Barnet Community Transport’s CEO Richard Healy gives a personal view and update on the options, and pitfalls, involved in the proposed Finchley Memorial Hospital Shuttle.
Given recent publicity about the concerns raised about transport provision to/from Finchley Memorial Hospital (FMH) it may be helpful to précis the background, and illustrate the options for consideration.
The northbound Transport for London (TfL) route 263 bus stop is over 400m from the main entrance of the new building which poses severe difficulties for those with mobility impairments attending FMH. Unlike the old building, the new one is tucked away in the furthest corner of the site and the foot and cycle path follows the hilly contours of the landscaping which results in many people walking along the shortest route in the roadway with their backs to vehicles.
Re-routing the 263, or any other current TfL route is not practical for the following reasons:
- The 263 is a double decker bus whose physical size and turning circle would cause access difficulties via the High Road / Granville Road as this is very narrow and congested despite the yellow lines already in place at the junction. The bus would have to wait for vehicles to clear the traffic lights in order to pass towards FMH.
- A footpath from the 263 bus stop cutting through the flats at Granville Court adjacent to FMH is unlikely to gain the agreement of both the freeholder and all the leaseholders of the affected block(s) even with a substantial financial incentive of reductions in Council Tax valuations if that were at all feasible.
- An entirely new timetable would have to be introduced for the 263 to include looping into FMH on both north and southbound journeys adding at least 5 minutes to every pass of the location which would have a significant and detrimental effect on bus frequency if only the existing number of vehicles was used.
- If the frequency, known as headway, of the existing service (every 10 mins during the day and every 12 mins in late evening) was to be maintained, then extra vehicle(s) and staffing would be required which would increase costs in excess of £120k per additional vehicle.
- Planning permission would be now required for a bus stop as the building was completed without any practical provision for any bus stop on site, although this would have been on the original plans.
- Passenger numbers would be minimal or non-existent for the Hospital stop outside clinic hours, making the detour unnecessary and expensive in both time and money.
- Those passengers not requiring the hospital stop will be inconvenienced on every journey they make, as each trip will take longer if the loop into the Hospital is scheduled from 0530 to 01.00, because it is not possible to run a partial timetable for only the hours that the GP’s and clinics that are due to move in are open.
Therefore it is the position of BCT, as outlined from the outset, that asking Tfl to route the 263 into FMH is a non-starter and always has been, so in essence the wrong question is being asked of TfL and no matter how many times it is asked the answer cannot change.
It is worth noting some of the other options being proposed:
- Alternative vehicles provided by a rota of volunteers could be waiting to take bus passengers from the stop to the entrance. This does not appear to be feasible for a variety of reasons including insurance restrictions (in effect passengers would be “hitch hikers” or if they made a donation towards running costs this would have to be at a level that did not require “hire or reward” insurance). In addition the suitability and accessibility of the variety of driver’s own vehicles could render this service ineffective for some passengers with specific disabilities who find it difficult to bend or stoop enough to sit into a standard car.
- Provision of a golf buggy or station / airport type vehicle has been suggested to bring people from the Granville Road boundary to the entrance. This is not viable primarily because it does not address the wider issue of how people get to the boundary from the bus stop. Additionally this proposal would see the buggy having to turn around on the boundary of FMH, and because it is unlikely to be a road going vehicle it could not legally use Granville road to do so. The resultant risk assessment for doing a u turn at the T junction entrance/ exit to the hospital access road and loading there could well preclude this from serious consideration.
I hold all the above to be self-evident and restate it for anyone who is not up to speed as to what is needed to achieve a sustainable solution. There is a huge jigsaw to be completed to make this work properly, so at present we must be content with making small steps in embracing all interested parties and stakeholders towards a common aim.
If asked the correct questions in the correct way, TfL could agree to BCT operating a scheduled “900” shuttle route using Tucana accessible minibuses during clinic hours. A great deal of positive groundwork has been done at all levels at TfL to make this option a practical reality using a London Service Permit for Section 22 operations. Minimal capital investment would be required as BCT can use existing vehicles. If a free service similar to that which already exists to bring patients, staff and visitors from the Royal Free Hospital (RFH) to Barnet General Hospital (BGH) and from BGH to Chase Farm Hospital (CFH) is provided then no modifications for ticketing, FreedomPass and Oyster card processing are required.
The cost of purchasing and fitting fares / cashless payment recording equipment would outweigh any revenue generated so overall it is more cost effective to provide a free to use service along with the pre-existing shuttles.
Let us be clear, if it was thought that this service was profitable, then a commercial company with private shareholders would have been running it long ago. Therefore it has to be funded in such a way as to be free at the point of delivery.
Paradoxically, the provision of transport linking several bus stops with FMH will create more demand as the Clinics and GP surgeries that are waiting to relocate to fill the empty spaces at FMH will trigger an increase in demand for transport and reduce costs in several ways. We cannot precisely quantify this demand in advance but logic and experience show that local transport solutions bring both tangible and intangible benefits to the community.
Currently the underused/unused “empty” areas of the hospital still carry a large cost to the operators of FMH, (some estimates put this figure at over £100k pa), by contributing funding to underwrite free transport provision, not only will this amount be reduced by shrinking the amount of empty or underused space, but also by gaining significant rental income from GP’s who were due to move in in October 2012 as well as other Clinic hirers.
The London Borough of Barnet (LBB), Barnet Clinical Commissioning Group ( CCG)/ Finchley Memorial Hospital Management, Central London Clinical Healthcare Trust (CLCH), Royal Free Hospital Trust, NHS England, and whichever property company is managing the site, as stakeholders who have sufficient funding to support the BCT service infrastructure and running costs could combine budgets to finance this shuttle in a similar manner to the existing free shuttles.
Unfortunately the cycle of foostering – (def. creating the illusion of progress when actually hindering any concrete movement forward) carries on due to continuing demands that 263 stop at FMH despite the overwhelming weight of evidence why that cannot happen. There appears to be a somewhat puzzling agenda at work when the minibus alternative was offered by BCT, that the only response is another survey. If there were enough people to merit a 70 seat double deck 263 being diverted, it seems incongruous that there would not be sufficient demand for a 14 seat minibus. Unfortunately, the survey will be restricted to those who attend the GP’s surgery when they relocate to FMH, and as no date is in sight for that move, this delay has the feel of any constructive decision being kicked far, far away into the long grass.
It is disappointing, to say the least, that the only prospect on the horizon within the borough is to have yet another survey. If there are enough passengers to require a 263 double decker to divert to the hospital, then surely there will be enough passengers to require a BCT minibus as a more cost effective solution.
If the only way forward is to have another survey, then surely the most pertinent question to be asked is: Has a survey ever resulted in the re-routing of a TfL main bus route? BCT doesn’t have the luxury of looking at transport provision in the borough through a telescope. We, as a charity, have at our heart the needs of the wider community and so take a strategic, creative and innovative view on behalf of the residents. Each person that uses FMH is one less that needs to go to Barnet General thus spreading the load and easing the pressure on NHS vital facilities.
Let us be clear, unless more tangible, fully funded steps are undertaken along the lines of existing services to other Royal Free Hospital Trust sites, then reaching a workable solution to the lack of transport provision serving FMH will move no closer in the next three years than it has in the previous three.
CEO, Barnet Community Transport