The Sutton Bonington (SB) hopper bus service, which cost the University just under £1m this year, has come under fire from University of Nottingham students and staff. The University has been accused of threatening student safety and academic study in order to cut the costs of the bus service.

Impact conducted a survey of 119 SB hopper bus users to investigate UoN staff and students’ accusations against the University.

One student maintained that the SB hopper bus service “was always mentioned as a selling point to outweigh the isolated nature of SB”, while another said, “I was assured by staff and students at the University that there was a very good bus system that would ensure that we could make the most of the city without disturbing work”.

Although the hopper bus is advertised to arrive every 30 minutes, 78% of those surveyed by Impact said they had to wait 30 minutes and 45 minutes after the allocated time for the bus. 25 students said they had to wait over an hour for the service.

DELAYS PUT STUDENTS IN DANGER

The School of Veterinary Medicine and Science sent out an email dated 25th October 2013, after three men approached a student and asked them twice to get in their car. A second email was sent a month later by the School of Bio-Sciences dated 19th November 2013, which again warned students against walking to and from Kegworth as another UoN student had been asked by a man to get in his car, following the student down the road when they refused.

“There have recently been several attacks and one attempted rape, but I have been forced to take this route many times because of bad bus services”.

Currently, the 17:10 and 17:40 buses are the only evening buses from University Park that drop off in Kegworth (there is no 17.40 bus during non-term time) and 106 students admitted to Impact that they would not feel safe walking home alone if there was no SB hopper bus. One respondent commented: “There have recently been several attacks and one attempted rape, but I have been forced to take this route many times because of bad bus services and no alternative way home”.

Another expressed concern that Station Road was an unlit and narrow road. There have also been reports of attempted muggings in and around Kegworth. One student recalled: “My friend was pushed into a bush and attacked in Kegworth”.

Two offences took place on or near Station Road in October 2013; one of which was a sexual and violence offence.

In terms of reported incidents in and around Kegworth in October 2013, the Leicestershire Police logged a sexual and violence offence on or near The Croft, one on or near Jeffares Close, one on or near the Sports/recreation area and on or near Thomas Road. Two offences took place on or near Station Road in October 2013; one of which was a sexual and violence offence.

UON OVER BUDGET BY HALF A MILLION POUNDS

In previous years, UoN has spent an average of £860,000 per year on the University hopper buses with over £400,000 allocated to the SB hopper bus service.

The bus company that UoN were contracted with originally went bust in January 2013. The University therefore had to find another bus company to take over the hopper bus service within the space of a couple of weeks. As a result, UoN went over-budget by £500,000 as it sought to bring in a bus company which could run the published timetable.

UoN went over-budget by £500,000.

Chris Jagger, UoN Head of Estates and Facilities, told Impact that the University then “tendered the hopper bus service in the summer to be effective from 14th January 2014. The bus company providing the interim service from January was one of the tenderers, but was not successful. So in September 2013, with two weeks’ notice to the University, they withdrew the service, which took us all by surprise”.

Jagger confirmed that the University did not have any “contractual framework” with the interim company and therefore it could not “stop them from withdrawing”.

EXCEPTIONAL CIRCUMSTANCES

Jagger also commented that people need to be more understanding about the effects of the traffic caused by the roadworks on the A453 and the tram works. He added, that he thinks that everyone has been surprised about how much they have affected getting in and out of Nottingham.

However one SB hopper bus user, who wished to remain anonymous, told Impact: “We are aware of the road works happening, but even then we are not able to get first-hand information on the status of the bus and we sometimes have to wait for up to two hours. This is totally unreasonable”.

“We’re already way over-budget; we cannot offer any more services”.

Impact’s survey revealed that 96 students said that the journey to and from SB averaged between 30 and 45 minutes once they got on the bus. This is not significantly more than the University’s advertised average journey time of 30 minutes.

This would suggest that the delays could be rectified by introducing more buses on the route.

However Impact has learned that the University is unable to spend more on the service, having lost over half a million pounds on the SB hopper bus service since January 2013.

Jagger also noted that UoN cannot afford any more buses to deal with overcrowding at peak times: “We’re already way over-budget; we cannot offer any more services. When the [relevant representatives] set the timetable, they used the entire budget up”.

“There was a huge bang and the bus lowered”

In order to prevent overcrowding, Jagger said that the University has therefore been unable to advertise for a reduced bus service.

However 77 students claim that the delays already lead to overcrowding. One student commented that they had been on the bus twice when people had vomited, making the overcrowded conditions even more unpleasant for passengers.

There were “three bus loads of people” on a single decker bus.

Another said that they had experienced “three bus loads of people” on a single decker bus.

Impact also learned that one bus collapsed seemingly under the weight of the passengers: “There was a huge bang and the bus lowered, but continued driving”.

DAMAGE TO LEARNING

101 students surveyed by Impact had been late for a lecture, seminar, meeting, an exam and/or another commitment, due to the SB hopper bus service. 87 felt that their academic study had been affected by the inefficiency of the SB hopper bus service.

One student commented: “It is affecting our work plans and efficiency”. Another said: “I would not have started my studies here if I knew how bad it is”.

In an email shown exclusively to Impact, one professor complained that two thirds of his students were unable to attend his lectures as a result of the poor service. For at least three weeks, a large number of students had arrived up to 40 minutes late for the relevant 9am lecture. They also maintained that the issues with the hopper bus service were not new and that the University had failed to properly deal with these issues.

“Projects are suffering because they do not want to deal with [the buses] anymore”.

One student said they “regularly have to cancel experiments”, whilst another said: “I have missed the start of several lectures and meetings due to the hopper bus not turning up”.

Others mentioned that they have avoided subjects on University Park or SB due to the unreliability of the service.

A post-doctorate student stated that their colleagues “projects are suffering because they do not want to deal with [the buses] anymore”.

AGGRESSIVE DRIVERS

Students have also complained that drivers know very little about the services that they are running.

One student asked a driver, “Is this the 5.15 service? Because that it is the one that stops at Kegworth”. To which the driver responded, that they needed to stop asking “silly questions” and were sick of people like them “making him late”.

38 students experienced verbal aggression from drivers.

Only 11 students surveyed found bus drivers to be helpful, 38 students found them to be neither helpful nor unhelpful, whereas 69 claimed that they were unhelpful.

38 students experienced verbal aggression from drivers. One student noted: “The driver was very rude when I asked if they could wait for my friend on crutches”.

Drivers have also been accused of dangerous driving by 48 students.

UON DELAYS IN TACKLING COMPLAINTS

Students have posted complaints on the official SB Hopper Bus complaints page, which was set up on 25th September 2013.

The first official complaint was posted in the University Hopper Bus group on 4th October 2013. This complaint was not replied to until 25th October 2013. Complaints continued throughout the next two months via Facebook, phone and email.

Complaints were deleted from the official Facebook page.

Jagger commented that the University has “no issues at all about the students’ voices being communicated and I fully accept many of the benefits of social media sites in doing so”.

Six students also told Impact that their complaints were deleted from the official Facebook page.

As a result, students felt that their concerns were not being addressed by the University. This led to the creation of an unofficial Facebook page for complaints, which now has 364 likes.

“I am extremely disappointed with UoN for ignoring legitimate complaints”.

The group was set up by a post-graduate fellow, who told Impact that the failure to acknowledge the poor service of the SB hopper bus was because the University “realised that prospective students will look at it… I am extremely disappointed with UoN for ignoring legitimate complaints and refusing to work towards solutions”.

Jagger responded to a complaint from the admin of the unofficial Facebook group about the SB hopper bus service in an email on 22nd November 2013. He said: “It is not in the interests of all other users or the potential carrying capacity of the hopper bus service to amend the timetable to accommodate the sporadic delays we are encountering”.

“The free hopper bus is provided for inter campus connectivity and not to guarantee transportation”.

He added: “The free hopper bus is provided for inter campus connectivity and not to guarantee transportation for any particular groups of staff or students. There are two buses running continuously between SB and University Park and we are content that the bus company is doing its best to get as many journeys in as possible when they are unable to keep to the timetable”.

Jagger then made a formal request for the unofficial Facebook group to be ‘decommissioned’ and outlined that he did “not want to be in a position… to have to revisit this issue formally”.

The University explains that the reason why they wished for the Facebook page to be decommissioned was due to it displaying private email exchanges between the University and the admin, as well as “the way the site looked, the confusion that it created with the official Facebook site which the bus company operated and the potential confusion with the use of the UoN’s logo as to whether it was the University’s official site”. The admin of the group has since stepped down.

THE UNIVERSITY RESPONDS

On 28th November 2013, a meeting was organised at 9am with Chris Jagger and Emma Kemp, UoN Senior Environment Officer, on SB Campus.

Despite complaints having been made at the beginning of October, this was the first arranged meeting to discuss the issues with the SB hopper bus service. 75 respondents surveyed by Impact were aware of this meeting, 48 were not and only five were able to attend.

One student commented: “I don’t see the need to make complaints about the service because the Head of Estates and Facilities [Chris Jagger] will only dismiss it and blame everything on the tram works and traffic”.

Jagger told Impact: “The timetable has been set by a group representing all the interests [of the users]. I have to stress that I am very hesitant to just knee-jerk and change things on a week to week basis, based on what is always going to be minority representation”.

Following the meeting, a new timetable was nevertheless drawn up and started on Monday 2nd December 2013 following “a general consensus that it would be good to try and focus on the bus services at the beginning and at the end of the day”.

This amendment means that there are fewer services in the afternoon, to allow for a ‘catch-up’ period, where bus drivers can recover from delays which have been accumulated over the day and therefore ensure that the evening services are on time. Jagger hoped that this would also guarantee the 5.15 services which go to Kegworth after concerns have been expressed about “it being dark at night and a couple of people being approached”.

The out of term timetable will resume from Monday 16th December 2013.

The University has also promised that security will put up posters about the delays at the bus stops. To remove the issue of confusion in bus timetabling, numbers will be put on the buses and the timetable accordingly so people are not “confused about which bus is the next bus”.

82% of respondents surveyed by Impact felt that the University had not addressed the issue.

55% said overcrowding had increased following the changes and 88% commented that they were concerned about how well the SB hopper bus service will run from January 2014.

In a second Impact survey, about half of respondents said that the SB hopper bus service had got better since the revised timetable was enforced on Monday 2ndDecember, and about half said it had not. 55% said overcrowding had increased following the changes and 88% commented that they were concerned about how well the SB hopper bus service will run from January 2014.

The University was forced to approach the company that had made the successful tender – Nottingham City Transport (NCT)/Barton – for the service from January 2014 onwards, and ask them “to accelerate their plans and see if they could take over with literally a couple of weeks’ notice”.

NCT/Barton did, however, explain to the University that they would be unable to offer the hopper bus service that they had promised in the tender until 14th January 2014. The company agreed to “try to help [the University] out and try to run to the published timetable, but it is meant that they have had to subcontract buses and drives from other companies so again that’s provided us with a few weaknesses in terms of being able to maintain the higher standards of conduct”.

Jagger promises that the SB hopper bus service will improve from 14th January 2014 when NCT/Barton will officially take over, providing new buses equipped with Wi-Fi as well as digitalised timetabling displays, which will ensure that the University is notified in advance if the bus is running late – provisions which were “all built into the tender”.

The University confirms that it will improve the complaints and timetabling process, as well as monitor services through a series of meetings and reviews next year, including a separate meeting just for dealing with the SB hopper bus service.

Dave Cordell, SU Community Officer, told Impact: “‘The Students’ Union has been collating feedback on any hopper bus issues we have received through official channels and through our officers. We take our members’ comments very seriously and are working closely with the University to resolve concerns. I would ask any students who have issues with the buses to let us know so we can make sure that we can represent them to the appropriate people who can solve these problems”.

Kateryna Rolle and Emily Tripp

Additional research: Beth Rowland, Yasemin Craggs Mersinoglu and Penniana Permal

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Photo: Matt Buck (Flickr)

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5 Comments

  1. Bridget-Rose Watson
    December 12, 2013 at 21:37 — Reply

    This hasn’t even covered half the issues.
    I’d like to also mention that the bus crashed after the driver drove through a red light on the Lenton boulevard/ Derby road cross roads in late October and we were on the bus for 2 and a half hours waiting for a replacement.
    The buses have also frequently left early. I recently missed a bus which left 5 minutes early. I’m sure the driver could clearly see that there were 5 students running towards it, it was an empty carpark with nothing in it but a bus stop. As there is no alternative transport out of the campus at that time we had to walk 3 miles down 60 mile an hour roads with no street lighting and in parts no pavement to get to the train station instead.
    Also the comment about the bus being “for inter campus connectivity and not to guarantee transportation” would only be valid if there was any other transportation. There are no public buses from the campus to Nottingham, Kegworth or anywhere else after 6pm.

    Perhaps the university could take some of the money it spends on the other hopper buses i.e Jubilee park which is within walking distance of UP AND to which there are alternative public buses every 10 minutes until 11pm from UP.

    • Kamran Adnan
      December 14, 2013 at 00:40 — Reply

      I can imagine your frustration about the SB hopper, but just to clarify, the Jubilee Hopper isn’t running smoothly either. Hence I wouldn’t suggest part of its budget to be used in the SB hopper.

      First of all, there aren’t any alternative buses that run between the two campuses after 6pm on weekdays (once per hour). Secondly, although the walk isn’t much, the majority of students living on or near Jubilee based their decision to stay there due to the good connectivity to UP and not having to walk 35-40min, which unfortunately hasn’t been present this entire academic year.

      The main problem has been overcrowding buses, which is mainly caused by running double deckers at the wrong times. It has been suggested on numerous occasions that double deckers should run at every ’45 as this is the busiest time. This hasn’t been acted upon till now and you still see them running on the hour with only 10-20 students, the majority of which are those that couldn’t get on the earlier one.

      Furthermore, the situation between 6 and 7pm is absolutely ridiculous. I have had several days when I’ve had to wait up to an hour before the bus arrives. And even when they arrive, they are often fully packed and don’t even stop at East Drive.

      Moreover, the drivers have been driving dangerously on a number of occasions, which makes the entire journey extremely uncomfortable due to harsh braking and driving at high speeds over speed humps. Recently a girl even fell down the stairs of a double decker at Triumph Road caused by reckless driving over humps despite the driver knowing that she hadn’t sat down yet.

      Adding to this is the fact that I have seen a driver not even knowing the route of the evening Jubilee Hopper Bus and continuing straight on Ilkeston Road towards the city instead of moving onto St Peter’s Street. If it wasn’t for me directing him, he would have continued all the way to the city. Also, there is a high inconsistency with the stops depending on the drivers. While some of them will stop at Opal, others will not despite people asking them to stop there as there is a legitimate bus stop.

      So, it is the entire Hopper Bus system in a lot of aspects that hasn’t been working out at all since September and needs an overall improvement in various areas.

  2. Kateryna Rolle
    December 13, 2013 at 11:22 — Reply

    @Bridget-Rose Watson

    Just to clarify the early bus issue – unfortunately due to there being lots to cover we couldn’t make clear that the reasons why buses leave early is that they are not the next bus on the timetable but a different bus that should have arrived earlier but has been delayed in arriving so the reason why the drivers leave so quickly is so that they can catch up on their time. I know that doesn’t resolve anything but I just wanted to clarify it as the buses leaving early issue was something that came up a lot in the Impact survey done.

    This is why the article has the University’s response to this issue in it: ‘To remove the issue of confusion in bus timetabling, numbers will be put on the buses and the timetable accordingly so people are not “confused about which bus is the next bus”.’

  3. Ex-Sutton Bonington campus student
    December 13, 2013 at 23:15 — Reply

    On the particular Friday night in January 2013 when the bus company “went bust”, I was waiting for the hopper bus back to SB after finishing an exam on University Park campus. I waited with several others in the cold for the bus for around 1 hour, not knowing whether the one I was waiting for was late, had left early or if the next one would even show up. There were no notices nor was anyone sent to inform us that the bus company had stopped operation. We didn’t know whether to go inside to warm up and wait for the next bus or to stay put and hope one showed up. After calling the bus company’s number which is printed on the timetables at the bus stops several times with no answer, I eventually searched the university estates email address via the internet on my phone. I sent an email which was responded to around 20 minutes later with the information that the bus company had gone bust. After several exchanges of emails I was told that we would “just have to get a taxi” (bearing in mind that this costs £25). We took a taxi and paid for it out of our own student pockets. After issuing a complaint I was told we would be refunded our taxi fare if we brought the receipts to SB Guild. This I did, but to this day I haven’t heard another thing about it. Very poor handling of the situation by the university from the outset. It is lucky that I had a phone with internet, cash in my purse, and company. If not, I would have been completely stuck on a dark cold night, having to take a taxi alone to Sutton Bonington without even the money to pay for it. Not exactly safe. The university could have dealt with the situation simply by sending someone from security to inform us that the bus wouldn’t be showing up. Why didn’t they?

  4. December 14, 2013 at 17:12 — Reply

    I must admit, it is odd to say that the hopper buses aren’t “guaranteed transportation”. If you study a course or research across Sutton Bonington and any other campus, you pretty much need the Hopper Bus.

    Student Finance for home students barely covers living costs for many students, let alone either a £32 round-trip taxi fare every week or driving lessons, a car, tax, MOT, insurance, and fuel. Needless to say, I doubt the University would be willing to give every inter-site student a parking permit, not least because there wouldn’t even be enough parking spaces to make it feasible.

    The only alternative is the Skylink but with it only running once an hour, you’re quite likely to miss lectures and have the £4.30 return fare privilege for doing so.

    I don’t know the ins and outs of the timetable, and it does seem like a difficult issue to resolve with the roadworks an so on, but maybe Estates should be requesting a larger budget for the SB Hopper Bus specifically?

    Studying on Jubilee I’m fortunate enough to be just cycle between the two in <10 mins.

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