012-10-03)
  [3893] Public Transport across Wiltshire - a new map - (2012-10-13)
  [3904] Want to help us improve transport in Wiltshire? Here is how! - (2012-10-26)
  [3929] Melksham Bus Issues - to be raised at First Bus Customer Panel - (2012-11-21)
  [3937] Agenda for Wiltshire Link Travel groups meeting, Saturday 1st December 2012 - (2012-11-27)
  [3938] A long overdue meeting - a steeping stone towards coordinate transport user inputs - (2012-12-02)
  [3951] Christmas Bus Schedule for Melksham - First Bus - (2012-12-14)
  [4022] A request for all of Melksham transport groups to work integrated - (2013-03-01)
  [4023] Melksham to Chippenham (Station) bus services - times and routes - (2013-03-01)
  [4032] Easier public transport from Melksham to Bristol Airport - (2013-03-06)
  [4108] The painful cost of local travel to Melksham - (2013-06-01)
  [4111] Zigzag bus - forward for the future, or decaying service? - (2013-06-09)
  [4113] Wiltshire and Melksham Transport - what is going on? - (2013-06-09)
  [4123] New timetables from 28th July - bus routes 271 and 272 - (2013-06-24)
  [4124] Chippenham - Melksham - Trowbridge bus changes next month - (2013-06-26)
  [4143] Bus times - Melksham to Bath from 28th July 2013 - (2013-07-25)
  [4149] Bus changes to Bath - good idea, but I despair at information available - (2013-08-08)
  [4150] Melksham Regular Public Transport Map - as at August 2013 - (2013-08-09)
  [4152] Why are bus fares so high? - (2013-08-18)
  [4171] Mapping road accidents in Melksham and elsewhere too - (2013-09-12)
  [4179] Changing transport and destinations - looking forward to a good future - (2013-09-19)
  [4181] Grumbling about trains? Buses can be far worse! - (2013-09-29)
  [4186] Melksham to Bath and Zigzag buses - at a turning point? - (2013-10-06)
  [4190] A radical proposal - a cheap and effective way to provide home to city commuter transport - (2013-10-11)
  [4191] Getting people to and from Melksham Station - not 20 but 700 times a day - (2013-10-12)
  [4192] A positive progress behind the scenes - (2013-10-14)
  [4194] TransWilts Link - meeting notes from 19th October - (2013-10-20)
  [4228] Mallory Place, The Spa, Wellington Drive, Melksham - a Christmas present for you - (2013-12-26)
  [4240] Melksham Rail Link - (2014-01-27)
  [4247] You wait a long time - then buses come in threes. It's timetabled that way! - (2014-03-09)
  [4257] Over a pound a kilometre - my bus in Weston-super-mare - (2014-04-06)
  [4263] Chippenham - Melksham - Trowbridge, public transport over Easter (2014) - (2014-04-12)
  [4286] Reaction in Radstock to new First bus prices - (2014-07-12)
  [4290] National Express replaced by train and by Megabus from Chippenham to London - (2014-07-16)
  [4425] A Welsh valley - what the transport looks like in 2015 - (2015-02-14)
  [4500] The TransWilts Community Intergrated Transport Corridor - (2015-05-29)
  [4546] Is the RUH hopper a limited, duplicate service running unnecessarily and at high cost? - (2015-10-18)
  [4547] RUH Hopper - experience and thoughts forward - (2015-10-20)
  [4592] A comparison of the public transport alternatives to the Royal United Hospital, Bath - from Melksham. - (2015-12-06)
  [4615] Questions for First (West of England) - (2016-01-05)
  [4629] Making travel time useful time on public transport - (2016-01-22)
  [4639] Working out the costs of running a bus service through the day - (2016-02-06)
  [4664] Mallory Place bus stop - services to Bath - (2016-03-25)
  [4670] The end, or the start? - (2016-04-05)
  [4683] Saudi Arabia or Weymouth? - (2016-05-22)

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