The big news for this year has been the publication of the Government’s Bus Services Bill, currently going through Parliament. But before we discuss the Bill I – the Coordinator and newsletter compiler (it seems appropriate to use the first person singular in this context) – wish to apologise to all our members for not having produced any newsletter since last year.
Part of the reason for this is the Bus Services Bill. In anticipation of this, a consultancy called Transport for Quality of Life has produced a report on bus regulation and other governance issues (I was among the people consulted in its production). A preliminary version of this report was published on TfQL’s website at the beginning of the year. I wanted to make a big thing of this report in our newsletter, but since changes were expected I decided to wait until the final version was published. Partly due to delays in the publication of the Bus Services Bill itself, this didn’t happen till the end of spring. I was then all set to produce a newsletter towards the end of June.
Then a wrist sprain that had happened to me some years ago suddenly flared up again. I had trouble doing the typing necessary to deal with my most urgent emails, let alone compiling a newsletter, so when the sprain healed I had a long backlog to deal with. Though I was able to deal with the backlog of urgent stuff fairly quickly, it was not until now that I made sufficient inroads into the non-urgent stuff to prioritise the compilation of a newsletter.
More on this and its consequences later, but now let us return to the Bus Services Bill.
The genesis of the Bus Services Bill came from the devolution agenda of the former Chancellor, George Osborne. He became persuaded that for the English Regions to prosper they needed more control over policies in areas such as transport. The main strands of the Bill are as follows:
All these issues are covered in the TfQL report. The report can be downloaded, in full and summary versions, from the website. The nub of the report is Table 2 of the summary version, on the 11th page (numbered ES10 within the report), which is reproduced from Table 4.3 of the full version, on the 95th page (numbered 75 within the report). This lists 16 desiderata of a world class bus system and shows to what extent they can be achieved under total deregulation, current bus partnership models and a franchising system. The verdict is that under full deregulation 13 of the objectives can’t be achieved and 3 can only be achieved partly. A partnership model could bring the 3 up to 5 or 6. But under franchising 7 would become fully achievable and the other 9 would become partly achievable. In other words, what is now a maximum level of performance (being partly achievable) would become the minimum level.
The report also says that the diseconomies of deregulation (such as wasteful competition, the cost of defensive provision to stave off competition, or the effective monopolies that have been created where competition has been eliminated) are so great that they outweigh all the budget cuts that have been inflicted in recent years. Here one must insert a note of caution: we suspect that it is in metropolitan and urban areas where the financial effects of deregulation have hit worst, whereas it is in rural areas and on inter-urban corridors that the budget cuts have hit worst, so we can’t rely on franchising to deliver the money needed to rescue the system from its current straits in every area. The report doesn’t disaggregate either the savings or the cuts by type of area so can’t settle this issue either way, but it has been rumoured that the prospect of such savings was one of the motivations behind the introduction of the Bill.
The report also suggests that the setting up of new municipal operators, which is banned by the Bill, could yield additional savings. Here we are dubious; while we accept the arguments that municipal operation can bring savings, these would have to be offset by the cost of setting them up, which could be large in areas where there are powerful private operators established. It seems quite likely that whatever the merits of the case in financial terms municipalisation is a step too far for the current government, but there are also more objective arguments that can be put forward in support of their stance. For example if a local authority set up a municipal operator and, under the franchising system, turned over to it all the services within its area, what would happen to the existing operators and the people who work for them? However we suggest that this should be dealt with by regulation rather than a full ban on municipalisation, say a right by local authorities to acquire the local operations of existing operators at a fair price (including goodwill but not allowing for any monopoly profits they may currently be making), plus a right by existing operators to sell to the local authority at the same fair price.
The anti-privatisation campaign group We Own It is running a petition calling on the Government to drop Clause 21 from the Bill. This clause seems to have been defeated in the Lords but the Government may well reinstate it so the petition is still relevant.
It is not clear, at least to the Coordinator, whether the services directly operated by some local authorities (e.g. North Lincolnshire, Worcestershire and South Gloucestershire) count as municipal operations for the purpose of the Bill; or whether local authorities could get round Clause 21 by setting up a shell company before the Bill was enacted and activating it when convenient.
To summarise, of the three strands of the Bill highlighted above, 1 will be a marginal improvement, 2 will be a substantial improvement where it can be implemented, and 3 will be detrimental if it happens. However, the benefits of 2 will be limited where the relevant local authorities – the combined authorities being created – don’t know how to use the new powers or aren’t interested in doing so. Later we will set out a list of recommendations, some of which could advantageously be inserted into the Bill as amendments, which would rectify this and also accelerate the setting up of a “world class system”.
Because of the failure to produce a newsletter since Nov 2015, which has also significantly reduced our expenses, it has been suggested that subscriptions should be suspended for the year 2016-7. One of the officers has however opposed this, so it will be put to a vote at the AGM. All members who are paid up at least to 2015-6 – the last year for which we have asked for subscriptions – may vote, either by turning up at the AGM or by contacting one of the officers.
It would be unfair to give just one side of the argument here, so, returning to the first person singular, let me just discuss the item in the constitution that says that members are entitled to receive newsletters at least twice a year. The constitution doesn’t specify when the year begins; one reasonable interpretation would be to use the membership year, which begins in spring, in which case the constitution hasn’t been violated, as members would have received two newsletters in 2015-6 (121 and 122), and there is still plenty of time left for them to receive a further newsletter on top of this one in 2016-7. However, I do feel that my failure to produce a newsletter has let down those members who regard it as a key benefit of membership.
Here is what members can expect based on how far they are paid up:
Paid up to 2014-5: You will receive a paper newsletter, an AGM notice and a renewal slip. The last will offer you the option of renewing for 2 or 3 years. If you take the former option your membership will extend to 2016-7 if the resolution fails and 2017-8 if it passes, if you take the latter option your membership will extend to 2017-8 or 2018-9 respectively. If you do not reply to this renewal slip you will receive no further paper newsletters, and will not be entitled to vote on the resolution (or any other resolutions that might be put).
Paid up to 2015-6: You will receive a paper newsletter, an AGM notice and the activities and financial reports for 2015-6. You need do nothing at present. If the resolution fails then our next newsletter will include a renewal slip inviting you to renew for 2 years (2016-8), if it passes then your membership will extend to 2016-7 and you will not be asked to renew until next spring at the earliest.
Paid up to 2016-7: As above except that if the resolution fails you will be asked to renew next spring, if it passes your membership will be carried over to 2017-8.
As in the last few years the AGM will be held in The Hut, off Argyle St, Cambridge, starting at about 11.00. The venue is expected to be open from about 10.30. The date is Sat 26 Nov. To get to the Hut, walk or cycle from the City Centre along Mill Rd and over the railway bridge, then first right into Argyle St, then right into a short road leading to a fence beyond which is the railway. The Hut is to the right of this road. Or catch a Citi 2 from the City Centre or Addenbrookes, get of at the first stop after/last stop before the railway bridge, walk west along Mill Rd, turn left into Argyle St then as above. If coming by train (or bus to the station) make your way to Devonshire Rd, then either to Mill Rd and as above or across the bridge, left to Rustat Rd, through a couple of traffic barriers to Charles St and Argyle St, and left into the short road referred to above.
The lack of any newsletters does not mean that we have been abandoning our campaigning work. One thing which the Coordinator did was to make a submission to the House of Commons Transport Committee inquiry into the Bus Services Bill, in which we supported the arguments of the TfQL report referred to above, and also made the following additional points:
The big issue is that the Government seems ready to spend billions on infrastructure – by whatever mode – but to begrudge the millions that would give us decent buses merely because they are classified as revenue spending. Penny wise, pound foolish. Of course infrastructure upgrades do produce lasting improvements – at least when they are well designed. An A14 – or any other road upgrade – that floods local roads with polluting traffic is certainly not well designed.
Some of the proposals above would amount to a complete overturn of existing planning policies. There is universal agreement that there is an acute shortage of housing. The Government’s way of dealing with this is (oversimplifying a bit for the sake of clarity) to give developers free rein to concrete over green fields and on brownfield land in the middle of nowhere, building virtually wherever they like and providing minimal facilities, e.g. public transport at levels that require people to own cars if they are to lead what is now considered a normal life. Because of the housing shortage people are more or less forced to buy into this agenda if they want a house.
By contrast we would like to see mass provision of car-free housing where people’s only access to cars would be through car clubs. Such housing has been popular in places like Vauban, a suburb of Freiburg in Germany, and, especially with the housing shortage, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be here if public transport was adequate – something that would be helped by the presence of a significant proportion of people who would be relying on it for their mobility needs. In other words, the fact that housing is in short supply would be used as a lever to get people to accept a new and more socially inclusive form of housing provision. Without the need to provide extensive space for car garaging and parking it would be easier to create compact, walkable neighbourhoods without sacrificing other desirable land uses including open space.
The Campaign for Better Transport is running a campaign to improve the Bus Services Bill by lobbying MPs. See their website for details. People are encouraged to invite their MPs for a ride on a bus so they can see the problems for themselves. Note that this is probably not necessary for members living in Cambridge, as the city MP is the Shadow Minister for Buses!
A submission was also made to an inquiry into rural tourism by the Environment & Rural Affairs Committee, making some of the same points.
We have also been active in City Deal consultations, including the Cambridge-Cambourne and Cambridge-Haverhill corridors, Histon/Milton Roads and Mitcham’s Corner, tackling congestion in the City, and the river bridge that would form part of the Chisholm Trail. We plan to endorse many of the ideas of Smarter Cambridge Transport, an ad hoc group set up to improve the City Deal provisions.
We strongly support in principle the City Deal proposal for a workplace parking levy, the main motivation being to create a funding stream which could improve revenue support for buses. We have called for the first priority to be to give regular services to villages off the main network, plus the restoration of evening and Sunday services to all the larger communities and the places in between. We have also called for the parking levy to be extended to cover the whole City Deal area, not just the City – this would not only increase the revenue raised but also encourage employers to choose locations that could be reached without a car. We would also like the parking levy to be extended to cover supermarket parking (which would require new legislation), thereby helping to get rid of those unsightly acres of car parking while also improving the competitive position of town centre and neighbourhood shops.
We support the “Total Transport” approach of creating new public bus routes which would take advantage of existing works, school and other travel which at present is often provided by non-public services. This is particularly applicable to the Cambridge-Haverhill corridor (where the consultation was broadly defined to include the Saffron Walden corridor), where a single route could serve Addenbrookes, Babraham Institute, Granta Park, the Wellcome Genome Campus and Chesterford Park.
We called for any busway provision on the Cambridge-Cambourne corridor to be designed with future east-west rail in mind. Proposals recently put forward, called Cambridge Connect, call for a tunnel under Cambridge City Centre, linking the station with West Cambridge, as part of a light rail network; if this was shared with heavy rail it could solve the hardest part of the task of linking east-west rail to the existing network, serving Cambourne and interchanging with the East Coast Main Line at St Neots.
We are also promoting the idea of building cycle routes alongside railways rather than roads, in an extension of the Chisholm Trail concept – the cycle route alongside the guided busway may also be considered in this context. Such routes enable cyclists – and walkers – to avoid the pollution and noise caused by vehicles passing by every few seconds, as well as the danger and stress of coping with traffic when one has to cycle on the roads.
We have taken a more neutral position on the proposals for bus priority in Milton and Histon Roads, emphasising that the need for action was essentially forced on us by the A14 upgrade which will feed extra traffic onto these roads, and telling people opposing the City Deal plans that they should have opposed the A14 upgrade. Of course this doesn’t mean that there may not be better solutions than those suggested under the City Deal but it must be made clear that “do nothing” is not an acceptable option. We have called for a layout at Mitcham’s Corner that optimises bus access and interchange.
The Government gave the go ahead to the A14 proposals in May and construction has now officially started. We remain concerned at the additional traffic that will be encouraged in and around Cambridge – see the last paragraph – as well as the failure to restore the areas of Huntingdon devastated by the building of the current route back in the 1970s, and deficiencies in provision for non-motorised users.
The Government has for some time been committed to dualling the A428 between Caxton Gibbet and the A1. As a regular user of the X5 bus route the Coordinator has seen no evidence of need for action other than, perhaps, to reduce conflicting movements at each end.
The Government has also announced its interest in upgrading the A1 to motorway standard and in building a Cambridge-Oxford Expressway (extending the A428 dualling scheme). We have been attending workshops on both issues, and also submitted evidence to an Infrastructure Commission inquiry into the needs of the Cambridge-Oxford corridor (including east-west rail). While the consultants were keen to emphasise that they were not committed to any particular solutions, the conduct of the workshops suggests that someone has already made a decision to go for roads based solutions. This will be particularly damaging on the Cambridge-Oxford corridor, given the political difficulties in finding any acceptable way of either deterring or accommodating the extra traffic which an expressway would stimulate (see the comments on the A14 and Milton/Histon Roads above for an analogous case).
People have referred informally to a “brainbelt” in which people need to get between the main centres, such as Cambridge and Oxford, faster. But surely our “brains” can be occupied better than by spending their time at the wheel of a car? And if and when we do get driverless cars, thereby allowing our “brains” to work as their cars navigate their way to their destination, won’t this undermine the concept of travel time as wasted and therefore something that needs to be minimised (this is an argument that has been used by some opponents of HS2)?
There are also major issues elsewhere in the country. We believe there is considerable scope for developing coach services on motorways and expressways, and our submission to the “A14 Challenge” in 2012 included proposals for a coach interchange at the A14/M1/M6 junction, where remodelling work has just finished. We don’t have any definitive information, but the impression from a recent trip is that the new layout there has made it much harder to provide an interchange.
Other likely “flashpoints” with major threats to the countryside include Stonehenge (A303), the Blackdown Hills (A303/A30) and the South Coast (A27), while traffic growth is a major issue for the Lower Thames Crossing and Manchester-Sheffield Road Tunnel – and almost every motorway widening, or hard shoulder running, now under way or being considered. In Wales there’s the Gwent Levels Motorway, which will affect important wildlife sites.
On rail, very little has happened in our area, though there’s quite a lot on the horizon – the new station near Cambridge Science Park and the Thameslink upgrade resulting in more frequent services on some lines, running through to south of London. Also the remodelling of Cambridge station is nearing completion.
One national issue is the loss of the National Rail Timetable, latterly produced by Middleton Press. This summer, initially only an abbreviated version was produced, essentially consisting of the UK pages of what used to be the Thomas Cook European Timetable. A full timetable was produced later in the season, at a significantly higher price than hitherto. In future this is expected to continue but with a reduced delay – the reason why there has to be any delay is that the information supplied to the publishers has become increasingly inaccurate and needs checking for accuracy. One reason for the downward spiral in printed information is, of course, that it is increasingly seen as unnecessary in the age of information, though mobile phones and laptops can’t always be relied on to work wherever one goes. For online timetable information we can recommend the websites brtimes.com and realtimetrains.co.uk which, together with Traveline, will help you plan journeys while on the move. There’s also a website brfares.com which enables you to browse through all the tickets and fares available for a given journey.
As for aviation, the Government has made the long awaited announcement that it will be seeking a third runway at Heathrow. As well as leading to major increases in greenhouse gas emissions and bathing large areas of London with noise, the runway is to be built on top of an existing community. There is still a long way to go, so the issue is by no means settled and the campaign against the runway, and for a transport policy which will encourage people to travel by rail rather than air, continues. Friends of the Earth appear to have been first on the ground here.
Finally, Bus Users UK, to which we are affiliated, has been consulting on its future structure. The idea is to become a charity, to abolish individual subscriptions, to circulate a newsletter electronically, and to be run by a board on which regional and sectional interests are represented. The latter included things like disabled people, the old and the young; we suggested that it should also include environmental campaigners, integrated transport advocates and leisure travellers. Affiliated groups like ours would have to choose between becoming BUUK branches and staying with the present looser association. For us, there is no choice: we cover the full range of transport issues, even if buses are our primary interest, so we can’t be a BUUK branch.
A decision is awaited.
There have been few major changes in Cambs this last year. Whippet’s services have been significantly changed, with more to come: the varied provision of shopping services in West Hunts has been dismantled in favour of 2 new routes running 5 days a week – the 400 serving Kimbolton and Grafham Water, and the 401 serving the Giddings and Hamerton. Each had 2 round trips allowing for leisure as well as local shopping use. There is now no service on Saturdays at all.
The Coordinator has organised a visit to Kimbolton Castle for Fri 28 Oct – apologies to anyone who would have liked to come but heard about it too late. We did try to contact all members with access to email. The historic castle, which is normally used as a school, has occasional public open days, but these are always on Sundays when no buses are available. They do, however, do tours for groups at other times when the school is not in use, and we have managed to get a suitable date during half term. We may do further trips of this type.
Back to Whippet, a new service 115 was introduced linking the Newmarket Road area of Cambridge with Addenbrookes Hospital, financed by developer contributions. Whippet have also taken over the University funded route Uni 4, which has been renumbered U and which has had several changes, including diversion via Cambridge station and a new Saturday service between West Cambridge and the station (with the stationbound journeys marking the first chance to travel by bus from Brooklands Avenue to the new link road). It is planned to extend the service into the NW Cambridge development when that opens, and to reroute the section between the station and hospital along the guided busway.
Alas, Whippet are planning some serious cuts for November. The worst will affect their route 1A between Cambridge and Huntingdon. This will be split at St Ives, with the western section – providing the only service to Houghton & Wyton, which is currently spurned by Stagecoach’s guided buses – served far less frequently. Houghton currently provides an option for bus travellers from the Hemingfords, the other side of the river and linked by footpath, whose services were considerably reduced in Whippet’s last round of cuts. In addition, the 1A will lose its Sunday service, cutting off Fenstanton as well as Houghton.
Other cuts are more minor. The Saturday service between St Ives and Earith introduced in July is to be removed, though this section is still served by Dews route 22. Overall this corridor, which we believe should be served by regular interval services from St Ives to Chatteris and Ely, has seen a sad decline in recent years since Stagecoach abandoned their through service to Cambridge via Earith. However the Monday diversion to Holywell will remain (with buses calling if required on the return journey).
Other changes have included the withdrawal of the Bike Bus Explorer, which ran on Sundays between Cambridge station and Gamlingay via Wimpole Hall. We believe that the service could have performed a lot better had it extended to Sandy, providing connections with trains north and south and buses to/from Bedford, and serving the RSPB reserve at their HQ and the people of the town of Potton; if the first and last journeys had run in service through the City Centre, these being at times when other buses were non-existent or scarce; and if the service had targeted local shoppers as potential passengers.
Some Cambs villages were affected by a recasting of rural services supported by Essex County Council, implemented in April; many of the fixed route services in areas west and east of Saffron Walden, and north of Braintree, were replaced by new demand responsive provision. There is ambiguity as to what journeys people are allowed to make – if you want to travel in this area one can only say “ring and try”. However, one improvement is the setting up of a new hourly service between Haverhill and Saffron Walden, with buses continuing to/from Audley End station; the routes via The Camps (in Cambs) and Radwinter are used alternately.
Another improvement has been the introduction of a Sunday demand responsive service run by The Voluntary Network, who also do demand responsive services in Suffolk and into Cambs on weekdays. The Sunday service serves villages in an area bounded by Cambridge, Newmarket, Wickhambrook and Haverhill, and has to be booked at least 2 days in advance. Outline details of this service are on the Traveline website; again, if you can’t make sense of them, ring and try to see whether your journey is covered.
As usual this has been consistently bad, with heavy cuts in local authorities such as Oxfordshire, Lancashire, Dorset and West Berks. Among services designed for visitors, the South Downs “specials” around Petersfield didn’t run this year, and the Minehead to Lynmouth/Lynton route was confined to Mon-Fri in peak season, on top of cuts on the Minehead-Tiverton corridor. The cuts to Spirit Buses in Northumberland last September were not reinstated this summer, and the only routes that still run are the services from Rothbury to Alnwick and Alwinton. Also lost were Sunday services over Dartmoor on the Okehampton-Gunnislake and Yelverton-Moretonhampstead routes (except for a single round trip from Plymouth).
Services that did run this summer include the New Forest Tours (which run fully commercially); the Brighton Breeze services and Cuckmere Rambler in Sussex; the Dalesbus and a skeleton Moorsbus network in Yorkshire; services along the west coast of Wales (in Pembrokeshire, south Ceredigion and the Lleyn peninsula – note also that the bridge paralleling the Cambrian Coast Railway east of Porthmadog, which was rebuilt to carry heavier traffic when the railway bridge was damaged, now has a bus service); in the “honeypot” areas of the Lake District; on Sundays between Alston and Crook (for Durham) and daily between Newcastle and Keswick via Alston; the Breadalbane Explorer in Scotland; the Sidmouth Hopper in Devon; the Test Valley Explorer running northwards from Romsey in Hampshire; and the Coasthopper in Norfolk. The Shropshire Hills Shuttle between Church Stretton and Minsterley was not shown on Traveline, but we believe it did run.
The Jurassic Coast network was reorganised this summer, with First running daily services to Lulworth Cove. Another positive move was the provision of a winter diversion along the west side of Thirlmere, only open to buses, while the main road on the east side, linking Grasmere and Keswick, was closed for repairs. A ride on this route gave a real feel for what a car-free Lake District might be like, but translating this into an argument for a permanent closure is a bit harder.
As for all year services, here is a roundup of news.
Bucks: The Aylesbury-Bicester route lost its Sunday service, while there were significant cuts to the strategically important Aylesbury-Dunstable route (which used to run through to Luton and even Luton Airport).
Sussex: The East Grinstead to Uckfield service no longer runs on Saturdays, but Wealdlink now provide an interesting alternative (route 262) using roads not served for a long time. It is similar to the Ashdown Forest Explorer summer Sunday service that ran a couple of years ago.
Surrey: Metrobus have introduced new routes 21 and 22 from Crawley to Dorking, continuing to Box Hill/Epsom and Holmbury respectively.
Warwickshire: Oxford City have introduced a new “Birmingham Airline” between Oxford and Birmingham Airport/NEC via the outskirts of Banbury, Warwick town centre and Warwick University. Meanwhile Stagecoach has announced the withdrawal of routes from Leamington through Southam to Banbury and Daventry, hitherto supported by developer funding, with Warwickshire CC only intending to replace the Leamington-Napton section. Any chance of Oxford City rerouteing the Airline via the A423 which would cover the Banbury section?
Oxfordshire: The most serious of the cuts is probably route 64 between Carterton, Lechlade and Swindon. Also lost is the complex of routes around Uffington, with only the main road between Wantage and Faringdon retaining a regular service; and the service between Bicester, Brackley and Silverstone on the Northampton service, except for a few journeys north of Brackley.
Lancashire: The most serious of the cuts is probably the route between Clitheroe and Slaidburn, which has cut off the southern access to the Forest of Bowland. Also cut off is the village of Sabden, a village of about 2000 people which has seen some new development and is also a key western approach to Pendle Hill for walkers. Other routes have lost evening and Sunday services, including the routes from Lancaster to Knott End (for Fleetwood) and Silverdale.
North Somerset: The routes linking Bristol Airport with Portishead and Clevedon have disappeared – buses continue to serve the coastal belt but no longer link it with the airport. Stagecoach have introduced a 24 hour service between Bristol and Plymouth via Bristol Airport, serving park & ride stops on the outskirts of Taunton and Exeter.
Gloucestershire: Many routes in the south Cotswolds were revised; our impression is that the cuts outweigh the improvements, of which there are some.
Somerset: Following the failure of Webberbus earlier this year, most of its routes were taken over by other operators such as First, but they recently announced that they would no longer run the Minehead town service and the routes linking Minehead with Porlock and Bridgwater, except for a single college days only journey to Bridgwater. There is no sign of any replacement being offered, even though Nether Stowey (where Coleridge lived) and Porlock (a community with a well known association with him) both have about 1400 people, the latter being the community with the most elderly population in Britain in 2010. Apart from the frequent Taunton service, the only buses from Minehead are those that run a few times a day to Dulverton (routes 198, 467 and 678). Don’t book your 2017 holiday there! (Though you could try visiting Snowdrop Valley, near Wheddon Cross and linked to it by shuttle bus in February, if you can fit it in with the times of the Minehead-Dulverton routes, the only access to Wheddon Cross.)
The main things to do are to lobby your MP about the importance of buses (especially if you live outside Cambridge); to contribute to City Deal consultations; to join the campaign against Heathrow’s third runway; and, of course, to come to our AGM!