Dear Sue, Paul and Rebecca
Firstly, we would like to thank the student experience team for taking the time to meet with us and the Students’ Union to discuss the issues around Sion Hill. We feel, however, that the best agreement may not have been reached so we have written this letter to explain the issues regarding transport to Sion Hill and possible solutions we feel it would be worth exploring.
The Students’ Union is also going to be sharing this letter publicly so that students know that Students’ Union is aware of the issues that they have raised and action is being taken. We hope this letter helps University staff to understand why there is a need for a bus service that runs from student accommodation to Sion Hill and that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to this issue.
We all want the student experience to be the best as it can be within the current climate. The changes that have been made to the campus over the past 2 years have resulted in a decline in satisfaction and morale in students studying at Sion Hill. The campus is also becoming unappealing to new students. Not only does a lack of transportation and steep hill make it difficult to get to, but since the opening of Locksbrook the campus has now lost its library, there are much fewer students and catering services have been drastically reduced. As well as an absence of shops or cafes in the area, a lack of transportation and catering combined make Sion Hill less appealing and less enjoyable, which no doubt will significantly affect the NSS. Last year Fashion and Textiles was the least satisfied subject area, although students were most satisfied with library provision and learning resources. We are deeply concerned that removing the bus service as well as the library is almost certainly going to lead to a decline in student satisfaction.
Both the walk up Sion Hill and the walk from the Lansdown bus stop to the back of the Sion Hill campus are challenging walks for disabled students. This is especially true for wheelchair users, those with walking aids such as crutches, students with lung or heart conditions as well as students who have invisible disabilities. From our meetings with the Student Experience team we are glad to hear that these students are being thought of, however we would like provisions for these students to be put in place and communicated to students before the start of the upcoming academic year.
Additionally, the decision to eliminate university led transportation is also causing stress and anxiety levels in students to rise substantially. We want to ensure that students’ wellbeing is a priority, however asking students to walk home in the dark or take a long bus route home instead will be detrimental to their mental health.
As design students, we take many things to and from University daily. These include our sketchbooks, library books, textile samples and fashion garments, sewing boxes and bags of yarn. We do this because we are working on our coursework 24/7 so when we go home, we carry on working into the night. In the morning we go back to the studios to use equipment, utilise space and get feedback on last night’s progress. Due to COVID-19 and being discouraged from going to campus when we do not have lectures this will be especially true this year. It is extremely difficult to carry these items up Sion Hill especially in poor weather conditions. Please also consider that design students’ work is often large in size. Due to COVID-19 students may be less willing to travel to campus daily which could result in the loan of sewing machines and knitting machines so that students can continue to do work from their homes. Please consider the physical consequences of carrying them home without a bus that travels near to student accommodation as these machines are extremely heavy.
As it becomes close to winter, weather conditions will deteriorate. Not only does heavy rainfall and strong winds affect our safety and ability to walk up and down Sion Hill but the rain and wind can damage our course work, especially if it is of a larger scale and does not fit into our bags. Harsh weather can also damage the University’s equipment if it has been loaned to us and we are expected to carry it to and from campus.
The vast majority of students studying Fashion and Textile Design at Sion Hill are young women, the demographic most at risk when walking in the dark. The Autumn and Winter months get extremely dark around Sion Hill as there are very few street lights and the walk to town includes passing very secluded areas such as the golf course and the park. The nature of our course also means that our dedication can keep us in the studios until later in the afternoon, shown by last year where the 4pm, 5pm and 6pm shuttle buses were the most popular choices. With the staggering of start times this year it is likely that some students will be staying later in the studios. In the Winter months it can get dark as early as 4pm so we would urge the University to consider the safety of students walking home and take appropriate action.
Park & Ride Reliability
COVID-19 has resulted in the capacity of buses being greatly reduced. This has resulted in fewer members of the public being able to get the Park and Ride bus and therefore also greatly reduced the chances of our entire student body being able to use this service. It is unlikely that all students will be able to use this bus with its reduced capacity and still arrive at Sion Campus on time for their lectures and workshops. This situation will also worsen when there is bad weather as it will increase the number of students using this bus service.
The other issue with students using the park and ride is its pick up location being on Milsom St. This is a 30 minute walk from Waterside, Charlton Court and Oldfield Park, or a minimum of a 16 minute journey by getting a bus into town centre, providing the student would not have to wait at the bus stop which is unlikely. Students living in Oldfield Park would have to get the 1 or the 5 service, both of which are single deckers and heavily used by the public with a small capacity after COVID-19 restrictions. In the mornings the traffic around Bath City Centre is also very bad meaning that a student could easily face a commute time of up to an hour. Some students also commute from home via the train. This on average can be an hour train ride. From the train station,the walk to Sion Hill is another 40 minutes. Although the walk from the strain station to the recommended park and ride is short, the restriction on passengers will greatly affect their ability to get a seat.
The announcement of the termination of the shuttle bus has come at very late notice for students who were under the impression for most of the summer that they would be able to get the free shuttle bus service to Sion Hill. This is especially unfair for first year students as the Bath Spa website advertised a free shuttle bus that would pick them up from their accommodation and take them directly to campus. They were also told this on open days. This information was on the Bath Spa website at the time when they would have made their choices on UCAS and therefore they would have taken this into account when they made their choice of university.
Second and Third-year students have made accommodation decisions based on the route of the shuttle bus. The majority of students chose to live out of the city centre as it's much cheaper meaning they rely heavily on the buses. The commute time for students from these areas will be increased by the reduced capacity of public buses. As the shuttle bus was university-owned there was no concern of members of the public filling the bus and denying access to students, so having a dedicated University bus for students would be greatly beneficial. We understand that the shuttle bus is unable to run for a number of reasons but students have been given a reasonable expectation that there would be a transport option available to them from their student accommodation. Newton Park students also all have a bus service that runs from student accommodation to their campus so we would believe that it would be fair for the same option to be made available to Sion Hill students.
Cost of public transport
Public transport in Bath is very expensive for students and owning a car is not financially viable for most students. The minimum cost of the park and ride when a day ticket is purchased on the app for £9.30 per week and £41.85 per month based on a student who goes to university 3 days per week. For a student who goes to university five times a week (even with reduced timetabling this will still be the case for students who cannot work from home) will spend £69.75 per month. A bus pass, which would cover all bus routes will cost £379 for the year or £149 for one term. Please consider that post pandemic, many businesses have closed down and many have closed their shops. This has resulted in the majority of students losing their jobs, so unable to work over the summer to save for a bus pass. The late announcement of the stopping of the shuttle bus has also left students with no time to save up the money. The pandemic has resulted in students finding it very difficult to find a job. Due to there being an estimated 26,000 students living in Bath student appropriate jobs are exceptionally hard to come by at the moment so financial hardship is genuine concern.
Problems vs Possible solutions
We understand the reasons as to why the University is unable to provide a shuttle bus so both student reps, Students’ Union and academic staff, have worked to come up with possible solutions to the problems we have highlighted so far.
Student Experience: The student experience for students at Sion Hill could be greatly improved by providing a basic bus service between student accommodation and Sion Hill campus. There is a large feeling of unfairness and being left behind compared to other students and even a basic bus service would be greatly appreciated. It could even be one way from student accommodation to Sion HIll campus in the mornings and the reverse in the evenings.
Safety: The University should take responsibility for ensuring students feel safe to walk home at night. This could include highlighting the routes with street lights and avoiding the golf course. We would also ask that you work with the council regarding the provision of more street lights around Sion HIll campus.
Cost: Reflecting the unexpected costs now facing students, the university could help students who need to get the bus by subsidising a portion of the cost for those who face financial hardship.
Uncertainty: We understand that it may be difficult to organise a bus route due to COVID-19, however we are willing to trial a bus for just the first semester. Not only would this help students during the winter, but it would mean that the situation could re-evaluated in the second semester. This would be supported by regular meetings between the student reps to monitor the situation. The Students’ Union would also be happy to support an in depth student survey, especially once daylight savings time comes into effect in November. Students would greatly appreciate support in their return to University during COVID-19.
Residential complaints: We are aware that local residents created a petition to eliminate buses going up Sion Hill and parking to wait for students to board. We suggest that if there is a new bus service put in place that it takes the same route as the park and ride and stops at the Lansdown bus stop. If the service is travelling from student accommodation this will significantly reduce the walking time for students and those who are unable to complete the walk to Sion Hill from the Lansdown bus stop could have alternative provisions provided for them such as taxis. Another way residential complaints could be eased is by limiting the number of buses. Students are prepared to get a set bus into university in the morning and not at any time throughout the day such as the way the shuttle bus ran last year. This would mean that residents don’t have to see buses regularly throughout the day.
Social distancing: Course leaders have worked hard to construct a time table which staggers the days in which students come into campus. For example, first years will not be on campus on the same day as third years. This results in less students getting the bus each day. This would result in potentially only needing two buses at a minimum, doing the route once to transport students into university in the morning. On a 40 person capacity bus, this could allow up to 80 students to get to Sion Hill campus. The same theory would apply when taking students home.
We thank you for taking the time to read this letter and the efforts you have put into improving the situation so far. We hope that you will be able to take some of our suggestions into consideration and that this letter has helped raise awareness of the significant issues facing Sion Hill students as a result of the withdrawal of the shuttle bus.
We look forward to hearing a response from you soon,
Bath Spa University School of Design Student Representatives