When I was campaigning for my role (which seems like years ago now!) I spoke to students about possible manifesto ideas, and what was most important to them. A lot of feedback I received was regarding the transport systems- in particular, buses and car parking. Throughout this year, I’ve worked closely with the University Estates team to report on the various underlying themes within student feedback around transport, which I will outline in this article. The reason for this, is so it is accurately recorded for all students to access, and comments can be added going forward with any additional feedback. The hope is that this will feed into the wider Estates Strategy that is being created and that when change does occur, the student feedback that has been collected on this area will help to feed into and influence that change.
One of the original points on my manifesto, was to implement double decker buses at peak times. However, after having an initial discussion with the Estates team, I realised that this was not the best solution as they take three times longer to load (consequently not being able to meet current demand- a bus every ten minutes during term time), and can only fit accommodate for a few more students than a regular bus (therefore not worth the delay). Instead, after speaking more widely with students, it appeared that frequency of service was the main need. At Refreshers fair, a stand was set-up from which students were asked to give one thing they would change about the University if they could- the results for which can be seen below (the bigger the word, the higher the amount of times it was mentioned).
There were around 250 individual ideas submitted by students, and out of 100 transport related comments, over 80 were about ‘more buses’. Some common themes that were recorded within this included: a call for expansion of the current routes, more capacity at peak times and the need for buses to be introduced at the weekend. Following on from this, ‘more buses’ was placed as an idea on the ideas forum electronically, which received 37 upvotes from students too.
A variety of ideas are posted onto our ideas forum, and if they reach 25 upvotes on the ideas forum, they are brought to Union Exec meetings to be discussed. It was decided by the Union Exec that one of the points on the forum, a point specifically about the Number 5 bus, would be taken to the next level, student summit, for discussion. Although the meeting wasn’t quorate, a great discussion was had with all students present- the Officer team gave an update on the idea, and revealed that the cancelling of the service had occurred over the summer with no consultation period with the Union or students. A formal apology was received from the University to students on this, and it was agreed that if any changes like this were to be made again, the Union would be involved. The reasoning behind the cancellation was also discussed- current University policy is that the bus service covers all of the Derby Student Living halls of residence. As Lonsdale Hall no longer serves as one of the Universities sites, it was decided that the 5 bus route should be cancelled and more resource invested into the growing number 6 route (which covers the majority of halls, as well as main transport hubs). However, an externally-ran service (the 55) covers a similar area to the 5, which students can use for a small fee. Something that the Union was really keen to ensure, was that students who depended upon the service with access needs were not put at a disadvantage. It was agreed that the University would cover any costs of this service for any student who had a disability, to ensure they could still get to University safely - if any student reading this feels this applies to them, please email email@example.com and we will follow up on this.
In addition to this, buses were raised as a discussion topic at Programme Rep Conference. Some of the themes arising were similar to those raised at the ideas forum, such as reliability of the buses and being able to track them. It was discussed that, due to environmental factors out of Estates hands such as peak-time traffic, it’s not always possible for buses to arrive when scheduled. In terms of tracking, students were notified of the RYGO app on which they can track buses, live. An idea of a bus to cheaper supermarkets around the city was suggested- it was reported back that this is something that would need to be looked into and raised with the store personally. Weekend buses were also discussed, alongside capacity of the current service and driver conduct. The response given, was that weekend buses were currently being looked at, the capacity would be analysed at the UniBus annual review, and students were told to report any cases of misconduct to either the Union or the Estates team directly, for them to look into. There are cameras and monitoring equipment on each bus, so any issues such as these can be resolved quickly.
Throughout the year, students have used a variety of other means in which to share their feedback. This was collated, and presented at the Annual Bus Review meeting. Some of the additional themes of feedback presented were:
- Safety of routes - in particular, the number 4. Students have raised the issue that the bus travels down the access road from the Markeaton St site to Britannia Mill, often at quite a close proximity to pedestrians also accessing that route. A request was made for more signage to be put up for more awareness. Unfortunately, the road is owned by the Council and they denied permission for any more signs to be put up. Instead to help combat this, the University have purchased some safety devices, such as reflective strips that students can use to be more visible. They are also going to install additional lighting in the area to improve visibility also.
- Access to the bus after late night lectures/study periods - as the library opened for 24 hours for 12 weeks of the year, a complimentary service was put on adjacent to this to ensure students could get home safely afterwards. This saw the bus service expand, to run throughout the night. This bus (number 8) travelled round Derby Student Living halls of residence to drop students off until midnight, and then ran on a request-basis through the rest of the night. In addition to this, extended opening hours at other sites were also accompanied with an additional bus that travelled between sites to allow students to study at alternate times. In relation to this, students commented that they felt it unfair that the number 8 service only visited halls routes, and didn’t venture into town. After a conversation with estates, it was highlighted that the bus would drop off at Cathedral Court in town, so students wishing to go into town afterwards could use this drop-off point.
- Transport links between Buxton and Derby - it was raised, particularly on a Wednesday, that some students studying in Buxton felt a disparity of experience, and wanted the opportunity to come along to and spectate Wednesday sport days. This was raised at the meeting, and will be looked into for implementation in the future.
The review meeting also saw us look at the usage figures for the buses over the past year - the amount of students accessing the service has doubled over the past three years, with no additional investment being made. It was decided that a push for expanding the service (the 6 in particular) was needed, as well as a greater awareness of the number 7 (as it follows a very similar route to the 6). A proposal paper has been written and presented to the University Exec to look at a potential 7.5 minute turn-around time for the service, expanding on the current 10 minute service. This decision is currently sat with them, and an update will be provided when correspondence is received.
Another of my manifesto aims was to improve the car parking experience for students. One of the main themes of feedback in relation to car parking is accessibility when making payments. Many students wanted to push for alternative payment methods to be made available, such as paying by card. Some of the ideas posted on our ideas forum surrounding this have been:
- ‘Card payment for car parks’ (15 upvotes)
- ‘Contactless parking meters, or change given from meters’ (19 upvotes)
- ‘Car park payment machines- pay by card at meter’ (14 upvotes)
Feedback on this point was collated and presented to the Estates team. As part of the wider estates strategy we have been informed that alternative methods for car parking will form a part of this- they’re considering a variety of options, including biometric payment with a finger print. As part of discussions, it was noted that mature and commuter student groups in particular may rely more heavily on parking options to access the University, and at Derby we have a high proportion of these types of students.
Additionally, an idea was posted requesting free car parking facilities at Kedleston Road on weekends- the student was responded to, to confirm that this was the case and that parking on site was both free after 4.30pm during the week, and free throughout weekend periods.
As part of the wider Estates Strategy there will be a review of the transport systems that are currently in place. Although it’s been difficult at times to try and implement big changes this year, due to the timing, there have still been some great wins for students in terms of transport:
- As a Union we now have a much greater working relationship with the University Estates Team. We meet on a monthly basis, and have minuted meetings which actions are taken from. This means that more effective measures can be taken to drive positive change.
- For the first time this year, we’ve been included in the annual bus review meeting membership. This is held with representatives from both the University and the external bus company, and is the main meeting which looks at the usage figures, student/driver feedback that’s been received and also any changes that may need to be made. Inclusion of the Union in this meeting should help to better ensure that students are consulted on any big changes/developments in terms of buses.
- The additional orange permit scheme for students with additional access needs has been created and put into place, which allows students to more easily access facilities in times of need.
- We’ve managed to make changes to existing bus schedules, to better accommodate for lecture finish times, pushing certain routes back to ensure there is adequate time for students to reach the stop before the bus leaves- one key example is moving Markeaton Street bus times back by 5 minutes instead of them leaving on the hour, giving students vital time to access the service after lectures.
- The number 8 library bus was added onto the RYGO app alongside the other routes, so students can more accurately track the bus!
- As a University and Union we’ve worked collaboratively to more widely promote the service, through social media posts and conversations in meetings such as the Value for Money Working Group, ensuring students will better know how their fees are spent going forward.
- In relation to transport, the University purchased some safety equipment for students to use when travelling into/away from campus. These include panic alarms and reflective equipment, which the Union also advertised to students. Safe walking routes have also been highlighted as an alternative for those who may not use public transport.
- Confirmation has been received of an alternative car parking payment method to be put into place in the future, to make it easier for students to use.
- A business case has now been created to apply for increased funding for the bus service for next year (something which hasn’t been done for three years!) Within this paper the proposal has been for a 7.5 rather than 10 minute wait time for buses, and also potential scope for weekend services. This plan is currently with the University Exec Team, and will have to fit into the wider transport strategy that’s being created.
One of the individuals who I’ve worked closest with this year in terms of transport, is Trudy Newton who is the Head of Campus Services within the Estates department. She has provided a quote to add into the article:
“In her role of VP Education for the past year Scarlet has worked with colleagues in the Estates Department to keep focus on the many travel and transport needs faced by students attending the University. From assisting in the annual review of the University bus service provision to providing evidence to support the University’s review of travel and transport (including parking provision), Scarlet has ensured that our students are placed firmly at the centre of the plans and proposals currently under development or submitted for consideration.
Scarlet has also recognised that whilst she has been involved in a series of initiatives which seek to influence major parts of the University’s transport infrastructure, this is both a complex series of challenges and an area which needs significant consideration – not an easy challenge but one she has taken on willingly and for the benefit of those she represents.“
Hopefully the work that’s been undertaken this year can be built upon in the future, to continue to shape a positive transport experience for students studying at the University of Derby. I would like to say thank you, in particular, to the Estates team for their continuous support throughout the year and for always being super responsive and helpful!