The following two articles were published in the Chobham Parish Magazine in late 2006:
Chobham’s Parish Plan (published in September 2004) explored our aspirations for the future and those issues that affected our quality of life. Not surprisingly, traffic, public transport and accessibility (getting to the places and the services that you need to access) rated amongst the most serious issues. We may only be two miles from Woking, but public transport is dire and most of us use private cars or voluntary transport to get us there – as one resident commented on his questionnaire: “You need a car to live in Chobham”.
The Parish Plan revealed that 1700 residents of normal driving age (18-74) had access to 1657 cars – in other words, there is one private car for every person of driving age in the village. We also know this from our own experience because, as soon as a family member or friend reaches driving age, they try to pass their test and get a car of their own.
However, lack of public transport creates a serious problem for those who do not have a car or have become unable to drive through illness or disability. Indeed, if it were not for the support of family and friends and for voluntary transport groups, access to services for many of our fellow villagers would be very difficult.
By most measures, public transport in a rural community is unsustainable. I have heard our bus services described as being “a means of getting you from a place you aren’t at; to a place that you don’t want to get to, at a time which is inconvenient to you; and, at a cost you can’t afford!” As a transport provider colleague said to me, “If we put on another bus service to Chobham, all we would do is move more air around the County!”
The fundamental problem is “critical mass”. With a relatively small community, it is almost impossible to get enough people to use any given service. The result – dependence on private transport.
Today, any new company or organisation wishing to establish a new site must produce a Company Travel Plan, which considers where its staff, customers and suppliers will be coming from and how they will get to the company’s offices (be it by train, car, bicycle, or on foot – these different forms of transport are called “modes”). The Plan must also demonstrate that the company is doing as much as it can to reduce dependence on private transport.
Similarly, the County Council has the policy that every school must produce a School Travel Plan, which aims to do exactly the same thing for pupils and staff, for example by encouraging car-sharing. (Both Chobham St Lawrence and Valley End Schools have a travel plan).
Last year, the Chobham Society Traffic Special Interest Group recognised that the same approach could be applied to a rural community as a whole (a Community Travel Plan), although it would be much more difficult. Where I live, in Delta Road, between 8:00am and 9:30am a fleet of buses pick up schoolchildren and villagers and take them to different places. At the same time, a fleet of taxis is taking more children and adults from Chobham to other destinations; while most of the rest of us, including Neighbourhood Care, set off in cars to yet more destinations. Bizarrely, many of the journeys will start and end in similar places and at similar times – How can we view these travel needs across the community and try to join them up to provide better public transport and reduce dependence on private transport?
The next issue will describe how we are approaching a pioneering project in Surrey to build a Community Travel Plan for Chobham to tackle this question and the benefits it has yielded so far.
Part I in last month’s Parish Magazine ended with the question – How can the travel needs of a whole community be identified and joined up to provide better public transport services and reduce dependency on private transport?
The Chobham Society Traffic Special Interest Group compiled a report (with help from County Council staff) that described the challenges of rural transport. It proposed an approach that first considered the needs of individual groups in the community (Benefactor Groups – such as the elderly, young, commuters, shoppers, medical-related, etc). These could then be combined to look for ways to improve the transport services. The report was reviewed by the Surrey County Rural Communities Forum, which whole-heartedly endorsed the approach and commended it to the County Council. A meeting with the County Council Transport Planning Group confirmed their interest and willingness to support a pilot project in Chobham (although they were reluctant to call it a pilot, as they felt they already had more pilots than British Airways!) It is now a key part of the recently published Surrey Local Transport Plan.
The Chobham Travel Plan Group includes representatives from all sectors of the community (elderly, young, business, etc), together with representatives from the County Council Transport Planning team. It met for the first time in March to tackle the question of how to go about building a Travel Plan and agreed to focus initially on four Benefactor Groups: Medical service users, Elderly, Young and Commuters. It also agreed that the Travel Plan would not be a grand master strategy, but a series of actions, each of which might make a small improvement for the Benefactor Group. The idea being that the small improvements would gradually build up to make big improvements!
The second meeting focused on the Medical service users & Elderly Benefactor Groups and was joined by a few more representatives with a special interest in these areas (this is where Rosemary Cobb, Margaret Parry & Gill Ballister joined us, together with Jean Heron, Stephen Brown – Surgery Practice Manager and Annie Christie from the NHS Primary Care Trust). We tried to identify every significant destination to which patients might be referred and the transport options available to them. (Don’t forget that a patient’s visitors are faced with exactly the same issues as the patients themselves). We also started to identify specific issues and opportunities that could be pursued to make the “small improvements”.
It has been a challenge to engage the health services in the project – many travel issues relate to access to the local Surgery and to medical facilities such as St Peters and Ashford hospitals. After a bumpy start, the Surgery is now fully engaged. However, the changes in the NHS to a County-wide organisation create their own challenges when it comes to tracking down patient statistics and transport provision!
Perhaps the biggest opportunity that we have identified is to make travel and transport options and information much more easily available to patients and their visitors. One initiative is to compile “How to get to … from Chobham” information sheets for the most frequent destinations (over three quarters of all referrals are to St Peters & Ashford, Frimley Park and Woking Community Hospitals). These sheets will explain how to get there by car and public transport and list other available transport options (such as Neighbourhood Care and Non-emergency Patient Transport). The idea is that this will be on a single page, which can be downloaded from the Internet (for ease of access and keeping it up to date) – and the Surgery can print off a few copies to hand to patients.
Did you know that there is a half-hourly shuttle bus between St Peters and Ashford Hospitals? In other words, you may only need to get to St Peters to catch the half-hourly shuttle to Ashford and to return to St Peters after your appointment.
The second initiative is to try to get better patient travel statistics. We know how many patients are referred to a particular destination (from the Surgery), but we don’t know how frequently they go there (for a course of physiotherapy, for example). Better knowledge might help us to, say, spot opportunities to adjust appointment times to better fit public transport timetables. The Surgery has just completed a survey asking how patients got to the Surgery; the difficulties they had getting there; and, if appropriate, how they will get to their destination. Again this might reveal opportunities to help them.
The third initiative is around the surgery itself – such as reviewing “on-the-day” bookings for patients without their own transport; getting patients to/from West End; disabled access; and, car parking issues.
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