In August of last year, I wrote in the local press concerning the WP1 Bus which has run Monday to Friday from Slough Station to Wexham Park Hospital and return since 7th February 2011.
The bus was originally put forward by Heatherwood and Wexham Park Hospital as a staff shuttle bus but it soon became a service open to the public. Nothing wrong with that you might say, except that it runs 126 times a day along the Stoke Road every 15 minutes from 06:30 to 22:00.
The bus is regularly empty in both directions, sometime a couple of persons are on it and I must say I have seen as many as five people on one occasion.
I attempted to find out from the Hospital Trust the number of persons that were using it. Surprisingly they told me that they held no information on usage by staff, public or even by fare stage. I found this curious since it is a service contracted by the Hospital Trust from Redline Buses and one might have reasonably expected that there would be feedback to judge the effectiveness of the service.
A season ticket is available and staff have the opportunity to pay for it from their pay before deduction of income tax under a scheme called "Salary Sacrifice" which saves them a further 20% on the cost. In September 2011 the total number of staff taking advantage of this very good deal amounted to only 43 !
Much has been made by the Trust of its Green Transport Plan which consultants were employed to produce. Interestingly out of 2,929 staff only 613 took part in the survey and the consultants factored the results and applied it to total staff numbers. Interestingly it was not the consultants who suggested the WP1 Saver Bus, they noted in their report We understand that the Trust are reviewing the potential to implement a shuttle bus from Slough Bus Station. To me this sounds a bit like here's the result ..... now prove it.
When asked for the cost of the service, the Trust were unwilling to provide it but insisted that it was not from the public purse but from the parking charges levied on those staff allowed to park on-site. To my mind since the land, that the staff car park stands on, is owned and maintained by the NHS, receipts rightfully belong to the NHS and are therefore not being used sensibly on a pure staff shuttle service at peak times. Instead NHS money is being frittered away running a little used public service when they could use some of the proceeds from the parking revenue towards repaying the £18M loan that the Trust was forced to take from the Government or in providing a proper solution to parking on-site.
Since the Trust were not willing to make cost information available I requested a knowledgeable friend to cost the service for me, based on the known details of the bus schedule, length of route, the number of buses utilised, cost of the buses and staffing along with fuel usage, service needs etc. My friend has expertise in producing such costings. The estimated cost is £640K per year, no wonder the Trust wanted to keep the costs quiet.
During the time that this bus has been available on its very short route, local bus services have started to deteriorate and it seems are going to be withdrawn in the Wexham area.
Heatherwood Hospital's future is uncertain, If it does close, the WP1 Saver Bus would be a very useful sop to Windsor residents. Get the train to Slough, step on the bus, leave your car behind. Perhaps this is too much of a conspiracy theory, but one thing is certain: if the Trust continues with its empty/nearly empty bus, then Stoke Road (B416) Slough, and semi-rural Stoke Green will continue to bear the brunt of 31,840 unwarranted buses per year that have been imposed on the locality by the Heatherwood and Wexham Park Hospital Trust without any consultation.
I challenge the new Chief Executive of the Trust to comment on the above through the local press.
The above photograph was taken from Montague Road, where the bus on Stoke Road was doing its bit for congestion on Stoke Road.
P.S. from Trevor Allen
The Heatherwood and Wexham Park sites (H&WPFT) has devised a Green Transport Plan for staff, some of which is operational and other parts not, which includes:
1) A proposed 'direct bus service' picking-up every 15 minutes at Slough Bus Station during the working day. The plan has been agreed with the unions and staff. A tender has been issued through the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU), suggesting the overall value will be more than the OJEU minimum threshold of £50,000. In addition, the service specification is being considered by Slough Borough Council's Transport Services Division so that, when operational, it can hopefully integrate within existing travel card schemes which should help maximise travel savings for staff and visitors and therefore promote its use. Initially, It was anticipated this service would commence in September/October 2010 although the Group has been advised that the start date now will be no later than 3 January 2011.
It is accepted by H&WPFT that the cost of providing security across both hospital sites is, in total, met out of the monies paid by H&WPFT to CP Plus through the current car park contract. Further, that contract is described as being for Security and Car Parking Services. Therefore, it would appear that H&WPFT is not adhering to the DoH guidelines as any revenue generated over and above the cost of running car parking services (i.e. any profit) should be used to improve medical services. The group considers that the provision of security generally is a prerequisite in the provision and running of a hospital site and should not be subsidised by profits made out of car park charges as general security is not a medical service.
Excerpt from Stoke Poges Parish Council Meeting 14 April 2011
222/PC/11 - Wexham Park Hospital Parking Meeting
Report from Cllr Bagge who attended the meeting.
Cllr Bagge reported that Dominic Grieve, Slough BC, SBDC and CC were all represented at this meeting.
The hospital reported on their transport to work policy, which went live on 7th February. They are not issuing parking permits to staff that live within 4.5 miles of the hospital. A cycle to work scheme has 50+ members. They were concerned about the illegal car park and all of the issues of parking around the area as this discourages people from using the new bus service (WP1 from Slough) which is funded by their travel scheme. Chris Schwier from Buckinghamshire County Council has done some plans for works around Stoke Green and parking restrictions which will discourage parking. These should go before the Beeches LAF on 1st March to ask for funding. The hospital admits that long term solution to the problems is a multistorey car park which cannot be considered until they have their parking on site under control.