This newsletter starts with a plea for urgent action.
Rumours are circulating that the Government may achieve part of its planned 30% cut to the Department for Transport budget by eliminating Bus Services Operator Grant. This scheme replaces the former Fuel Duty Rebate, so it is not truly a subsidy for bus operators but rather a partial offset for the fuel tax they pay to the Government. In effect, without BSOG, the Treasury will be treating buses, which have potential to form part of the solution to problems such as social exclusion, climate change, traffic congestion and environmental damage, as if they were cars, which are one of the main causes of these problems.
Its elimination would devastate bus services already ravaged by local authority cuts (which are also set to intensify), a dysfunctional concessionary reimbursement system, dominance by a few big operators who have control over the commercial services they run, traffic congestion, and low priority in planning terms. And note that the cost increases resulting from eliminating BSOG mean that local authorities will have to spend more to maintain existing services. One can imagine a press release such as the following:
The biggest bus operators -- Stagecoach, First Bus, Arriva and Go Ahead -- announced in a joint statement that as a result of the removal of Bus Services Operator Grant they will deregister almost all of their evening and Sunday buses throughout the country. Furthermore, fares will rise, Saturday frequencies will be halved, and many rural routes will now only provide off peak services on 2 days a week. A spokesperson said: "The scale of these cuts reflects the fact that every service cut impacts on our revenue, while we expect higher operating costs as a result of the congestion caused by many people switching to cars. If local authorities are dissatisfied with this they will have to arrange for supported services". Meanwhile, a local authority spokesperson has made it clear that, with further cuts being imposed on them, they will be in no position to do this. "We will only be able to replace some of the lost services by cutting other services which we currently support -- in addition to those which will disappear as a result of the cuts to our revenue and the higher costs of supporting services due to the increased fuel costs for operators. And we will also have to fork out more in terms of reimbursement for bus operators because they are raising their own fares."
Our local newspapers would follow this up with a statement from Cambridgeshire operators, including Whippet which is not a member of any of the groups mentioned above, which made it clear that our area would not be excepted from these cuts.
One can also imagine the following appearing elsewhere in the same newspapers, but it seems unlikely that officialdom would notice the double standards involved.
Motoring organisations have issued a statement congratulating the Government on maintaining its investment programme. As well as the 1.5 bn pounds A14 scheme, for which the start of construction is imminent, plans are now well under way to upgrade the A1 through Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire, and the route between Cambridge and Oxford, to "Expressway" status which will enable vehicles to travel end to end without stopping. A spokesperson said: "The Cambridge-Oxford Expressway will help to offset the further delays to the East-West Rail Link project, to restore a through service between Oxford and Bedford, as a result of cost escalation in the rail industry". Meanwhile the following statement came from a sustainable transport: "The Expressways will be of little or no use to non-motorists -- by and large, express coach operators have not taken advantage of the A14 and these routes are not likely to be different. As for more local bus routes such as the X5, they will benefit little because they have to serve the intermediate towns, and anyway they will be subject to the cuts announced by the bus operators. And the delay to the rail scheme means that the much needed extension to Cambridge may never happen, because under current planning rules local authorities will be unable to protect any line of route against development for so long." The statement continued: "While in principle investment in bus services has been maintained through schemes such as the City Deal, in practice the money is likely to be wasted because operators can't cover the running cost of providing decent services and no money is available for revenue support."
The Campaign for Better Transport has devised a specimen letter, which supporters are invited to sign, which will be emailed to the Chancellor asking asking him to maintain Bus Services Operator Grant. You can edit the letter to bring out your own personal concerns. Please visit their website, click on "Bus Cuts" then on "Email George Osborne" -- and make sure that your message gets through well before the Autumn Statement due on Wed 25 Nov!
It is worth noting that in targeting its cuts on local authorities the Government seems to have little idea of what is actually taking place at local level. This is the crux of an article by George Monbiot which can be found on the Guardian website by searching for "Oxfordshire". The article contains correspondence between the Tory leader of Oxfordshire County Council and the Prime Minister, whose constituency is in Oxfordshire. It doesn't mention bus services, but the local authority has recently imposed a cut of about 50% in subsidies. Whether or not one regards the state of the county's finances as an extenuating factor in the imposition of these cuts -- see below for an alternative option that is possible within existing legislation -- there can be no doubt that it will result in major hardship for those local residents and visitors who are dependent on sustainable transport.
An email to the Chancellor is the most urgent of the actions that we are asking our members and supporters to take, but there are others:
1. Under the "City Deal" scheme Cambridgeshire County Council is currently consulting about proposals for bus priority on the Cambourne-Cambridge corridor and on tackling congestion in Cambridge. The deadlines are Mon 23 Nov and Mon 30 Nov respectively and both schemes can be found from the council website by clicking on "Cambourne to Cambridge -- better bus journeys" and "Cambridge Access Study" respectively. The main points which we intend to make in our own response are as follows:
A: Schemes to tackle congestion, on the Cambourne corridor and elsewhere, are likely to fail unless money is made available for revenue support. The report commissioned by the DfT itself whose URL we quoted in Newsletter 121 (available on our website) can be quoted in support of this. If the County Council is unable to find money for revenue support by other means, it should impose a workplace parking tax throughout its part of the Cambridge travel to work area, or countywide -- this will also tackle congestion by encouraging employers to choose sites which are accessible to their workforce by public transport or non-motorised travel.
B: (This and the next 3 comments relate to the Cambourne consultation only.) If the Area 2 South option is chosen, it needs to be designed in such a way that a parallel rail link could be added to part of the route as part of the East-West Rail Link between Bedford and Cambridge via St Neots and Cambourne. In particular, it should be possible to project the route westwards in a way which steers clear of the Cambourne West proposed development.
C: Under the Area 1 South option we have been unable to work out how outbound buses would get to the route given that Downing Street is one way for motorised traffic. But we suggest that the route deserves further study as a cycle and walking route. Do links from the route to the West Cambridge developments need to be improved?
D: The Area 1 North and Central options as they stand would not benefit outbound traffic on Madingley Road, but such benefit might be added by building a new slip road from the M11 to the A428 at the Girton interchange and banning left turns out of the M11 at Junction 13, at least at peak times. One of our grounds for objecting to the A14 scheme as it stands is that it would make it much harder to build a similar slip road in the other direction, which would assist inbound buses.
E: We believe that there should be a bus interchange near Cambourne: a park & ride site there might replace the one suggested for Madingley Mulch. Alternatively we could have P&R sites at both replacing the existing site (in which case the Madingley Mulch site should be designed so that buses can get to/from the proposed busway without having to negotiate the roundabout). In the longer term the interchange could also become the site for Cambourne's railway station. The interchange would be served by express and local buses to/from Cambridge (existing X5, Whippet X3 and Citi 4), the X5 to/from St Neots, Bedford and beyond, the X3 to/from Huntingdon (preferably with evening and Sunday buses added), Whippet 1 to/from St Ives (preferably upgraded to hourly), a new service via Gamlingay and Potton to Biggleswade or Sandy (at least 2 hourly), and the extension of Whippet 8 to provide scheduled or demand responsive facilities for all the villages in the area north of the A428 corridor.
F: (This relates to the Cambridge Access Study only.) Priority for revenue support should go to extending services which currently terminate in the "necklace" villages along the A603, various B road corridors (the B1046, B1050, B1049, B1102 and B1368), and the unclassified roads east of Fulbourn, so that all communities in the area around Cambridge have regular services. Also important is the addition of evening services (for London day trippers as well as people accessing local evening activities), Sunday services (including in the evenings, when many people are returning home from weekends away), and speeding up some of the more convoluted routes such as the Citi 7 to Saffron Walden and intermediately.
Next comes the Climate March in London on Sun 29 Nov. Details of this have not been finalised, but the Campaign for Better Transport is planning to organise its own "bloc" -- watch its website for updates on this. If you attend the march please join this bloc -- we need to highlight the importance of transport issues not only to our rulers but to other campaigners as well!
Last but not least of the events highlighted here is our own AGM. This will be held at the same time and place as last year on Sat 12 Dec. To recap, the venue will be The Hut off Argyle St, to which access will be available from about 10.30 for the meeting to start at 11.00. Options to get there are as follows:
From Cambridge City Centre: walk along Mill Rd across the railway bridge or get a Citi 2 to Mill Rd Broadway (the first stop after the bridge) and walk back to Argyle St.
From Cambridge station: find your way to Devonshire Road, then either continue to Mill Rd then over the bridge as above, or go over the cycle bridge, left into Rustat Rd, which becomes Charles St after a barrier to through traffic, then left into Argyle St.
From Addenbrookes: Citi 2 to the last stop before Mill Rd railway bridge, then continue to Argyle St.
Whichever option you choose, when you get to Argyle St look out for a fence with the railway on the other side, and turn into the road that leads towards the fence.
As usual, following the formal business of the meeting there will be a wide ranging discussion on transport issues, including the bus crisis, east-west rail and the City Deal. If there are any other issues you wish to raise, please feel free to do so -- there is no requirement to give advance notice.
As usual, we are sending paper newsletters to all members who have paid up at least to 2014-5, as well as to other CBT contacts, as part of a mailing which will also include the official notice for the AGM. Members who have not yet paid up for 2015-6 will also get a renewal slip -- this may be your last reminder. Other people on our circulation list are encouraged to join as members -- subscription rates are shown on page 1 of the paper newsletter and on our website by clicking on "Join the group!". Subscriptions will of course be accepted at the AGM itself, and the Coordinator also plans to attend the forthcoming Railfuture meeting in Cambridge (Sat 5 Dec 14.00 at St Paul's Church on Hills Road). Note that only paid up members and CBT contacts will get our annual reports.
On the roads, the public examination of the A14 upgrade scheme is coming to a close. The Coordinator submitted a written representation but has not appeared at any of the hearings. Meanwhile initial meetings have been held on future strategies for the A1 and Oxford-Cambridge corridors. The Coordinator was unable to attend either but has asked to be kept in the loop regarding future activities.
On the railways, Great Northern has announced that from 13 Dec inner suburban trains will serve the line between Finsbury Park and Moorgate in the evenings and at weekends, as well as during the daytime on Mon-Fri. Passengers using outer suburban trains that stop at Finsbury Park can access this route by means of a cross platform connection. Use this route to connect with the London Overground at Highbury (though it may be quicker to use the Victoria Line unless a Moorgate train is due within a few minutes) or to visit the Barbican Centre or Museum of London, which are within an easy walk of Moorgate.
Elsewhere in the country, there have been 2 significant network expansions: Chiltern now run from Marylebone to Bicester Village (formerly Bicester Town), Islip and Oxford Parkway, a service that will extend to Oxford's main station when work to accommodate these extra trains is complete. And in Scotland the line between Edinburgh and Tweedbank, just beyond Galashiels, has reopened. This is the longest route to reopen in Britain, and there is local pressure to make it even longer by extending the line to Hawick and eventually Carlisle. Holders of English Concessionary passes who wish to ride on the line may be interested to know that these passes are accepted on buses between Berwick and Galashiels (or were last year) -- but not on the route between Berwick and Edinburgh.
We are not aware of any major changes on Stagecoach. As for other operators, here's what we know:
Whippet: The anticipated changes have taken place to routes 31 (off peak curtailment at Addenbrookes where passengers to/from the City Centre now have to change) and 75 (curtailment of most journeys at Orwell) but no changes as yet to the 400-9 West Hunts network. Off peak buses seem to have been restored on route 196 to Waterbeach via Horningsea. Their guided buses now stop at Mitcham's Corner.
Huntingdon Community Transport: The 46A from Huntingdon has been extended from Stilton to Hampton shopping centre, offering more frequent connections to/from Peterborough. There are 3 trips each way, 1 serving Folksworth, plus some peak time short workings between Huntingdon and the Alconburys.
Judds/Emblings: These operators are now out of business. Most of their services are covered by Stagecoach 31/33 (linking Coates, Whittlesey and Peterborough) and Stagecoach Norfolk (formerly Norfolk Green) 56 (linking March and Wisbech via Coldham).
Diamonds: The 246 monthly service from the Bedford area to Peterborough has been withdrawn. The 203 from Irchester continues to run on the 4th Saturday of the month, as do the operator's monthly services to Milton Keynes and Leicester.
Megabus: Sadly the fast Cambridge-Birmingham service has been withdrawn.
National Express: Several changes took place in October, of which the most significant is probably the replacement of the 314 and 326 by a new 370 which runs daily between Clacton and Runcorn via Colchester, Ipswich, Cambridge, then stopping only at Madingley Park & Ride, Northampton, Coventry, Birmingham Airport, Birmingham, Newcastle under Lyme, Stoke, Crewe, Nantwich, Chester and Ellesmere Port. This halves National Express's services between Cambridge and Northampton, and means that they have now completely abandoned Cambourne, St Neots and Bedford. What route do their coaches take between Madingley Rd and Northampton?
Heydon/Chishill area: Following the Herts CC purge the only services left are Whippet 31 to Cambridge (peaks only) and Viceroy 444 to Saffron Walden (schooldays only). Nearby Chrishall in Essex still has several market day services (amounting to 4 days a week) plus other school buses -- though some of these are likely to be replaced by a demand responsive service under changes currently being planned by Essex CC. On the Herts side the 331 which serves Barley seems to have survived the cuts reasonably intact, continuing to run approximately 2 hourly 6 days a week.
Fenland Community Transport: They appear to have taken over the 415 which runs on Wednesdays from Upwood to Peterborough via Great Raveley, Wood Walton, Conington, Holme and Folksworth to Hampton and Peterborough. As a result one no longer has to register to be eligible to use the service, which runs close to several nature reserves. To reach the morning journey from Cambridge, catch an early guided bus to Huntingdon to connect with the 08.20 towards Ramsey. Alight at the junction at Bury. If you miss the tight connection into the 09.01 Ramsey-Upwood-Peterborough at the bus stop on the road towards Upwood, it should still be possible to walk to Upwood Church in time for the 09.48 departure.
We conclude this section with a listing of routes serving Cambridge and Peterborough that you might not know about. For Cambridge: Ivel Sprinter 2 and 3 (Wed to Biggleswade and surrounding villages), Stagecoach 16A (Mon-Fri at schooltimes but also in holidays, to Great Thurlow), Stagecoach 27 (ditto to the Mordens), 132 (Sun to Imperial War Museum and Saffron Walden), Suffolk Norse A14 (Wed to Ipswich), Bike Bus Explorer (Sun to Wimpole and Gamlingay), and Villager 9 (4th Fri to Felmersham). For Peterborough: Centrebus 47 (Mon-Fri at schooltimes to Uppingham), Diamond 203 (see above), Hamiltons & Buckbys 206 (Thur to Burton Latimer), W&M 390 (Wed to Wisbech via Parson Drove), Whippet 405/7 (2nd and 4th Wed to Huntingdon via Spaldwick), Fenland Community Transport 415 (see above), and Villager 8 (2nd Fri). For the above Villager services one is advised to book in advance to ensure that space is available, especially if one is only using the return journey. Timetables for all these services can be found on Traveline.
The cuts presaged in our last newsletter in Herts and Devon have now taken place, and the latest local authorities who are known to be planning to cut services are Oxfordshire (as mentioned in the lead article) and Wiltshire, in addition to further cuts in North Yorkshire. Meanwhile here is a roundup of other bus news, including updates regarding seasonal services that ran this year and which may be worth investigating if you are visiting the relevant areas next summer.
Essex: As mentioned above, they are planning a network of demand responsive services to replace existing services in the border area with Herts/Cambs and several other rural areas of the county. It is not yet clear whether this will be an improvement for users.
Norfolk: A posting on the cambridge-pt group (which we encourage members and supporters to join -- see our website for details) referred to services 2A and 16 operated by Konectbus, which used positioning workings from their Dereham depot to provide links between this town and Holt and Wymondham respectively. Well, these (all year) services have now been axed. Also referred to in the posting was summer open top route 22 between Cromer and Weybourne, though this section of route is also covered by the Coasthopper.
South-East England: In Newsletter 119 we referred to new Sunday services in the Petersfield area that had run in 2014, but we didn't find out that they would be running in 2015 until after issuing Newsletter 121. Well this year did see services from Petersfield to Alton, Winchester and Uppark on Saturdays and Sundays, and the season was later extended to the end of September. Winchester and Uppark have alternative services on Saturdays (by different routes) but not Alton. However these services were dependent on Local Sustainable Transport funding so their future is dubious. Services also ran to Marwell Zoo from Winchester, Eastleigh and Southampton.
Further east, the new variation of 121 via Spithurst and the extension of 261 from Uckfield to Lewes via Barcombe Mills, both referred to in Newsletter 121, have been withdrawn. Barcombe Cross is now served by route 122, but extends to Barcombe Mills only in the peak. Both the 122 and 261 still run 6 days a week.
The threatened removal of the Farnham-Alton section of the Guildford-Winchester inter-urban route, which was referred to in a posting on the cambridge-pt e-group, was averted.
Shropshire: A new sightseeing bus ran on weekends this summer serving Shrewsbury, Attingham Park, Buildwas Abbey, the Ironbridge Gorge and Much Wenlock. Some sections of route are not served by normal buses. Initially the route also served Shrewsbury Battlefield but this extension was taken off in the middle of the season. It's a pity that the four main tourist routes in Shropshire -- this one, the two Shropshire Hills Shuttle routes, and the Severn Valley Railway -- don't link up with one another, just like Norfolk's four main heritage railways which don't link up either.
North Somerset: Buses serving Bristol Airport were reorganised this summer so that the only route from Bristol is now the premium fare A1, and the 121 which used to link Weston Super Mare with Bristol is replaced by the A2 to Clevedon, except for a few journeys which serve Portishead. The A2 incorporates some new sections of route, but these changes have been accompanied by the diversion of the main Clevedon to Bristol service away from Nailsea, which used to provide a convenient railhead, now linked to Clevedon only by the less frequent A2.
Other routes serving the airport include new route 97 to Dundry, peak times Mon-Fri; an extension of 135 which provides a market day service to Weston Super Mare on Fri and now includes some new sections of route; Bath Bus Company A4 which provides a link from Bath via Bristol's ring road; National Express 216 which provides a link to Newport and Cardiff via the M49 and "new" Severn Bridge; and National Express 404 which provides an overnight journey between London and Penzance.
Dorset and Devon: First ran a summer service ran between Weymouth and Portland Bill. However it is salutary to remember that a few years ago Portland Bill had an all year service run by South-West Coaches. The route was much the same except that the old route detoured via Grove which served a useful staging point for walkers. the withdrawal of this service was one of a package of cuts attributed to inadequate concessionary reimbursement.
The X31 between Poole and Exeter, one of First's flagship routes, has been reorganised to provide more journeys between Bridport and Lyme Regis but to run from there to Axminster, with only a few journeys continuing to Exeter. The winter Sunday service, withdrawn a few years ago, has been reinstated between Weymouth and Axminster, but at the expense of the 31 (now X51), which used to run 7 days a week between Dorchester and Axminster. Another operator has provided coverage between Lyme Regis and Seaton, and extra buses between Seaton and Beer, but this section of the coast road has seen an overall decline in service level.
Yorkshire: The skeleton Moorsbus service that ran last year had some enhancements this year, but was still well below the level prevailing up to 2013. Further south, a new Saturday service runs between Holmfirth and Uppermill (route 352), providing a much needed link across the Pennines on the A635 via Wessenden Head. It connects with the rail network at Greenfield.
We conclude with a summary of the actions which we have recommended to our readers in the first two sections of this newsletter.