Disgruntled students have this week found themselves unable to use the NHS Trust ‘Hopper Bus’ service, a shuttle service that runs between NHS Trust sites.
The service, piloted in April 2009, had until recently been a useful form of free transport for Imperial students, most notably medical students, to and from NHS Trust Sites (Charing Cross, St Marys and Hammersmith hospitals) and the South Kensington campus. Two buses used to run in a loop between these sites, providing the means for students and staff to get to teaching, meetings and club and society events. However, recent changes have angered students. The buses are smaller, no longer go to the South Kensington campus and run for fewer hours – changes that David Smith, ICSMSU President, highlighted were not made clear to the student body prior to their enforcement.
“ICSMSU has not been given any information about the change, but we understand that there is a new timetable which runs roughly from 8 to 6, rather than from 7 to 9:30. The Single Decker has become a minibus so there is less space but it seems adequate. [The buses] now only operate between individual sites (i.e. Charing Cross to St Marys Hospital or Hammersmith Hospital to St Marys Hospital etc) rather than going in a big circle. But this saves time as students no longer have to go through hospital sites on the way to their final destination.”
Joanna Kefas, a second year medic, expressed anger over the changes: “The hopper bus meant that I could get to Imperial [South Kensington campus] quickly and for free. During [clinical] firms it was the only way I even considered getting to St. Marys because the Hopper took 15 minutes, whereas the public bus took an hour. I also use it to get to society meetings and rehearsals – I could jump on the Hopper bus and know that I’d actually get there on time.”
An NHS Trust spokesperson countered that there are now three buses running rather than two, and that the service is now more frequent and faster.
However, a PhD student, Loretta Platt, said that the loss of the Charing Cross to South Kensington route, “the route we use most,” outweighed improvements on other routes.
The service was never intended to be used by non-clinical students. The online timetable clearly states that the service is for the use of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust staff only, for “official use in getting to or from Trust sites and meetings”.
David Smith confirmed that he would be raising the issue at the next Faculty of Medicine Medical Studies Committee, but sought to reassure students on clinical firms that they should not be affected by the changes: “Clinical students who are on placements on one of the hospitals should still be able to use the service if they have been issued with an NHS card at the beginning of their firm, although strictly it is only for staff.”
Whilst it is clear that non-clinical students were never supposed to use the Hopper bus service in the first place, it was of undeniable benefit to many Imperial students. With rising costs of living, students have less and less money to spend on transport between campuses. The Hopper bus fulfilled a need for many students, created by a lack of an affordable and reliable alternative form of transport between Trust sites.