On 21 Oct, the day after the publication of the Government's Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR), the freesheet Metro, which will be familiar to rail commuters, announced on its front page "Today is different".
The cynical among us won't be surprised to learn that this was just an advertising plug for a new type of phone, but, yes, its message was true. While our society can still splash out on goodies like new phones, for services provided by local authorities all we can look forward to from 21 Oct is cuts and more cuts. The idea that local councillors may wish to serve the people by providing what they want will be on the back burner for years to come, despite Lib Dem noises about fiscal autonomy. The worst pressure will come on services which they have no statutory duty to provide, which include revenue support for buses. The issue becomes even more grim when one considers bus users travelling outside their home county who can't vote for the responsible local authority; and that local authorities may try to avoid the cost of compensating operators for the fares that would otherwise paid by holders of concessionary passes by not providing buses for them to use.
There are two other important ways in which the CSR has targeted sustainable transport users. The first is a plan to reduce Bus Services Operator Grant (BSOG) from 80% of fuel duty to 60% -- effectively, doubling fuel duty for local buses. In addition, the concession by which long distance coaches got BSOG in return for carrying senior citizens at half rate will be ended. A likely result is higher bus fares -- and yet more pain on local authorities who have to reimburse bus operators for the fares that would be paid by holders of concessionary passes.
The other is that rail fares will from 2012 rise by 3% per year in excess of inflation, up from the current 1%. Again in plain language, this means that rail travellers will be squeezed at a time when motorists have for long been enjoying a reduction in their transport costs. This from the Prime Minister who promised the "greenest government ever"! According to the website of the Campaign for Better Transport a poll has shown that no less than 90% of people oppose this rise. Whatever the motoring organisations say, rail is not a mode of transport used and appreciated only by a minority of people.
Of course this won't surprise those of us who remember that the Secretary of State for Transport, Phillip Hammond, said in his inaugural speech that he would end Labour's "war on the motorist". One can get a good indication of what he meant by this from measures he has since announced, such as refusal of support local authorities who want to enforce speeding laws (even though the government gets the money back through speeding fines); outlawing of clamping on private land (yes there are rogue clampers, but surely landowners are entitled to control who is allowed to park on their property); and abandonment of the M4 bus lane (which will enable motorists to get faster to the place in the middle of nowhere where the eastbound M4 narrows from 3 to 2 lanes, where they will still have to queue just as long to join this section -- longer if as a result of this measure people switch from buses, which can now jump the queue, to cars). To call any of these issues a war against the motorist is plain hyperbole -- none of them had any adverse impact against law abiding motorists who keep to speed limits and, when they see a car park, check before assuming they are entitled to park there for nothing.
However the measures announced by the Government in the CSR really do amount to a war on sustainable transport; if Labour had been engaged in a war against the motorist, by comparison the Tories are engaged in genocide against bus users; inrural areas this may not even be a hyperbole, because with a majority of services are dependent on public support there is every possibility that bus users will be extinct in a few years time.
We do however note some good news, namely the abandonment of the A14 upgrade and certain other road schemes. On capital spending the Government has been more even handed, slashing some road and public transport schemes while keeping others going. For the A14 the Government has announced that it will look for lower cost alternatives, for which the three most important issues are probably the improvement of capacity for freight, the discouragement of car commuting, and the provision of long distance coaches (from Cambridge and Huntingdon to Kettering and Rugby for trains to Birmingham etc.). Action is already under way to deal with the first, but what about the other two?
We should also mention the Government announcement of an increase in tolls on the Dartford Crossing. This may sound good news for sustainability, but not with the announcement that the purpose of the increase is to raise money for a new crossing. There is legislation which means that money raised from tolls can only be used for transport. But why not spend the money on public and sustainable transport? There are lots of things that might be done, from improving the present derisory level of buses over the crossing to providing a waterbus linking Thames-side communities in the area or building an interchange station at the location in Thurrock where the high speed railway crosses both the conventional route and the Dartford crossing.
We confirm our intention to hold our AGM on Sat 11 Dec starting at 10.30 for 11.00 in our Secretary's flat at 1 Fitzroy Lane. Our members will be getting with this newsletter a copy of the AGM agenda, which includes details of how to get to the venue. On the other side will be our proposed constitution, the ratification of which will be on the agenda. Because of these items all members will be circulated by post.
Members not yet paid up for 2010-1 will get a renewal form with this newsletter, but this will be the last reminder. Even if news turns up which prompts us to send them our next newsletter, if they have not paid up by the time that newsletter is circulated they won't get copies of our activities and financial reports. Note that members who don't get a renewal slip are paid up.
The Theft of the Countryside: This is the title of an acclaimed book written in 1980 by Marion Shoard, who exactly a year ago (as this is written) won an award for lifetime achievement in outdoor writing. Her acceptance speech draws attention to what she sees as a new theft of the countryside -- and this time the culprits are the public themselves, who have let themselves be lulled into a mindset in which they no longer resent restrictions on access.
One of the problems she cites is car culture, which, she says, encourages people to confine their visits to places where they can park and ignore the wider countryside. The Ramblers Association is campaigning against cuts to footpath maintenance, another likely deleterious effect of spending cuts on sustainable transport, but their campaign will be ill served by this trend.
However, when public transport users find their means of access to the countryside removed, it isn't just their minds that are the victims of theft. In Chapter 21 of her book she said that there are at least 35 towns in SE England capable of supporting bus services into the countryside. In the late 1980s and 1990s many local authorities did indeed develop networks of Sunday buses which, for example, linked Cambridgeshire with almost the whole of East Anglia's seaside and the large area of countryside in between -- a development which we covered in our newsletters. Now this is almost all gone, though this summer there were still the Coasthopper in Norfolk, the Dedham Vale Hopper from Manningtree, the Chiltern Rambler from Luton and Hemel Hempstead, and various services in the area around Brighton and Eastbourne (with the first and last running all year round).
We believe that encouraging sustainable tourism could bring significant benefits to people living in rural areas -- especially, of course, better public transport for their own needs. Later we deal with the situation in Cambs which provides some worthwhile examples of how this might work.
Climate change is surely the most cogent reason for moving towards a sustainable transport policy. Employers may take the attitude that if people can't get to work due to bus cuts then all they have to do is to find someone else -- indeed they may welcome the prospect of forced resignations at a time of recession, as it saves them the cost of redundancy pay. People with cars may not care if other people face difficulties in accessing services and leisure facilities. But we will all be the losers if our world becomes unable to support its human population as a result of climate change, to which our unbalanced transport system is a major contributor. Even a small chance of such a catastrophe should surely be a spur to action. At least so naive environmentalists might have thought, but they seem to have been wrong.
However the action spurred by climate change could also help to solve our economic problems. This message has been promulgated by various groups, from the Green New Deal Group to the New Economics Foundation. But recently two reports have appeared, both downloadable from the Internet, which show how this might work.
The first is "Zero Carbon Britain 2030" by the Centre for Alternative Technology. This report, which updates a report that came out in 1977, shows that it is possible to eliminate entirely our contribution to the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by 2030. There may be elements in the report with which people might disagree, but they should not detract from its overall message.
The second is "One Million Climate Jobs Now!" by the Campaign against Climate Change. This is an updated and significantly improved version of the report which formed the topic of our headline article in Newsletter 104 earlier this year. Most of this article is still relevant -- including the Coordinator's suggestion that it could be improved by adding measures to discourage unnecessary consumer spending, in which category we include most motoring and flying. By and large its proposals are similar to those of the other report, and certainly "Zero Carbon Britain" is the message which the Campaign against Climate Change are trying to promulgate.
This report forms the background to Early Day Motion 853, which is similar to Early Day Motions 2057 in the 2008-9 session of parliament and 189 in the 2009-10 session. The latter was signed by former Cambridge MP David Howarth (Lib Dem). We hope that his successor will sign 853, and if you are one of his constituents please write to him at the House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA to ask him to do so. In fact, we should all ask our MPs, whoever they are unless they have an official post (such as the S Cambs MP who is Secretary of State for Health), to sign (or congratulate them for having done so).
On Sat 4 Dec the Campaign against Climate Change will be organising the annual National Climate March, which will promote the Zero Carbon Britain message and help to remind our leaders of the importance of the issue during the UN Climate Talks in Cancun, Mexico. Assemble at noon at Speaker's Corner, Hyde Park (nearest tube Marble Arch). If you prefer to travel by bus get the 10, 30, 73 or 390 from Kings Cross or the 23 from Liverpool St. Coach passengers will probably find it easiest to travel through to Victoria and pick up a 16 or 82 at Buckingham Palace Road. Unfortunately rail campaigners will have a competing attraction in the form of a Railfuture East Anglia meeting. A detailed programme for the March and supporting events can be seen on campaigncc.org.
Over 55s still have a few weeks to take advantage of First Group's Club 55 offer. This provides cheap fares provided one restricts oneself to trains operated by First Group companies (First Capital Connect, Hull Trains, Trans-Pennine and Great Western), with the exception of Scotrail which has its own Club 55 scheme, plus Arriva Trains Wales. There are very few restrictions: basically one cannot conclude a journey in London or certain other cities during the morning peak, or start it during the evening peak, but one is allowed to travel through at those times. All tickets are valid for a month. The cheapest fare is 15 pounds (covering Cambridge-London or indeed Brighton) with fares going up by steps of 10 pounds depending on how many zones one crosses (e.g. Manchester 25 pounds, Glasgow 35 pounds -- in both cases one must go to Stevenage and pick up a Hull Trains service to Doncaster, changing again at Manchester if one's destination is Glasgow. Holders of Senior Railcards or (if they are over 55) Disabled Railcards can get a further 20% discount. Outward journey must be by 30 Nov and proof of age must be carried. Crossing London by Tube is permitted, e.g. Cambridge-Penzance for 35 pounds. Use this facility to explore buses in far flung parts of Britain before they disappear!
There is further good news in that from December extra trains will be running between Ipswich and Saxmundham, and the timetable has been redrawn with the result that connections to/from the Cambridge line are much improved (including with trains to/from Lowestoft). For example a passenger to Orford on a Saturday (assuming no change in bus times) will be able to leave Cambridge at 06.43 and arrive 09.29 by changing at Ipswich and Melton; the last bus back makes a tight connection with the 17.13 from Melton, which results in a Cambridge arrival at 19.21, but even if one misses that one's no worse off than at present (20.39).
Roads News: Cambridge people may have been spared the traffic spilling off an upgraded A14, but car commuting is still being encouraged. Recently the Addenbrookes Access Road opened, allowing motorists working in biotech and coming in from the M11 to drive straight to their offices. That's a knock for the viability of the guided busway which could have taken them from Trumpington Park & Ride.
The cancellation of the A14 is, paradoxically, another knock because the plans for Northstowe, which would be a major source of guided busway traffic, largely depend on the A14. There is of course the alternative of building Northstowe as an ecotown where sustainable transport holds sway, but would its inhabitants accept guided bus rather than rail?
There have been very few changes to buses in Cambridgshire since our last newsletter, but the current county council bus review may lead to changes next April -- and the omens for what might come out are not good. The current consultation, to which we will be submitting a reply, closes at noon on 7 Dec, so if you have anything to say please let us know as soon as possible (and also reply to the consultation yourself at CC1301, Cambs County Council, Shirehall, Cambridge CB3 0AP bus.tenders AT cambridgeshire.gov.uk with a copy to your county councillor). Here is a summary of the changes together with our thoughts.
For all services except one the status quo has been put to tenderers as an option, i.e. the county council is not committed to cuts. That exception is the 152 (St Neots-Bedford via Kilbolton and Tilbrook), which is to be split across the county boundary, with the Cambs section renumbered 150, curtailed at Tilbrook and reduced from 5 to 3 journeys a day.
However, for many of the routes under review other options have been put out for tender and these may involve considerable cuts. Here is our assessment of the "worst case scenario". (Details of where these buses go can be seen below.)
We have divided the list into different areas of the county, which we now cover in roughly descending importance. In some cases we have recommendations for significant restructuring which could not be implemented within the relevant timescale. In those cases we recommend that the Council should either extend the existing tender or put out a new short term tender based on the existing level of service to run until our proposed changes could be implemented.
Huntingdonshire Fens (21, 22 and 30).
Route 21 runs between St Ives, Somersham and Chatteris. As well as the tendered journeys there are commercial journeys to Somersham only (off peak these run 2 hourly on Mon-Fri only). The Council's other option is to tender nothing but a schooltime journey. This is completely unacceptable, especially as the supported journeys provide the only link between the Huntingdon/St Ives area and Chatteris apart from one return journey on route 35.
Route 22 runs between St Ives and Ramsey, and the options are either to leave it alone or remove the Saturday service.
There is a complicated set of options for route 30, but basically there are 3 ways in which the service level might be reduced, all causing damage:
However there is duplication between the 22 and 30 on the section between Warboys and Ramsey; we therefore propose that journeys on route 22 should be timed to arrive at Warboys at the same time as route 30 from Huntingdon, and that they should then continue to Chatteris after picking up people who have come in on the 30.
We also think it would be acceptable to limit the Mon-Fri off peak service between St Ives and Somersham on route 21 to Whippet's commercial journeys, but to put out to tender connecting buses to Chatteris. This could be combined with the above variation of route 22 to provide an hourly, alternately each way round, circular route St Ives-Somersham-Chatteris-Warboys-St Ives.
We also have a variation of this which provides essentially the same level of service:
21: 2 hourly St Ives-Somersham-Chatteris incorporating commercial service Mon-Fri; 22/35 connections (see below) would make up an hourly end to end service.
22: 2 hourly St Ives-Ramsey timed to connect at Warboys with 35 (see below).
30: Reduced to 2 hourly Huntingdon-Ramsey, but connections between 35 and 22 would provide extra facilities to make it up to hourly.
35: New 2 hourly facility Huntingdon-Warboys-Chatteris.
If possible connections should be provided at Chatteris with the Ely-March route X9.
For the evening service we recommend extending the last journey to start at Huntingdon station, making a guaranteed connection with an incoming train (either the 20.00, which leaves Kings Cross at 19.10, or the 20.23, which leaves Kings Cross at 19.22). We believe this would attract significant patronage from people who don't want to risk getting stranded and don't want to hang around Huntingdon to await the bus (or, worse, walk across Mill Common in the dark).
We also recommend that, provided a daytime service exists between Chatteris and Huntingdon as per my other recommendations, that this evening bus be extended to Chatteris if there were passengers on board who wanted to return there.
Regarding the Sunday service, we recommend that it should be modified to run on a loop route Huntingdon-Warboys-Ramsey/Chatteris. We would regard it as a worthwhile sacrifice to reduce it from 4 to 3 round trips which we think would avoid an increase in cost.
South Fenland (31, 56, 415)
The 31 runs between Ramsey and Whittlesey/Peterborough via either Upwood or Ramsey Forty Foot. At present it is hourly, but the County Council have an option to reduce it to the same frequency as the reduced 30, thus enabling connections to be maintained at Ramsey. We regard this as reasonable, though as mentioned above we oppose the cuts to the 30.
The 56 runs hourly from Wisbech to March and Doddington then alternately to Manea and Benwick. The "cuts" option will remove one journey from each leg.
The 415 runs on Wednesdays only from Upwood to Peterborough via Wood Walton and Holme. There is no proposal to change the service. At present it is operated by Peterborough Dial a Ride who require advance booking and registration.
We think that there is a case for diverting those 31 journeys that serve Ramsey Forty Foot via Benwick. They would thus run from Ramsey to Ramsey Mereside, turn round and proceed via Benwick to Whittlesey and Peterborough. This would replace the 56 journeys to Benwick.
Another option would be to extend these 56 journeys to Ramsey Mereside and Ramsey in place of the 31 journeys. Then Ramsey's link to Peterborough would be reduced to 2 hourly but it would have a new link to March and Wisbech, also 2 hourly.
There is a locally based campaign to provide an all day train service for Manea. If this were to be provided then there would be little need for a bus service between Manea and March. We would recommend that this be replaced by a 2 hourly extension of Cambs/Norfolk tendered route 60 (Wisbech-Three Holes) to Christchurch, Welney village, Manea station and village (possibly returning to the station) and Chatteris. This should be timed to connect with the trains so that people can get from areas of Manea distant from the station, and the other villages on the route, to either March/Peterborough or Ely/Cambridge.
Our proposals are therefore as follows.
Here is a summary of how these changes would affect key communities.
Note that the Upwood journeys on route 31 serve Woodwalton Fen National Nature Reserve.
As for the 415, this runs close to Woodwalton Church (a notable landmark for rail travellers) and Monks Wood and Holme Fen Nature Reserves. The Council should therefore ensure that prospective visitors can get to its starting point. If good connections by route 31 can't be provided in either direction, then it should extend to/from Bury or Ramsey to connect with route 30. Furthermore, to encourage visitors the requirement for registration and prebooking should be lifted.
West Hunts (route 152/150)
As stated previously, the proposals involve major cuts -- 70% in the number of journeys to/from a town (either St Neots or Bedford). However, we are not wholly against the principle of disconnecting with Bedfordshire because it opens up an opportunity for what we consider a more valuable link to Northamptonshire. Tilbrook, the proposed western terminus, is very close to Raunds, which is served by Northants CC supported route 16 (approximately 2 hourly) to Thrapston and Kettering, as well as the X46 to Rushden, Wellingborough and Northampton.
Ideally we would like to see a through service between St Neots and Kettering incorporating these two routes, but journeys connecting at Raunds would be an acceptable alternative. Ideally the whole route should be 2 hourly, but we would accept gaps at the Cambridgeshire end as preferable to no through service at all. We would also recommend that the service be extended to St Neots station, which we believe could be a useful railhead for passengers from Northants as well as Cambs.
Between Tilbrook and Raunds the bus would serve Hargrave (Northants), and also pass close to Covington (Cambs) and Lower Dean (Beds), the latter being on the existing 152 route. It might be possible to arrange demand responsive diversions to Covington and Lower Dean villages.
The following connections would be available:
We have asked the Northampton Bus User Group to suggest this proposal to their county council. Our impression is that they have been much more proactive in shaping the bus network than Cambs; and we also think that our proposals will bring more benefit to residents of Northants than to those of Cambs; but that it would bring significant extra patronage to the Cambs section of the route thus helping to keep the service going.
Ely market buses (110, 115, 116, 117 and 129)
There are no proposals to reduce the level of service on any of these routes. Our proposals are based on the following principles:
The present routes are as follows, each providing one return trip on Thursdays:
We propose to withdraw the 129 and replace it by the following changes to the 115 and 117:
115: Starts Littleport or Ely, both of which have adequate connecting transport. Runs to Blackhorse Drove, Ten Mile Bank (possible connection with Norfolk Green 37 to/from Downham Market and Kings Lynn), Welney WWT, Gold Hill, possible double run to Welney village connecting with 60 (see South Fenland above), then as now to Ely. A prebookable diversion to Burnt Fen might also be included -- this would not affect timings on the section beyond Littleport. On the positioning section between Ely and Littleport a non-standard route (i.e. different from Stagecoach 9) would be used -- there are several options.
117: There would be an increase to 3 round trips, as follows:
The 116 could remain as it is, but we'd like to see a revisiting of the proposal to replace it by a diversion of route 106. This could give Wardy Hill and Coveney buses 6 days a week (Little Downham need not be included as it's already served by the 125). Or confine the 106 diversion to Thursdays when the 110 provides a faster service from Cottenham, Wilburton and (by means of a short diversion) Haddenham.
Newmarket village buses (12, 47, 204, 901-4/48)
The 12 is a mostly commercial service between Cambridge and Ely via Newmarket, but there is also a supported early morning journey from Newmarket to Ely. On one option the Newmarket to Fordham section would be dropped.
The 47 is a commuter service to Newmarket from villages to the south. At present there are 2 morning journeys, 1 of which may be dropped, but only 1 evening journey.
The 204 is a service between Isleham and Newmarket connecting with peak-time buses to/from Cambridge. One option is to tender it together with the 12 and 47 so that the same vehicle can cover all three routes (this requires the dropping of the first 47 journey, as mentioned above, but it is independent of the dropping of the Newmarket-Fordham section of the 12).
The 901-4 are a set of 4 loop routes each providing 2 round trips from Newmarket to a different group of villages in the area to the south, except on Wednesdays (when the relevant vehicle provides a service from the same area to Bury on its market day) and Saturdays. Each route runs to a different timetable on different days of the week. There is an option to provide a Saturday service; or to amalgamate all the routes into a single route which would be numbered 48 and provide 2 morning journeys into Newmarket and 2 return journeys in the afternoon.
Our inclination, in the absence of evidence of hardship, is to support the linkage of the 12, 204 and 47 if this led to the inclusion of positioning journeys (Ely-Isleham and Newmarket-Brinkley mornings, Burrough Green-Newmarket afternoons). We would also support the replacement of the 901-4 by the 48 provided its positioning workings were included. The implementation of both these recommendations would mean that there would be 6 round trips from Newmarket to the villages, a much more flexible service which could cater for a much greater variety of needs.
SW Cambs (15, C2)
These routes currently provide market day services from Haslingfield to Royston and Hatley to St Neots on Wednesdays and Thursdays respectively. There are no proposals to change them.
We would like to see route 15 replaced by an extension to Royston of route 75. This should be designed to provide the following:
The C2 once required advance purchase of tickets from village outlets, thus effectively restricting its use to villagers. Its conversion to a public bus service was a significant improvement. Further improvements could be made by
A: Providing timetabled and advertised connections to/from Cambridge with route 15, 18 or (with a short diversion to Cambourne) Citi 4.
B: Extending the service to/from Gamlingay using presumed positioning workings. Note that neither the 18A nor the 28 provides a facility for Cambridge to Gamlingay passengers at a time similar to that which would be provided by the C2 under these proposals.
C: Extending further to/from Potton to provide connections from Central Beds (E2 08.55 Sandy to Potton, 14.41 return) to Cambridge which would increase patronage.
D: Negotiating with the National Trust to open Wimpole Hall on more Thursdays (perhaps at the expense of other days). The previous option would bring a reasonable catchment area.
Other services: 1B, 14, 32, 45, 46 (Streetly End-Newmarket), 46 (Kings Lynn-March via Wisbech and Guyhirn, only the section south of Wisbech is up for tender), 101, 390 and City Shuttle. Here is a brief summary of these routes together with what is proposed.
1B: This runs between Huntingdon and Cambridge via RAF Wyton and St Ives. Whippet is subsidised to provide a link between the last two places, and operators are invited to suggest alternative ways of doing this at the existing level of service.
14: Ditto with Caldecote-Cambridge.
32: This has a school bus Chatteris to Ramsey and a 6 days a week shopping service Chatteris to Whittlesey, but the Council may drop the latter either on Saturdays or completely.
45: Rail commuter link service St Ives to Huntingdon -- no change proposed.
46: No change proposed to either route. The Streetly End to Newmarket service runs on market days (Tuesdays), the other runs hourly.
101: Whittlesford-Saffron Walden market day service -- no change proposed.
390: Wisbech-Peterborough via Parson Drove on Wednesdays -- no change proposed.
City Shuttle: Free bus running round Cambridge city centre -- no change proposed.
Finally we would like to draw attention to the possibility of improving services to villages by opening up services now reserved for schoolchildren, also associated positioning workings. We believe that the following routes on the list serve villages which might benefit from such a policy: 14, 15, 47, 56, 115-7, 129. 152, 204, 415 and C2.