Hospital’s New Electric Vehicle Makes Shuttle Service Safer

Whangarei Hospital visitors, staff and patients are pleased the courtesy shuttle buggy which carries hospital visitors and patients up the steep hill from the car park to the hospital has been replaced with an electric vehicle.

The reason a shuttle service has for years been offered is to allow patients and visitors to travel without being disturbed by the weather. A shuttle can ease the entry into the hospital for all sorts of injuries, from people experiencing fever pain to labour pain to people struggling with disabilities.

The vehicle is a Mitsubishi Minicab i-MiEV 2011 (sic) known as the Electric Shuttle Bug. It is believed the tiny van is the first of its kind used as a shuttle in NZ. It has a range of advantages over the old golf buggy which was previously used. The new electric shuttle

  • Is ergonomically easier for passengers to get in and out of
  • Causes less pollution because it is 100 per cent electric battery powered
  • Only needs its battery charged once a week
  • Seats up to four passengers at a time with plenty of room for luggage and mobility aids
  • The vehicle is roadworthy so it can access sites around the hospital where need be
  • A regenerative braking system uses the motor as a generator during braking and stores the recovered kinetic energy as electricity in the drive battery

Northland DHB Facilities Manager Brett Attwood said the only disadvantage of the shuttle having an electric motor is that it is extremely quiet and has had to have a red light installed on top to increase its visibility and maximise safety for pedestrians.

Brett says the shuttle was carefully chosen in a year-long procurement process. Input on the decision to purchase the i-MiEV partly came from the 12 volunteer drivers who donate their time to drive the shuttle bug five days a week.

“Our volunteer drivers didn’t want vehicles built like existing cars because it’s harder for elderly people to get in and out of a typical car,” Brett said. “With this van you can flop in and out without having to get up and down.”

Brett says the i-MiEV was settled on very quickly, although finding someone to source the vehicle was surprisingly hard as it was imported by a Dunedin dealer from Japan. Brett said he believes it is the only electric hospital shuttle in the country.

The shuttle will be required to drive an average of just under 16km per day, 103 metres each way up and down the hospital hill, totaling an average of 77 trips per day.

Customer services team leader Fiona Greig is one of the first DHB staff members most patients see as they step off the shuttle and enter the hospital. Fiona said she is pleased to see the new shuttle is bigger and safer and should keep patients warm and dry in winter.

"The nature of our business is we are dealing with sick people all the time. You have people who have hurt themselves and need help getting up from their vehicles in the car park at the bottom. You have people with respiratory problems who can’t walk up the hill easily. All age groups utilise it. When the shuttle hasn’t been running we get people wanting know where it is and there is a struggle to get up the hill.”

“The shuttle is a wonderful service manned by volunteers. It’s run for years and [when the buggy was decommissioned] nobody wanted to see the service disappear, so we’re glad to see the new shuttle bug arrive.”

New vehicle an opportunity to spread health messages

The shuttle bug will deliver health messages to the hundreds of people who visit the hospital each day. These messages include 

  • He ora te wai (water is health/water is the best drink, as opposed to sugary drinks)
  • Fit for life (which is a strategy between Northland DHB and other agencies)
  • Our tamariki deserve the best in life, which is about maximising health opportunities for Northlanders in the earliest years of life. 

“The messages were developed to be strength-based,” says Northland DHB Public Health Nutrition and Physical Activity Advisor Edith Bennett. “He ora te wai, which has been adopted by many schools across Northland, is a good example of having consistent, simple messaging to share with our communities.”

“Our tamariki most certainly deserve the very best in life and everyone plays a part in ensuring this. And Fit for life acknowledges the need for collective impact.”

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