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 - [c2]ã6.50; total transport cost to the taxpayer- [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 [c2]ã10.80 return, and I would have been supported by the taxpayer to the tune of [c2]ã10 each way - so that's a total operating cost of [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 The bus can "kneel" and a ramp be lowered - and indeed the vehicles have largely been replaced by new(er) ones within the last year.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 [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 [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
Associated topics are indexed as below, or enter http://melksh.am/nnnn for individual articlesZ511 - Public Transport - Road 
What do people use the bus for in Wiltshire - survey interim results. - (2016-07-11) 
How are bus support payments currently calculated? - (2016-06-07) 
Buses in Wiltshire - potential changes and where we stand at the moment - (2016-05-30) 
Saudi Arabia or Weymouth? - (2016-05-22) 
The end, or the start? - (2016-04-05) 
Wiltshire Supported Bus consultation - final few days - (2016-03-30) 
Mallory Place bus stop - services to Bath - (2016-03-25) 
What is happening on the 231 bus? What are you going to do about it? - (2016-03-04) 
Why is bus funding a much hotter topic than a new set of traffic lights? - (2016-02-16) 
Working out the costs of running a bus service through the day - (2016-02-06) 
Rail user groups worried about what is happening on the buses - (2016-01-31) 
What would the Wiltshire Council bus cuts mean for Melksham? - (2016-01-25) 
Making travel time useful time on public transport - (2016-01-22) 
Campaigning for a sensible bus solution and not against anyone! - (2016-01-17) 
Buses - not about the buses, but about the people who use the buses - (2016-01-10) 
Questions for First (West of England) - (2016-01-05) 
A comparison of the public transport alternatives to the Royal United Hospital, Bath - from Melksham. - (2015-12-06) 
RUH Hopper - experience and thoughts forward - (2015-10-20) 
Is the RUH hopper a limited, duplicate service running unnecessarily and at high cost? - (2015-10-18) 
The TransWilts Community Intergrated Transport Corridor - (2015-05-29) 
A Welsh valley - what the transport looks like in 2015 - (2015-02-14) 
National Express replaced by train and by Megabus from Chippenham to London - (2014-07-16) 
Reaction in Radstock to new First bus prices - (2014-07-12) 
Chippenham - Melksham - Trowbridge, public transport over Easter (2014) - (2014-04-12) 
Over a pound a kilometre - my bus in Weston-super-mare - (2014-04-06) 
You wait a long time - then buses come in threes. It's timetabled that way! - (2014-03-09) 
Melksham Rail Link - (2014-01-27) 
Mallory Place, The Spa, Wellington Drive, Melksham - a Christmas present for you - (2013-12-26) 
TransWilts Link - meeting notes from 19th October - (2013-10-20) 
A positive progress behind the scenes - (2013-10-14) 
Getting people to and from Melksham Station - not 20 but 700 times a day - (2013-10-12) 
A radical proposal - a cheap and effective way to provide home to city commuter transport - (2013-10-11) 
Melksham to Bath and Zigzag buses - at a turning point? - (2013-10-06) 
Grumbling about trains? Buses can be far worse! - (2013-09-29) 
Changing transport and destinations - looking forward to a good future - (2013-09-19) 
Mapping road accidents in Melksham and elsewhere too - (2013-09-12) 
Why are bus fares so high? - (2013-08-18) 
Melksham Regular Public Transport Map - as at August 2013 - (2013-08-09) 
Bus changes to Bath - good idea, but I despair at information available - (2013-08-08) 
Bus times - Melksham to Bath from 28th July 2013 - (2013-07-25) 
Chippenham - Melksham - Trowbridge bus changes next month - (2013-06-26) 
New timetables from 28th July - bus routes 271 and 272 - (2013-06-24) 
Wiltshire and Melksham Transport - what is going on? - (2013-06-09) 
Zigzag bus - forward for the future, or decaying service? - (2013-06-09) 
The painful cost of local travel to Melksham - (2013-06-01) 
Easier public transport from Melksham to Bristol Airport - (2013-03-06) 
Melksham to Chippenham (Station) bus services - times and routes - (2013-03-01) 
A request for all of Melksham transport groups to work integrated - (2013-03-01) 
Christmas Bus Schedule for Melksham - First Bus - (2012-12-14) 
A long overdue meeting - a steeping stone towards coordinate transport user inputs - (2012-12-02) 
Agenda for Wiltshire Link Travel groups meeting, Saturday 1st December 2012 - (2012-11-27) 
Melksham Bus Issues - to be raised at First Bus Customer Panel - (2012-11-21) 
Want to help us improve transport in Wiltshire? Here is how! - (2012-10-26) 
Public Transport across Wiltshire - a new map - (2012-10-13) 
Mixed mode travel - Information systems - (2012-10-03) 
Public Transport Services - from and to Melksham - (2012-10-01) 
Celebrate! Buses from Meksham to Bath - (2012-09-18) 
Bus times - Chippenham Station to Melksham, with London connections - (2012-08-25) 
New bus times - Melksham to Bath - (2012-08-25) 
Bristol 50? Bristol 25? - (2012-04-17) 
Getting around Dublin by public transport - some observations - (2012-03-01) 
Melksham Area - buses, trains, cycles, and roads. Meeting, 17.1.2012 - (2012-01-15) 
Transport in Cambridgeshire - seen by an outside observer. What can Wiltshire learn? - (2012-01-15) 
I wish I was not a special case - (2011-12-29) 
When competition is not a good idea - Melksham Bus Absurdity - (2011-11-16) 
Coaches from Trowbridge and Melksham to London - (2011-11-01) 
Public transport - road and rail - (2011-10-19) 
How important is public transport to people in the Melksham area? - (2011-10-19) 
Vintage Bus Running Day in Warminster. An example of good bus practise. - (2011-10-09) 
Buses on the Cambridge Guided Busway - (2011-08-24) 
Using public transport - USA style - (2011-05-25) 
Changes (and no changes) at Melksham bus stops - (2011-05-15) 
Buses - what they cost and their future direction in the SW and in Wiltshire - (2011-03-06) 
Car Parking in Melksham - thoughts on the proposed scheme, and wider thoughts too - (2011-01-09) 
Strong arm tactics in the bus industry? Poor result for the customer! - (2010-10-03) 
Travel, Transport and Tourism - A vision for Melksham, 2026 - (2010-10-03) 
What do these road markings mean? Could Confusion Kill? - (2010-09-17) 
Bath - Melksham - Devizes buses from September - (2010-08-23) 
London to Calne, Corsham, Melksham, Bradford-on-Avon, Chippenham by public Transport - (2010-08-13) 
Bath to Devizes bus via Melksham - changing again in September - (2010-08-04) 
Park and Ride at Batheaston - will it solve Wiltshires Ills? - (2010-07-06) 
Bath to Melksham buses - times - (2010-06-03) 
Melksham to London (Heathrow, and Central London) - (2010-06-02) 
Melksham to Calne by public transport - (2010-05-20) 
Dear Planners, please provide viable alternatives - (2010-03-11) 
Is Melksham public transport actually used? - (2010-03-05) 
Five guests, three groups, one car - (2009-12-11) 
Integrated public Transport - what could be done for Melksham - (2009-12-01) 
Why we have two buses an hour - but not a half hourly service - (2009-11-28) 
Moving busstop! - (2009-09-30) 
Public Transport from (and to) Melksham on Sundays - (2009-08-23) 
Melksham - no trains, no southbound buses through the town - (2009-08-08) 
Westbury Bypass Refused - looking forward - (2009-07-04) 
Do you support a decent train service? Please sign up! - (2009-03-15) 
Supporting Parkinsons and Trains - (2009-03-11) 
The Rise and Rise of First Bus Fares - (2008-08-29) 
Bath - Melksham - Devizes. Bus route changes, new timetable - (2008-07-26) 
Talk on TransWilts train service to Green Party - (2008-06-07) 
Melksham - Swindon. Train v Bus v Car - (2008-03-07) 
HST Power Car TravelWatch SouthWest - (2008-03-01) 
Buses from Well House Manor, Melksham, to Bath - (2008-01-18) 
Travel Across Wiltshire - the game - (2007-11-11) 
Two years of campaigning for a train service - (2007-08-22) 
Comparing bus stops - (2007-07-01) 
Train service - petititon reply - (2007-03-31) 
Lawrence Webb's Melksham Taxi service - (2007-02-18) 
Heard, yes. Considered, no. The case for the train. - (2006-07-30) 
Journey planning - Xephos v Transport Direct - (2006-06-16) 
Vintage Bus Day - (2005-10-23) 
Kiss and Ride - (2005-10-09) 
a popular bus number - (2005-01-23) 
PHP course. Come by train. - (2004-11-15)Z407 - Option 24/7 - the way forward for Wiltshire buses 
Supported Bus Services in Wiltshire - analysis of written-in comments - (2016-06-11) 
Wiltshire supported bus service consultation, early 2016 - interim results published - (2016-06-09) 
Real life PHP application using our course training MVC example - (2016-06-05) 
Buses - how did we get into the situation we are in? - (2016-04-02) 
The end of competition on a bus route - the effects from then end of the 234 - (2016-03-02) 
Rumours of bus changes by First in Wiltshire - what we know and suspect - (2016-03-01) 
The story behind the bus cuts, and what they could mean - (2016-01-24) 
Where does Wiltshire bus subsidy money come from? - (2016-01-19) 
The power of scripting - (2016-01-12)
Some other Articles
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