Berwickshire pilots the idea of a community transport hub

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A joined up approach to community and patient transport across the Borders with a hub co-ordinating journeys as cost effectively and conveniently as possible could be on the way.

Berwickshire Housing Association’s chief executive Helen Forsyth is heading up a new new group tasked to look at how to resolve the many issues experienced by residents without access to a car. Now this group, the Scottish Borders Community Transport Partnership, is focusing its attention on Berwickshire for its pilot study.

Speaking at this month’s Berwickshire Area Forum meeting in Duns, Helen explained: “The good news for Berwickshire is we are to focus on it as a pilot area because Berwickshire has spoken up and asked for it.

“We want to widen the voluntary sector and co-ordinate passenger transport service.”

For past few months the community transport partnership has been working on contacting people across the region - those providing transport and those needing to use it - and unsurprisingly they discovered that there were lots of transport issues and concerns and what was needed was a rationalised and co-ordinated approach.

The group is being assisted by Scottish Borders Council’s Andrew Medley, who is bringing together their findings.

Helen said: “We looked at how much is spent by people going to GP and hospital appointments by the voluntary sector and ambulance patient transport services that were often following each other up the road.

“So we asked ourselves can we agree on a hub to co-ordinate transport?

“We are trying to look at making transport more joined up and are keen to contact private bus operators in the hope that they will join the group.

“NHS Borders, Berwickshire Wheels, Borders College, Women’s Rural Voluntary Service and the Red Cross Scottish Ambulance Service are all on board with the project and we are looking at where community transport is being done well and what they are doing to make it work. We have seen little bits of interesting work but to be honest nobody has cracked this. How do we design a hub for people who need to get places but are vulnerable, don’t have a car etc?”

Every possible area of community transport is being looked at by the partnership - car clubs, postal buses, car sharing in isolated communities where a lot of households have one car and if one person as it to go to work there is no chance of other going anywhere.

The partnership is also looking at working with GPs and hospitals to see if there is some way of co-ordinating patient appointments for those from the same village - for example somewhere like St Abbs has a high percentage of pensionsers and for them to pay for transport to the Borders General Hospital for single person journeys is expensive.

All accepted that cost is the biggest driver in solving community transport issues.

Councillor Jim Fullarton said: “It’s a question of meeting the costs, if we are talking about a hub then mobile phones are going to be the key link. Transport costs aren’t cheap - 40p a mile is the minimum - and everyone is short of funds. The key thing here is funding, subisdy of buses, shared car system etc.”

As the transport pilot project progresses, Helen explained that they are now at the stage of meeting with community councils and mapping their individual issues.

“We need to start mapping,” she said. “There might be some quick wins through communication and working together.”

It was suggested that nearby community councils could meet in clusters to share their issues and look at working together to find solutions.

Community council representatives at the Area Forum meeting were keen to engage in the process.

Ayton community councillor, John Slater said: “It’s possible to negotiate with local bus operators. The partnership could help community councils get in touch with bus operators and work around the villages’ issues.”

Another community councillor added: “This isn’t the first time this has been raised. I used to work for the Royal Voluntary Service and we were often directed to the Scandanavian model of a phone-in system with a hub co-ordinating the journey.”

Mark Rowley from Lammermuir community Council said: “Everyone mentions getting to the BGH and changes in NHS services will mean more people going to the BGH. Longformacus has no transport and something like a post bus would at least be a way to get people from a dead end to somewhere where a bus passed. For example the Duns, Berwick, Galashiels buses might as well not exist if you can’t get the seven miles down to Duns to get it.”

And even those living in eastern Berwickshire who in the past have travelled north to Dunbar or Haddington are now being steered towards the BGH.

One community councillor told the meeting: “Because we live eight miles from Dunbar we always go to the doctor there and have been seen at Haddington but we are now being told that because our address is a Borders address we have to go to the BGH which is much further away.”