Girton is finally on the map, but Homerton and Wolfson still aren’t: Problems with the new U-bus plans

New route options still exclude Homerton and Wolfson students

The University is looking at options for a new University Bus Service (UBus) contract, operated by Go-Whippet, due to launch in July 2021, but the process is not as smooth as it could be.

As the Tab Cambridge has previously reported, these options were discussed by the University’s Transport Working Group in April. Heather Hawkins, Girton JCR VP, and Henry Wright, Homerton JCR VP External, have been working together to move forward the question.

As a result, the Transport Working Group ran a consultation survey earlier this year asking for feedback ready for the contract renewal in 2021. “We got Girton and Homerton staff and students to send in responses requesting routes that included Girton and Homerton”, Heather outlined the process.

Not really for everyone. Photo: Max Leadbetter.

The Planning and Resources Committee (PRC) is the University committee that makes the final decision. Heather and Henry sent open letters signed by members of Girton and Homerton to the heads of councils of schools who sit on the committee, and they also met with the chair and members to discuss the occurring issues.

“We mainly spoke of disabled students, access, and accidents, particularly from cycling in unsafe conditions”, told Heather. She could speak from personal experience as she fell off her bike and broke her arm in Michaelmas, so she couldn’t cycle for half of Michaelmas. “We also spoke of students who have had to move college as a result. This was after meeting with the PRC to see their side and they’re very behind the campaign”, said Heather.

The results of the consultation have now been published and new routes are proposed for June 2021, still to be voted on by the PRC – hopefully in October.

“The good news is that Girton is included in all, apart from the baseline ‘do minimum’ option. The bad news is that Homerton and Wolfson are only included in half the proposed routes with the other half using the busway instead. The survey is open till 26th May and we’re encouraging everyone to fill it out with some recommended answers for relevant questions to ensure the option chosen is for all colleges.”, explained Heather the problems. “Although I am glad that Girton has been included, I am disappointed that there are Busway-only options when there was a similar demand for services to Homerton College”.

Homerton (Photo: Gleb Vinnychenko)

Henry Wright shares Heather’s feelings: “It’s a disgrace that Homerton had the bus service removed and Wolfson and Girton have never been served despite being out of the city centre. The split route options on the consultation give the University an opportunity to right this wrong and build equality for colleges and especially disabled students.”

“I have a medical condition called Brittle Bone Disease which means that my bones break more easily than most people’s”, explained Ben who lives at Girton.  “As a result of this, I never learnt to ride a bike, because it involves too much falling off. When I first came up to Girton, I tried to get around this problem by bringing an adult trike with me.” Ben cycled only until he had an accident, broke his arm and had to undergo major surgery. 

“Ultimately, my crash could have been a lot worse if I had landed on something other than my arm. I, therefore, will not be cycling any more when I go back to Cambridge in the second year and so the UBus would undoubtedly be the best option for me to get around Cambridge. As a NatSci, I have to go in and out of town every day of Cambridge term time, and walking to the centre from Girton can easily take around 40 minutes. Term time is already very time-pressured, and extending the journey time going to and from lectures would only exacerbate this problem. The UBus visits many of the main University sites and is also cheaper than the bus services which currently run from Girton, so it would be very beneficial for me to be able to access this service”, concluded Ben.

Ella from Girton shared with The Tab Cambridge, that after her knee injury she had to use the Citibus which was expensive and unreliable: “The nearest U bus stop to Girton is a 20-minute walk away which wasn’t always possible for me. It took a real toll on my mental health to be missing lectures due to not being able to make it into town because of how expensive and unreliable the buses were. I was so frustrated. But it’s an even larger access issue for those who need it in the long-term.

“The UBus coming to Girton means that when you’re tired, or sick, or injured, you don’t have to cycle and put yourself at risk. This is just as applicable to Homerton or Wolfson as it is to us. It’s a safety and an access issue”.

Source: Memebridge by Alec.

Benji Remez, the Wolfson College Students’ Association President adds the postgraduate colleges’ point of view:  “The important point about Wolfson is that we have a lot of research students who study in the more distant sites, such as West Cambridge or CBC, instead of downtown like undergrads do. We also have so many medics, vets, and virologists that could use the access to Addenbrooke’s.”

Emma from Wolfson is one of Addenbrooke’s commuters. “I think it would be a really good improvement to the service”, she says about UBus. “Currently, I commute to Addenbrookes site every day by bike which takes about 20-25 mins. If my bike is broken or the weather is very bad then I have to take the bus but it extends my commute to around one hour because I will walk to the bus stop to wait (or rather hope!) for a bus to show up and take me. So a new bus route going past Wolfson would really help. It would also be useful for other students who live near or on Grange road, such as those at Newnham.”

Not only the main college sites on Grange road would benefit from more direct bus links with Addenbrooke’s, but also the postgraduate accommodations of the colleges whose main site is in central Cambridge. Benji Remez also mentions that Wolfson should be better connected with the city due to the frequent commute of the part-time students, and the people visiting the popular Wolfson events such as the Howler or the Wolfson Latin Nights.

A crowded Wolfson Howler (Photo: Jessi Rogers)

Andrew from Wolfson feels similarly. Right now, the route doesn’t allow the bus to get close to Wolfson, it turns up to the UL after passing Queens’. 

“I think it is very disadvantageous as many students at Wolfson will be studying and researching at Addenbrooke’s, especially those who don’t cycle, because Addenbrooke’s is over an hour to walk. With the closest stops being around 10 minutes’ walk, it’s really easy to just miss the bus if it’s running slightly ahead of schedule or the traffic lights towards Queens’ doesn’t work in your favour.  I’d often not bother going to my department when this happened because it is such a long wait and U is the only bus in the area”, explained Andrew.

“To have it come directly to Wolfson would make it so much more accessible. Also, it would make the journey time much less: it’s currently around 45 minutes to my department including walking time, and so having this reduced to 35 minutes or so would make it a lot more manageable and I’d have fewer days where I’d think the travel time cuts too much into the day to be worth the journey.”

The inaccessibility of some colleges is a common joke on Memebridge. In reality, it’s not a joke anymore Source:Memebridge by David

“I would hope that when the PRC do vote on it, they listen to the students and choose the options which are fair to disabled students and allow equality of access to all colleges”, concluded Heather.

You can cast your vote and share your comments on the issue by filling in the online survey before 26th May 2020.

Cover photo: Max Leadbetter. Quote: Heather Hawkins.